- Lake Mead is a man-made lake that acts as a reservoir for the Hoover Dam along the Arizona-Nevada border.
- Population increase, climate change, and ever-worsening drought conditions have depleted the lake and its tributaries.
- As the condition worsens, officials are asked to create conservation plans in this area and nearby waterways.
Lake Mead has struggled with decreasing water levels for several years. Water depletion, climate change, drought, and several policies have barred Lake Mead from replenishing its waters. While the coming year is likely to produce complications for Lake Mead, conservation efforts are continuously being made and adjusted and–hopefully–are implemented soon. Discover why Lake Mead’s water levels are decreasing this year and find out what’s being done about it.
Background on Lake Mead
Lake Mead is a man-made lake that sits on the Arizona–Nevada border. It acts as a reservoir for the Hoover Dam. Lake Mead is an important landmark in the Southwest region of the United States because it supplies water to millions of people. It also aids the Hoover Dam in producing hydroelectric power to many residencies.
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area lies next to the lake with an area of 2,338 square miles. One interesting fact about the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is that it was the first recreation area to be recognized by Congress in the United States. The area is a popular tourist spot, receiving approximately eight million visitors every year. Lake Mead National Recreation Area also includes Lake Mohave and a portion of the Hualapai Indian Reservation.
Lake Mead’s Drought
Since 1999, population increases have caused Lake Mead’s waters to be depleted and its water levels to drop. Furthermore, a long-lasting drought has taken hold of the Southwest for several years. Drought conditions have contributed to Lake Mead’s decreased water levels, as increased evaporation of water vapor within the atmosphere due to high temperatures halts precipitation and, thus, replenishment of Lake Mead’s waters.
However, another factor that’s influencing the drought conditions at Lake Mead is climate change. Climate change occurs when greenhouse gas emissions are released into the atmosphere. These emissions result in chemical reactions in the atmosphere that increase global temperatures and alter climates.
Rising temperatures in the Southwest due to climate change speed up the evaporation process. Wet, warm air evaporates more quickly, as does the surface water in Lake Mead. Precipitation decreases without the presence of moist, warm air, and symptoms of drought within a region increase. Thus, many experts estimate that 42% of Lake Mead’s drought conditions come from climate change.
Furthermore, around 90% of Lake Mead’s waters come from melted snowfall from the Rocky Mountains. Drought conditions affect both rainfall and snowfall abundance. Melted snowfall that would typically flow into the Colorado River and into Lake Mead is less available. Therefore, decreased snowfall in the Rockies is yet another contributing factor to the lake’s decreased water levels.
Handling Drought Conditions at Lake Mead
The severe drought at Lake Mead has called for the conservation of its waters. Backup low-level pumps have been turned on for water extraction. Several boat ramps around the lake have closed. Some states in the Southwest have been mandated to decrease water usage. For instance, Arizona is likely to experience an 18% decrease in water usage. Most decreases in water usage target the maintenance of lawns and golf courses. Using sprinklers and other mechanisms to water grass can be viewed as wasteful and excessive. Therefore, water usage in these spaces is the first–but not the last–to go due to Lake Mead’s water loss.
Lake Mead’s struggle to maintain water levels not only contributes to water usage, though. If drought conditions worsen and if the lake sees a decrease in water level of 100 more feet, the Hoover Dam could stop functioning. The dam has already experienced a decrease in electricity production due to drought. An overall loss of electric power from the Hoover Dam would leave negative effects on homes and businesses across the Southwest.
Will Lake Mead’s Drought Worsen in 2024?
Lake Mead’s water levels will likely drop significantly in the coming year. The Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the lake will experience a record low in water levels. While recent rainfall at Lake Mead has raised its water levels minimally, the difference is not substantial enough to make up for the lake’s losses.
Experts attribute low water level projections to several factors. For one, drought conditions appear to be long-lasting; it’s unlikely that the climate will recover soon. Second, climate change has caused aridification in the region. Aridification occurs when a climate moves toward becoming arid and dry. Finally, Lake Mead and its counterpart–Lake Powell–were design to hold water during times of drought. However, excess water extracted from these bodies of water and the Colorado River has led to further water level decreases.
During July of 2022, Lake Mead experienced its lowest water level since its construction at 1,040.8 feet. In 2024, projections indicate that the month of March will see the same record low as that of July 2022. Throughout the year, the Bureau of Reclamation anticipates a low of 1024.47 feet with a five-foot increase at the start of 2024.
Are There Any Solutions?
To replenish Lake Mead’s waters, relying on the environment and on increased precipitation is a fruitless effort. Worsening drought conditions and climate change mean that bureaus and conservationists will need to take steps to maintain water levels. States that lie in the Colorado River Basin have been encouraged to draw up future conservation plans. These plans should help reduce water usage by between two and four million acre-feet.
Furthermore, policies that manage water usage near the Colorado River are set to expire in 2026. After the expiration date, officials can make further progress in water conservation at and around Lake Mead. However, 2026 seems a long way off when compared to the rate of water level decrease now. One can only hope that it won’t be too late to make the necessary changes.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey / Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository – License / Original
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What water level will Lake Mead experience in 2023?
Projections for March of 2023 show water levels of 1,040.8 feet.
Where is Lake Mead located?
Lake Mead sits on the Arizona-Nevada border in the Southwest region of the United States.
What are ways that Lake Mead’s water levels can be maintained?
Some ways to maintain Lake Mead’s water levels include decreasing water usage, creating conservation plans, and rewriting policies.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.