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Lake Mead levels to drop to lowest capacity since the 1930s

Califronia Drought
Posted at 1:52 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 16:52:00-04

LAS VEGAS — The effects of decades-long drought can be seen clearly on the shores of Lake Mead.

"Sometime this week, we’ll get to an elevation around 1071 feet above mean sea level. That’s the lowest the reservoir has been since it was filled in the late 1930s," warned Doug Hendrix, the deputy public affairs director for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Overall, the Colorado River System is down below 50% capacity. The last time Lake Mead was essentially full was around 2000.

"At Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, we are down to about 36% capacity, Hendrix said. "This is the effect of 21 consecutive years of drought."

So what can be done?

"We’re working with the seven basin states - Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming - that depend on water from this reservoir to work on conservation agreements," explained Hendrix.

"Also, we are working on methodologies to conserve water or keep protection level volumes of water in the reservoir," he said, "so we don’t have to go into really significant cuts with our water supply."

Why can’t they fill Lake Mead with more water if it’s man-made?

"That’s a little difficult," said Hendrix. "We are about three or four hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean. We’re getting to the point where we’re exploring a lot of different options like cloud seeding, conservation agreements, and desalination of water."

What you can do at home is try to conserve water as much as possible. Every little drop counts.

"We’re not able to produce hydro-power below about 950 feet," Hendrix said. "We still got around a thousand feet of pool elevation level where we can generate hydro-power."

Still, we need consecutive wetter years to see a change. Lake Mead is producing one-third less energy than the reservoir could produce if it were full.

As more and more people head out to the lake, low water levels are a concern for many. Particularly boaters.

"This year, the biggest impact is going to be the launching," said Lake Mead Public Affairs Specialist Chelsea Kennedy. "Here at the lake, it is mostly going to be on pipe mat, and there are going to be short-term closures as the water goes higher and lower for us to change the pipe mat."

Pipe mat is the plan for low water heading into 2022 for recreation access. Lake Mead recreation is committed to spending $5 million on maintaining recreation access this year and $12 million next year.

Closures at the lake aren’t expected to last for too long. You can check lake mead’s recreation website for constant updates.

Lake levels have dropped about 16 feet over this past year and are forecasted to drop about nine more.

The latest projections show that levels will drop below the federal threshold, which would promote the government to declare a water shortage.

DAILY DEBRIEF: An in-depth look into this story:

Daily Debrief: Lake Mead levels to drop to lowest capacity since 1930s

Bree Guy at KTNV first reported this story.