Lake Mead in Nevada, just outside of Las Vegas on the east, is the result of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. A historic drought plaguing the western U.S. states has transformed Lake Mead into a depressing illustration of its former beauty. The drought has affected the entire Colorado River basin that covers Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, plus Mexico.
Only a small part of the Colorado River basin lies in California, Mexico, New Mexico, and Nevada. It covers the entire state of Arizona, and a large part of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The drought began affecting this basin beginning in 2000. It has greatly impacted water supplies, ecological goods and services, hydropower, and recreation.
What Is The Current Lake Mead Water Level?
Recent snowfall in the Rocky Mountains in the last three weeks has released water into Lake Mead, but has been only a drop in the bucket considering what Lake Mead needs. Nor will the recent snow fall reverse any of the damage done in the last 20 years. Lake Mead sprawls throughout the Black Canyon in Nevada.
Lake Mead is about 28% full as of January 2023. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (BOR) hydrology data analysis refers to Lake Mead’s water levels as “live storage capacity”. which ranges in elevations from 895 feet to 1,219.6 feet. Water elevations ranging from 1,219.6 feet up to 1,229.0 feet are referred to as “full pool”.
Lake Mead’s dead pool level is at about 895 feet. At dead pool level, water will not flow past Hoover Dam. If the water level drops that low, the dam cannot produce electricity for hundreds of thousands of people. Combined with Lake Powell, in Arizona and Utah, the two lakes supply water for 40 million people in seven states.
Will Lake Mead Ever Fill Up Again?
Climate researcher Brad Udall presented data that there has been more than twice the number of years that the Colorado River flowed less than 10 million acre-feet since 2000 than from 1900 to 1999. In July 2022, Lake Mead was at its lowest level since construction on the Hoover Dam was completed in 1934.
There are conflicting scientific opinions on whether or not Lake Mead will ever fill up again. Since its lowest historical level at 1,040 feet in July 2022, Lake Mead had risen to 1,044 feet by December 2022. Meteorologists find the weather across Arizona and Nevada extremely hard to predict.
Andrea Gerlak, professor at the School of Geography, Development & Environment at the University of Arizona, reported, “…if and when Hoover Dam stops producing electricity—it will call into question our very assumptions for how we manage water and energy in the southwestern U.S.” Even though, Lake Mead is in severe distress, the surrounding communities are using its water, which is impeding the lake’s ability to refill.
What Would Happen if Lake Mead Dries Up?
If the current drought and weather trends continue, Lake Mead could completely dry up in ten to 15 years, or by 2030, or it is highly unlikely it will never completely dry up, depending on which climatologist you source. They do not agree. It appears that the states which depend on the Colorado River basin for water and electricity generation are facing severe water and electric shortages.
If Lake Mead dries up, and even before, if it completely dries up, the Hoover Dam will not generate power. As of January 2023, Lake Mead is just a little above its dead pool water level of 895 feet, which is the level when the Hoover Dam cannot produce electricity. The water shortage is evident in the regions drawing water from Lake Mead.
The federal government began taking measures to mitigate water usage last year. It reduced Southern Nevada’s water allocation from Lake Mead by seven billion gallons in January 2022. The U.S. government declared a tier two water reduction on the Colorado River for usage by residents and businesses in August 2022. It will reduce another 1.1 billion gallons in Southern Nevada in January 2023.
Basically, the Colorado River basin states have no plan to solve their water shortage issues. On September 16, 2022, it had been one month since these states missed a federal deadline to propose ways to cut their water usage supplied by the Colorado River drastically. Water leaders, agricultural producers, environmentalists, and Native American tribes from basin states, plus Mexico met in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Their day-long discussions made apparent the problems they were facing—the historically low water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell and the dire need to reduce water usage from California to Wyoming. The solutions were not as forthcoming. Scientists now recommend that the basin states should plan for the Colorado River to provide 9 million acre-feet of water annually, a one-quarter reduction from 2021.
Is Lake Mead’s Water Level Up?
Lake Mead’s water level has been dropping since 2020. The Colorado River provides about 40 million people with drinking water and irrigates approximately 5 million acres of farmland in the West. The states and tribes represented at the Grand Junction meeting had no answer as to what they will do to decrease water consumption severely.
Yes, Lake Mead’s water level has risen slightly since August, 2022. At the beginning of July 2022, Lake Mead’s water level was at 1,040 feet. From July 27, 2022, until August 22, 2022, Lake Mead rose 2 feet, 8 inches, due to heavy rainfall. By January 2023, the lake’s water level was at 1,045 feet. However, this is not enough to stay the water shortages.
What Percentage of Lake Mead is Gone?
Local precipitation and groundwater supply approximately 10% of the water in Lake Mead annually. Melting snow from the Rocky Mountains that flows down the Colorado River through Lake Powell, Glen Canyon, and the Grand Canyon provide the remainder of the inflow to Lake Mead.
On January 12, 2023, the Lake Mead Water Database reported that Lake Mead is 28.4% of full pool. Full pool at Lake Mead is 1,229.0 feet. So, 71.6% of Lake Mead is gone, or in other words, dried up.