Representatives from California, Nevada, Arizona and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have been negotiating since last summer how to equitably reduce each state’s allocation of Colorado River water if Lake Mead levels continue to drop.

Lake Mead was just 39 percent full at the end of the water year on April 1, 2016. On Monday, the reservoir’s surface elevation was 1,077 feet. At an elevation of 1,075 feet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can declare a water shortage. At 1,025 feet, the U.S. Department of the Interior takes control of each state’s water allocation.

California, Nevada and Arizona hope to avoid federal mandates by negotiating voluntary cutbacks at various elevation levels as Lake Mead empties.  “We’re trying to reduce the probabilities that those critical elevations will be hit or even exceeded by putting this plan in place,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

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