This is part of a Library of Congress collection of photographs taken as part of the Historical American Engineering Record surveys, an amazing body of documentation of America’s built environment. The pictures in this LOC on line archive aren’t dated, but my best guess based on clues (a distinctive URL) is 1987. Mead was close to full that year. I’d love it if any of y’all can suss out other clues to help me figure out if that’s right (lookin’ at you, DG).
Lake Mead Then and Now
I don’t have any pictures from the same vantage point from my most recent trip, but here’s one from the same side, a bit up river and looking back toward the intake towers, taken in February. If I’m right about the dates, Mead’s surface elevation was between 1,205 and 1,210 feet above sea level in 1987 when the above picture was taken. When I took mine in February, it was somewhere around 1,089, 120 feet lower. It’s currently at 1,078, more than 10 feet lower than when I took this picture:
Here’s another of the HAER images, taken by photographer Jet Lowe, with an angle similar to my shot to allow a better comparison:
One key lesson (in addition to the fact that we’re using too much water downstream) is that Jet Lowe is a much better photographer than I. But it’s hard to take a bad picture of Hoover Dam.
I hope that most of you have read the excellent article on the Colorado
River in the May 25th New Yorker.
I saw the lake at this level (or close to it) in the 90’s. The spillways have gates that control the level if the lake gets somewhat full. I’ve been seeing lake Mead dropping for years hopefully with the thought that we would get several wet years on the basin.
Also, interesting that @Paul Paryski made mention of the New Yorker article. I remember reading it and taking note of the quote from Don Nash of MWD about ‘each pump being able to fill an olympic pool every 20 seconds’. The truth is that the entire capacity of the plant to pump (if all 9 units at Whitsett were on-line) is 1/20 of the estimate given by Nash.
Oh well, good reporters follow up on facts.
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