Lake Mead Is Drying Up

The combination of a changing climate and a strong demand for the lake’s remaining water has resulted in 100 foot drop since 2000. While that’s just 10 percent under the lake’s high water mark in 1983, Lake Mead is like a martini glass—wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. That 10 percent dip represents a loss of half Lake Mead’s water supply in nine years, from 96 percent capacity to 43 percent.

Anyone who’s gone on a diet knows this simple equation: if you burn fewer calories than you eat, you’ll gain weight. But like a cheating dieter in Superman’s Bizarro world, the Western United States has been sucking more water out of Lake Mead than the dwindling Colorado River can provide to replace it. When output is greater than input, the reservoir shrinks.

And it continues to shrink. Lake Mead’s water level fell 14 feet last year, and the Bureau of Reclamation has projected the level will drop 14 more feet this summer. That will bring it perilously close to 1,075 feet, the point at which the federal government can step in and declare a drought condition, forcing a reduction of 400,000 acre-feet drawn from Lake Mead per year. A typical Las Vegas home uses a half acre-foot of water per year, so such a reduction would be equal toturning the tap off for 800,000 households.

In 2008, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography issued a paper titled “When will Lake Mead go dry?” which set the odds of Lake Mead drying up by 2021 at 50-50. No more water, no more electricity, no more pumping power.

“Today, we are at or beyond the sustainable limit of the Colorado system,” concluded the paper’s authors. “The alternative to reasoned solutions to this coming water crisis is a major societal and economic disruption in the desert southwest; something that will affect each of us living in the region.”

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One of the more radical proposals involves pumping water from the eastern United States (where many regions are suffering the consequences of flooded rivers) over the Rockies to the West. In a Las Vegas Sun interview on May 1, Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said, “We’ve taken water from the West now for a hundred years, maybe it’s time to start taking water from the East, rather than from the West.” Another speculative proposal lies beyond the shores of California, where there’s an ocean of water available for desalinization.

Article here.

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