Lowest Water Levels EVER In Lake Mead May Trigger Rationing: Still Think Climate Change Is A Hoax? (IMAGES)

A trip to the Hoover Dam is de rigueur for any Las Vegas tourist. Admiring the awe-inspiring structure and the reservoir behind it is a highlight for many visitors. But now that view of sparkling blue water in the desert is becoming troubling. And the view is the least of it.

Here is a picture taken last week of Lake Mead:

The Desert Princess cruises the lake. Taken June 19, 2015. Mark Henle/The Republic

The Desert Princess cruises the lake. Taken June 19, 2015. Mark Henle/The Republic

Pretty sobering. You can look at that and know that the lake is way, way below normal levels. On June 24, the readings for Lake Mead were pretty scary. Right now, Mead is 144.69 feet below full pool, about 37 percent of capacity. Inflows are at 0 percent. Yes, that’s right: ZERO percent. Outflows, however, are at about 6.5 million acre feet. You don’t have to be a math whiz to know that is not good. Now, have a look at the decline in a stark chart:

Looks like someone opened the drain.

Looks like someone opened the drain.

That’s just since January of this year! And it’s still receding an average of at about an inch per day. Today, June 25, showed a slight rise, probably due to the storms in Colorado. And that’s a very good thing for the states that rely on water from the reservoir. If the level goes below 1,075 feet it would trigger a water shortage as the intake valves for the water supply lie just under that point at 1,050 and 1,000 feet. There is a project being undertaken by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to sink “straws” at lower levels. But that will take a while. The wet May improves the current outlook (.pdf) a little bit, but this is a long-range problem.

Drew Beckwith, water-policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, a non-profit environmental law and policy organization, told AZ Central that the river is overallocated. That, along with the drought, is burying the needle:

“This is the check-engine light. It really does (make critical) the fact that we have to start changing.”

He pointed out that the lower-basin states are taking more than the Colorado River system can sustain. Noting that the upper-basin has not used its full allocation in years, he says that this has helped hold back the problem since their extra is sent down to Lake Mead. But that won’t last. The drought will affect the entire river system eventually. And everyone and everything that relies on it. Up to $26B in economic impact and over 250,000 jobs depend on the river.  As do its ecosystems. It’s not a pretty picture.

Growing up in Las Vegas, I spent many happy times at Lake Mead. My Stepfather’s boss owned a boat and we sometimes took it out, going out and across the lake, over to the back of the damn and returning to the Lake Mead Marina. There we would buy a bag of popcorn in the marina’s store for 10 cents to feed the carp who gathered next to the entrance ramp. If we were lucky, dinner at the restaurant would follow. This is that marina today:

Lake Mead Marina now. The ramp barely goes over the water.

Lake Mead Marina now. The ramp to the store & restaurant (on the left) barely goes over the water.

This is what it used to look like. The carp, if any are still there, must be nearly scrunched up against the main dock, as that entrance and store are now almost high and dry. You can see the carp in this short video.

The entrance to Lake Mead Marina then.

The entrance to Lake Mead Marina then.

The majority of our western states are in the middle of an “extreme” drought. Scientists tell us that this is being exacerbated by climate change, as are other severe weather events. Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton climate scientist recently told the NY Times:

“The drought is made of two components: not enough rain and too much heat. The rain deficit isn’t clearly connected to climate change, but the planetary warming has made it more likely that the weather would be hotter…”

Add to that the mismanagement of the Colorado River’s limited resources and you have the makings of a full-fledged water shortage. And that will be catastrophic, especially for Las Vegas. But, for a city that has flaunted its disregard for water over the years — Bellagio dancing fountains, fake volcanoes sitting in huge lakes, bays, lakes, fountains everywhere — this may be a heavy dose of karma.

Lake Mead is acting as a bellwether. We need to wake up and smell the dry, arid desert before it’s too late. And if you’re a climate change denier, just tell it that it’s a hoax. Let us know how that works out for you.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons