PHOENIX — Federal forecasters say a warm, dry February has increased the chances that Lake Mead will have a water shortage by 2018.
El Nino brought a snowy winter to the Rocky Mountains, but things dried up in February, reported The Arizona Republic. As a result, Lake Powell will likely only hold 80 percent of its long-term average amount of water by spring, according to the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
Lake Powell gathers most of the water that ultimately flows to Lake Mead.
"The snow conditions have not been so great," forecaster Greg Smith told water managers on Thursday, "and it was quite dry in February."
Weather stations in the river basin have also recorded above-average temperatures, which could make future droughts even harsher. Past research indicates that the region's droughts will continue to get more intense as the changing climate warms the West, said Connie Woodhouse, a geography professor at the University of Arizona.
The latest projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Hoover Dam, give Lake Mead only a 37 percent chance of falling into shortage conditions next year. But that chance rises to 59 percent in 2018.
The U.S. Interior secretary declares a shortage whenever an annual study projects the reservoir level will be less than 1,075 feet above sea level on Jan. 1. The water is expected to drop below that threshold this summer but recover in time to prevent a shortage declaration for 2017.
A shortage could force Arizona and Nevada to implement water restrictions, and some Arizona farmers would lose the water that flows to them through the Central Arizona Project canal.