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The Latest Colorado River improves, but voluntary cuts loom

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Latest on the outlook for the Colorado River (all times local):

2:20 p.m.

Conditions on the over-taxed Colorado River have improved dramatically over the past year, but not enough to stave off voluntary cutbacks for some water users in the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico.

A federal report released Thursday says the water level in Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir on the river, is expected to be slightly below 1,090 feet (332 meters) above sea level on Jan. 1.

That’s nearly 15 feet (4.6 meters) higher than projected last year, thanks to a snowy winter. It means river users will avoid tougher mandatory cutbacks.

But it’s low enough for Mexico and the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada to make voluntary reductions from their share of water, which they agreed to in March.

The Colorado River serves 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as Mexico.

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12 a.m.

Snow swamped mountains across the U.S. West last winter, likely fending off mandated water shortages next year for states that rely on the Colorado River.

Although snow and rain swelled rivers and streams, that doesn’t mean conditions are improving long term. Climate change means the region is still getting drier and hotter.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will issue its projection Thursday for the supply from a key reservoir that feeds Colorado River water to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

After a wet winter, the agency isn’t expected to require any states to take cuts to their share of water.

But Arizona, Nevada and Mexico could give up some water voluntarily in 2020 under a drought contingency plan approved this year by seven Western states that rely on the river.

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