Lake Mead at Record Low

Reservoir vital to Las Vegas is 37% full
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 20, 2016 7:36 AM CDT
Lake Mead at Record Low
A buoy lies high and dry above the water line at the now defunct Echo Bay Marina in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on May 19.   (John Locher)

The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to historic low levels, and federal water managers say the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to shrink amid ongoing drought. The closely controlled lake shrunk Wednesday to its lowest point since the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936—with a surface level of 1,074.68 feet above sea level. The US Bureau of Reclamation plans to let it drop another few feet by the end of next month. Then it will be refilled enough by the end of the year to pass a crucial water-level mark to avoid cuts in water deliveries to residents, farms, tribes, and businesses in Arizona, Nevada, and California.

"We have passed the historic low of June 25, 2015," says Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the reclamation bureau. The lake is about 37% full, surrounded by a distinctive white mineral "bathtub ring" showing the 130 feet in surface level it has lost since 2000. It was last at full capacity in 1983. It reaches so-called "dead pool" at just under 900 feet, meaning nothing would flow downstream from Hoover Dam. Las Vegas and its 2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year get almost all their drinking water from Lake Mead. (California got some rare good news in regard to the drought.)

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