The Lake Mead Drought: Drying up Rivers and Water Supplies Alike
Figure 1. The Drought (The Guardian)
Lake Mead, a Colorado River reservoir, is at its lowest levels since the 1930s. This poses a significant problem for the western states in the USA because of the importance of the Colorado River in supplying the region’s freshwater needs. The river (and Lake Mead) is facing a drought because of a “persistent upper weather pattern that hangs over the West” which is causing lower levels of precipitation. The lower precipitation is also affecting the amount of snow accumulating on the Colorado Rocky Mountains, which are a major source for the Colorado River and Lake Mead (90%).
The implications of the Lake mead drought are hefty and holistically targeted— populations, infrastructure and the environment will be strained. The possibility of a formal water delivery shortage increases exponentially if drought-like conditions continue. For instance, up to one fifth of the state of Arizona’s water supply will be cut off from usage (McGovern, 2022). Local small-scale farmers and municipal water users will be amongst the first to face the consequences. Fallowing land—a term meaning that a quadrant of usually arable farmland cannot be used—will be implemented. While the current water management covers up to 1,025 feet of shortages, the Lake Mead drought supersedes this with 1,065 feet; if levels continue to decline, the possibility of reaching so-called “dead pool” conditions in the hydro site providing electricity to nearby states, Hoover Dam, increases exponentially (McGovern, 2022). If this were to occur, the 1.3 million populating Arizona, Nevada, and California who rely on the dam would be out of power.
In implementing efficient and novel water systems, mitigating the implications of the drought is possible. Officials are now looking to more sustainable solutions such as seasonal water restriction, amongst other techniques. “By upgrading unused grass to water-smart landscaping, we can save more than 9.5 billion gallons of water annually, which represents about 10 percent of our total annual water supply from the Colorado River at Lake Mead,” stated John Entsminger, the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Figure 2. Water Supply vs. Demand of the Water supplied from Lake Mead (National Park Services)