Lake Mead is at critical water levels. This doesn’t get much press back East yet; however, it is a big deal out here in the Las Vegas area. The picture above is from the “New” boat launch at Echo Bay Lake Mead NRA. It says a lot about the future expectations of the water level when a brand new concrete helipad is built at this level! On one of my Facebook posts someone mentioned the El Nino impacts from this winter might raise the water level so I did some research and thought I would share my findings.
The water level yesterday was 1078.70 feet above sea level. The sea level mark is the common level of water at the dam referenced rather than the depth of the lake at any certain spot. This level is 150.30 feet below full pool level of 1229.00 feet down .1 foot yesterday (Lakesonline.com). These are levels not seen since the 1930’s when Hoover Dam was completed. The chart below (courtesy National Park Service) shows the history of the water levels.
|February 1935||Lake begins to fill to 708.70 feet|
|July 1941||Lake Mead reaches 1220.40 feet|
|March 1956||Lake Mead drops to 1083.57 feet|
|July 1983||Lake Mead reaches 1225.44 feet (highest point)|
|June 2015||Lake Mead reaches new low at 1074.71 feet|
|June 2017||Projected to be 1062.51 feet|
These low water levels have been very devastating to the local economy on the lake. For example, the marina, restaurant, motel, ranger station, and assorted business’s are closed at Echo Bay. Up the road Overton Beach is closed as is the Park entrance station (so if coming to Lake Mead, come in from Overton, no one to collect the $20 daily fee). Similar circumstances apply to the whole area. These are minor inconveniences compared to what is likely to happen next winter.
Las Vegas relies on Lake Mead for most of its water and electricity. Electricity generation is already down from 2074 megawatts to 1592 megawatts due to the lower water pressure due to reduced depth of water. The generators and support equipment are in the process of being rebuilt allowing production down to depths of 950 feet. However; the power plant only runs during the day shutting down for the night. The primary effect of this is the reduced income for the dam (it is self funding at the moment due to electricity revenues). and substantially increased costs for consumers in Las Vegas and surrounding areas. The water is a more severe issue. (bureau of Reclamation data)
At the 1075 foot level on Lake Mead, the federal government will declare a federal shortage declaration. This will force Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico to reduce their water usage. At this level the lake falls below one of the two “straws”, pipes that pump water to Las Vegas. The prospect of this happening has already caused the SNWA to build a large intake blasted out of the bottom of the lake and now to begin the project of actually installing the pumps and infrastructure to pump from this location at a cost (near as I can figure) of $1.5 billion. (source SNWA)
Stopping here. The actual story leads to Lake Powell, many agreements signed over the years as to water usage in the Southwest, the long drought, and why this is happening. More than can be discussed in short order. However; it does beg the question of where will water come from for the growing Southwest states? Think about this fact, if the water promised by Congress in the 1920’s was actually used, the Colorado river would run dry before it reached the Grand Canyon!
Random Pic’s of Echo Bay today.