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Lake Mead sinks to a new historic low

The lake is now just 8 feet above the level that would trigger the first drought restrictions, which would reduce water supplies for Arizona and Nevada. That gap could close by next year - the reservoir fell 10 feet from October 2009 to 2010 - but there are measures in place that would likely delay rationing for one or two years or even longer if a wet winter increased runoff into the river. Most homes and businesses in Arizona likely would not feel the direct effects of the restrictions, which would divert water first from farmers. But conservation groups say the reservoir's low levels underscore the risk to the Colorado River. "Everyone needs to know when we turn on the tap, it drains water out of the river and it has ecological consequences," said Gary Wockner, campaign coordinator for Save the Colorado, a non-profit education group based in Fort Collins, Colo. "We need to try to keep some water in the river and keep it alive." Lake Mead, created when Hoover Dam was built, has shrunk steadily over the past decade, in part because of an unrelenting drought that began to reduce the flow of the Colorado in 2000. The reservoir stores water from the river on behalf of Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.

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