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The forecast for Lake Mead: Hot and dry with plenty of anxiety

The forecast for Lake Mead: Hot and dry with plenty of anxiety

A reckoning arrives every August for the Colorado River and the 40 million people across the West who depend on it.

After water managers measure annual inflows and outflows and do their best to estimate future precipitation in places as far-flung as northwestern Wyoming and southwestern New Mexico, they make a pronouncement that once was arcane but has become increasingly prominent — and ominous.

Technically, what they announce is the projected elevation of Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, on Jan. 1 for each of the next two years.

Psychologically, in a region already parched by years of drought and staring into a hotter, drier,...

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