Does Las Vegas have the most reliable water supply in the Colorado River Basin?

David Owen makes an interesting point in this New Yorker piece:

Just as proximity makes people think that Las Vegas is the principal cause of the decline of Lake Mead, it also makes them think that any further decline in the lake will be a problem mainly, or even only, for Las Vegas. But that isn’t true, either. When the pumping plant for the third straw is completed, Nevada will be the only lower-basin user with the infrastructure required to draw lake water from below the level known as “dead pool”—roughly nine hundred feet above sea level, the elevation of the lowest openings in the four intake towers on the upstream side of Hoover Dam. Approximately a quarter of the water remaining in Mead is below that dead-pool line and, therefore, untappable by users below the dam.

This is a fascinating reality. The “dead pool” scenario involves a Lake Mead so low that water can’t get out. But with really deep intakes, Las Vegas will be able to get water if anything is flowing in. At this point, physical infrastructure would trump the Law of the River, and we’d all be wanting to move to Las Vegas.

OK, maybe not that. (I kid, Las Vegas, I love you!)

The article is based on Owen’s new book, which I’m excited to read.


  1. The intake is completed, which allows them to take water from deeper in the lake now using their current pumping plant. The second phase of the project is construction of a new pumping plant at a deeper elevation to allow pumping at very low lake levels.

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