The Incredible Shrinking Lake Mead

Lake Mead

Lake Mead

Henry Brean, a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, caught something remarkable in the latest monthly reservoir operations plan published by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River region office. By next month, Lake Mead will drop below 1,100 feet above sea level in surface elevation – the first time it has dropped below that level since the mid-1960s. Brean writes:

And the decline won’t stop there. By July, the reservoir on the Nevada-Arizona border is projected to shrink more than 13 feet from its current level of 1,105 feet above sea level.

That’s more than 8 feet lower than forecasters were predicting just one month ago. The news has water managers and marina operators scrambling to deal with the immediate effects and bracing for what could come next if drought conditions don’t improve along the Colorado River.

“We have to hope we have a decent spring. Otherwise we’re headed for uncharted territory,” said J.C. Davis, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Click through on the graph above (which comes from the Bureau) to see the history. For most of the last five decades, the lake level was either climbing, or was topped at nearly full. But since about 1999-2000, there has been a steady decline.

I just got a box in the mail yesterday with the big fat book versions of the environmental analysis done for the 2007 “interim guidelines,” which attempt to set out operational plans for shortage sharing. As Brean notes, the first trigger comes 30 feet below the current levels on Lake Mead. The current 24-month operating plan suggests Mead will still be 15 feet above the trigger level at the end of the current water year. I wonder what next winter will be like?


  1. Forget where I read it, but the bottom line was all the other dams should be blown up so that Mead fills as things dry out. it is the most efficient wrt power generation and needed to water LV

  2. Nice in theory but if the Glen Canyon Dam goes, it will probably blow the Hoover Dam. It’s a tricky problem, but must be addressed.

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