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First-ever water shortage declared for Lake Mead, prompting supply cuts

For the first time since its construction in the 1930s, the federal government has formally declared a water shortage at Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir by volume, on the Colorado River.

Why it matters: The declaration, issued by the Bureau of Reclamation, sets in motion a series of water allocation cuts to downstream states along the Colorado River.


  • It also serves as a stark warning to a rapidly growing Southwest population that drought, heat and climate change are major threats to the region.

Driving the news: Lake Mead is at record low levels, having dropped below 1,075 feet above sea level, or 40% of capacity. The cuts come because the forecast lake level for 2022 is below that level as well.

The West has been mired in the worst drought of this century, and when viewed over several decades, scientists have found that the Southwest is locked in the grip of the first climate change-caused megadrought seen in the past 1,200 years.

  • The water level of Lake Mead has been on the decline since about 1999.
  • Hotter temperatures and a reduction to spring snowmelt has reduced the water flowing into the Colorado River from the Rockies, where the river begins, before winding its way into the Gulf of California. So too has burgeoning water demand from increasing populations and thirsty agricultural interests.
  • A series of agreements governs water use from the river, as well as the cuts to be implemented when the water levels dip below a certain threshold.

Details: Lake Powell’s levels also are on the decline, which poses a threat to the electricity generated by the Glen Canyon Dam, threatening the roughly 5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity generated each year at the Glen Canyon Dam.

  • This first round of cuts are going to have the greatest impact on Arizona farmers, as the state will lose 18% of its share from the river, which translates to about 8% of the state's total water use, or 512,000 acre-feet. (An acre-foot is about enough water to cover an acre in a foot of water.)
  • Farmers in Arizona are likely to experience the brunt of the water cuts, and may be faced with tough choices of letting their fields go fallow or tapping dwindling groundwater supplies or other alternate water sources.
  • Under the water allocation cuts, Nevada will lose about 7% of its allocation, or 21,000 acre-feet of water.
  • Mexico will see a reduction of roughly 5%, or 80,000 acre-feet.
  • According the Bureau of Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Basin experienced an exceptionally dry spring in 2021, with April to July runoff into Lake Powell totaling just 26% of average despite near-average snowfall last winter.
  • The Interior Department agency predicts the amount of water that would flow into Lake Mead without storage behind the dam, is just 32% of average.

What they're saying: "It's clear that the scale and pace of climate change in the Colorado River Basin poses a huge threat to the water supplies on which everything depends," Kevin Moran, who leads the Colorado River program for the Environmental Defense Fund, told Axios.

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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