Lake Mead is drying up. At the rate we use water in the valley, the reservoir — the largest in the country — could be drained and arid by 2050.
|White mineral deposits encircle Lake Mead - www.nbcnews.com|
Thirty years ago, a seemingly endless supply of water rushed down the Colorado River, into Lake Mead and out of our faucets.Today, 14 years into a drought that has left the valley parched, our reservoirs are less than half full.
Why? Climate change and use. The effects of global warming have been devastating. Snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Colorado River, is only slightly above average this year. And Las Vegans have become accustomed to green lawns, lush golf courses, decadent fountains and leisurely showers.
The feds are expected to declare a water shortage for the West some time in the next two years. Las Vegas has conserved enough to be spared from that edict, but for how long? If the drought persists, the seven states that share the Colorado River will have to find new sources of water and new ways to survive.
The Colorado River provides drinking water for 36 million Americans, supplies irrigation for 15 percent of the nation’s crops and supports a $26 billion recreation economy that employs 250,000 people. If the river’s water level keeps dropping as it has, there’s more at stake than car washes and fountains.
• 2014: The Bureau of Reclamation cut the flow of water into Lake Mead to a historic low. The agency predicts a drop of 18 feet by June and 30 feet by June 2015, when water levels could approach an all-time low.
• 2015: Lake Mead could dip to a level so low that there would be a major decline in power generation at Hoover Dam. That could destabilize the energy market and mean more expensive bills for 29 million people in Nevada, Arizona and California. Upstream, declining water levels in Lake Powell, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border, could cut off power production at Glen Canyon Dam as early as winter 2015, affecting the power supply and pricing in six states.
• 2050: The Colorado River could be up to 10 percent drier than today. Communities could shrink because there isn’t enough water to support residents. Fires could rip through towns because of a lack of water to fight them. Lawns could be limited to the extremely wealthy. Farms could go brown and barren, and a recreation industry dependent on the river could go dry.
By The Numbers (Popular Science June 2014)
- Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States
- It can contain 28,945,000 acre-feet of freshwater
- High water: 1,229 feet
- Dead pool: 895 feet
- Current water level: 1,096 feet
Source: Las Vegas Sun