The Associated Press reports that water levels in Lake Mead in Nevada have dropped to the lowest level since it was originally filled in the 1930s, leaving Las Vegas facing existential threats unless something is done. Las Vegas and its 2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year get almost all their drinking water from the Lake and at levels below 1075ft (the level is currently several inches below that mark), the Interior Department will be forced to declare a “shortage,” which will lead to significant cutbacks for Arizona and Nevada.
The lake is now approximately 37% of capacity and features a distinctive white mineral bathtub ring that demonstrates the 130 feet in surface level that has been lost since the turn of the century.
From USA Today:
The downward march of the reservoir near Las Vegas reflects enormous strains on the over-allocated Colorado River. Its flows have decreased during 16 years of drought, and climate change is adding to the stresses on the river
As the levels of Lake Mead continue to fall, the odds are increasing for the federal government to declare a shortage in 2018, a step that would trigger cutbacks in the amounts flowing from the reservoir to Arizona and Nevada. With that threshold looming, political pressures are building for California, Arizona and Nevada to reach an agreement to share in the cutbacks in order to avert an even more severe shortage.
As population growth and heavy demand for water collide with hotter temperatures and reduced snowpack in the future, there will be an even greater mismatch between supply and demand, said Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in water and energy issues.
“The question becomes how to resolve this mismatch across states that all depend on the river to support their economic growth,” Sanders said. She expects incentives and markets to help ease some of the strains on water supplies, “but it is going to be tricky to make the math work in the long term.”