Quantcast

Lake Mead Hits Historic Low

Climate

Lake Mead hit a record low last night by falling below 1,075 feet in elevation at 1,074.98 feet, which would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir doesn't recover by January. The threshold for mandatory cuts was set in a 2007 agreement as part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Colorado River Interim Guidelines. These cuts would be the first set of mandatory water delivery curtailments to Lake Mead. Should the water levels continue to drop, as they are expected to, more cuts would be required.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

"Water managers expect the lake's elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring," says The Arizona Republic. However, Rose Davis, a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, told The Arizona Republic, "We still need a lot more water."

The U.S. had the wettest month ever recorded in May—"the wettest places were parts of Arizona, Southern California, Northern Utah, a tiny spot in Nevada and a small spot on the border of Texas and Oklahoma, where precipitation was at least 500 percent of average," said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Still, the recent rains were not enough to end the Southwest's 15-year drought.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will announce a 2016 shortage this August if its projections show that Lake Mead will still be below 1,075 feet in January. The elevation, which is recorded hourly, climbed to 1,075.05 feet this morning. Davis says the agency is expecting several more drops below 1,075 feet in the coming weeks, but they estimate the lake level will rise by the end of the year to about 1,081 feet, according to CBS News. Still, many water policy experts are pushing for long-term solutions.

"Drought or no drought, the river is over-allocated," Drew Beckwith, water policy manager with the Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit environmental law and policy organization, told The Arizona Republic. "Lower-basin states take more than the river system can sustain. The upper basin hasn't used its full allocation for years, which has kept the problem at bay because the excess is sent to Lake Mead. But that setup won't last."

Read page 1

The entire Colorado River system has been over-allocated for decades, according to water experts like Beckwith. "The drought has just hastened that reality," he said.

"The Colorado River has been cut to death—all 5 trillion gallons a year drained, depleted, dried up," says Gary Wockner, executive director of the nonprofit Save the Colorado. "The dams have devastated the river's health and the former 2-million acre wetland in the Colorado River Delta is now a sand-duned wasteland."

"The dropping water levels in Lake Mead are the condor in the coal mine—we must hear its voice," says Wockner. "The health of the river and water supplies across the Southwest U.S. are continuing to decline. People are literally draining everything."

There is serious concern that as water becomes increasingly scarce in the drought-stricken West, cooperation will break down and "lower-basin states would have to do a ‘call on the river,’ where the lower basin will have to legally demand that the water is sent down river,” says Wockner.

For now, Western states are working together to address the problem. "Major river users agreed last year to leave hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water in Lake Mead by 2017 that they would otherwise take," reports The Arizona Republic. 

Lake Mead 1-Week Daily Elevation Projections

Las Vegas and Phoenix, among other desert cities, have already made major cutbacks in their water use with Las Vegas decreasing water use by 30 percent in 10 years and Phoenix having reduced its overall water consumption by 27 percent in 20 years, despite both cities having some of the fastest growing populations in the U.S. Still, the two cities could be seeing even more curtailments since Arizona and Southern Nevada would get the biggest mandatory cuts should the Bureau of Reclamation announce a 2016 water shortage.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Stop the War Against the Colorado River

4 Ways to Beat the California Drought and Save the Colorado River

Death Toll Soars in Climate Change-Related Pakistan Heat Wave

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A dire new report issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found that the climate crisis is on a worrying trajectory as the crisis's hallmarks — sea level rise, ice loss and extreme weather — all increased over the last five years, which will end as the warmest five-year period on record.

Read More Show Less
Line of soldiers walking. Pexels

By Peter Gleick

War is a miserable thing. It kills and maims soldiers and civilians. It destroys infrastructure, cultures and communities. It worsens poverty and development challenges. And it damages and cripples vital ecological and environmental resources.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People take part in a ceremony to mark the 'death' of the Pizol glacier on Sept. 22. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP / Getty Images

Hundreds of activists gathered in the Swiss Alps on Sunday to mourn the loss of Pizol, a glacier that has steadily retreated over the last decade as temperatures have warmed the mountain tops, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Luis Alfonso de Alba Gongora, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the climate summit speaks at The World Economic Forum holds the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2018 in New York on Sept. 24, 2018. Ben Hider / World Economic Forum

By Howard LaFranchi

When United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decided to hold a high-level climate summit in conjunction with this year's General Assembly kicking off next week, he was well aware of the paradox of his initiative.

Read More Show Less
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan meets with Guatemalan farmers on May 29 in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. John Moore / Getty Images

The Trump administration ignored its own evidence on how climate change is impacting migration and food security when setting new policies for cutting aid to Central America, NBC reports.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mike Pence brought the first motorcade to Mackinac Island on Saturday. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898. 13 ON YOUR SIDE / YouTube screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence sparked outrage on social media Saturday when he traveled in the first-ever motorcade to drive down the streets of Michigan's car-free Mackinac Island, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette. 6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Shawn Radcliffe

  • As illnesses and deaths linked to vaping continue to rise, health officials urge people to stop using e-cigarettes.
  • Officials report 8 deaths have been linked to lung illnesses related to vaping.
  • Vitamin E acetate is one compound officials are investigating as a potential cause for the outbreak.
The number of vaping-related illnesses has grown to 530 cases in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory, federal health officials reported.
Read More Show Less
Activist Greta Thunberg leads the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in New York City. Roy Rochlin / WireImage / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

As organizers behind Friday's Global Climate Strike reported that four million children and adults attended marches and rallies all over the world — making it the biggest climate protest ever — they assured leaders who have been reticent to take bold climate action that the campaigners' work is far from over.

Read More Show Less