Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation warned the Senate during a hearing that federal officials now think that protecting "critical levels" at the country's largest reservoirs that rely on the Colorado River – Lake Mead, in Nevada and Arizona and Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona – will require massive cuts in water deliveries. (Related: Lake Mead falls below 30% capacity.)
"A warmer, drier West is what we are seeing today," said Touton during his testimony in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "And the challenges we are seeing today are unlike anything we have seen in our history."
Touton added that she believes the needed cuts will amount to between two and four million acre-feet of water. These cuts will severely affect water supplies in at least seven states – Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, California and Arizona.
This proposal comes less than a year after officials from California, Arizona and Nevada signed a new agreement with the federal government to take significantly less water out of Lake Mead.
The federal government also announced just six weeks ago that it is holding back a large quantity of water in Lake Powell to reduce the risk of the water level dropping to a point where the Glen Canyon Dam – which provides power for seven states – would no longer generate electricity.
Despite previous efforts to conserve water, Lake Mead and Lake Powell are still at or near record-low water levels. Lake Mead's capacity has dropped to 28 percent, while Lake Powell is now just 27 percent full.
The state hardest hit by these mandatory reductions in water delivery from the Colorado River is California, which is already dealing with a drought that has lasted for several years.
Water allotments from the Colorado River vary per state. Nevada receives the least amount of water, with the state being entitled to 300,000 acre-feet of water per year. California receives the most water, being entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet per year.
The federal government declared a water shortage in the Colorado River for the first time last year. This triggered significant cutbacks in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and even Mexico.
These cuts did not affect southern California, which receives a lot of its water and energy from the Colorado River, but this could change as water levels at the reservoirs continue to drop.
State water authorities in California are already forcing millions of state residents to ration water. Reductions in water allotments from the Colorado River would make this situation even worse.
On June 1, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California mandated limits on outdoor watering to just one or two days per week. But despite these and other efforts to conserve water use, people are still exceeding their state-imposed limits on water usage.
Municipal water districts, like the Las Virgenes district in Calabasas, just north of Los Angeles, are taking more drastic measures to force compliance with water use mandates.
The water district is placing metal disks with a small hole into the main water supply lines of homes that have been found to use too much water on gardening.
These disks restrict water flow per minute from around 30 gallons to just one gallon. This is enough for people to cook, wash dishes and shower, but not enough to water lawns and do other gardening activities.
"We're trying to get their attention," said David Pedersen, the general manager for the municipal water district. "The intent is not to be punitive."
The state government has warned that businesses and residents should slash their water consumptions to avoid further water restrictions in the next few months.
Watch this video from the "Midwest Information Network" as they talk about the water crisis looming over the horizon.