New year ushers in first-ever Colorado River water shortage

Low water levels in Lake Mead prompted the federal government to declare a water shortage declaration on the Colorado River that takes effect in January 2022.

Combined with existing water reductions outlined in the Drought Contingency Plan, the declared shortage reduces Southern Nevada’s annual water allocation of 300,000 acre-feet from Lake Mead—the source of 90 percent of the community’s supply—by a total of 21,000 acre-feet (nearly 7 billion gallons of water).

While the shortage declaration is the first of its kind, it is not the first time Southern Nevada was required to reduce its water use in response to drought conditions. When the drought was first declared in 2002, Southern Nevada was using more than its 300,000 acre-foot allocation. However, the community’s commitment to conservation led to a 23 percent decline in water consumption since 2002 despite the addition of nearly 800,000 new residents.

But conservation progress has stalled in recent years. As an example, only about half of single-family households comply with the year-round seasonal watering restrictions. If every water user diligently followed these restrictions, Southern Nevada could save more water than is being cut under shortage conditions.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is updating its 50-year Water Resource Plan, which shows that continued water conservation throughout the community remains imperative in balancing Southern Nevada’s water supplies with water demands.

“In the face of this unprecedented shortage, we must step-up our commitment to conservation,” said SNWA General Manager John J. Entsminger. “These efforts are imperative to ensure our community’s long-term economic success – and history has shown that they work.”

SNWA 702-862-3740 or

Patrick Watson
Conservation Services Administrator
Southern Nevada Water Authority  702-862-3734
SNWA rebates


Lake Mead water levels have dropped by nearly 150 feet since 2000, triggering the first-ever federally-declared shortage on the Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water supply.