Lake Mead Update: Are Water Levels Rising?

Throughout 2022, Lake Mead made national headlines due to its rapidly falling water level. The reservoir in Nevada and Arizona is formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.

It provides electricity to hundreds of thousands of people living in communities across the region. But due to the ongoing mega-drought sweeping the US Southwest, it sped towards dead pool levels – which could be catastrophic.

The level of the dead pool is about 895 feet. At this height, no more water would flow past the dam and thus no electricity could be generated.

This year the water level of the lake was lower than ever. But it was also the year they edged up for the first time in three years.

Lake Mead and drought
A stock photo shows a drought-stricken riverbed next to Lake Mead. In 2022, the lake reached its lowest level since 1930.
Bloodua/Mesut Zengin/Getty

In July, the lake’s water level was 1,040 feet, the lowest since the reservoir was built in the 1930s. While July is typically a dry season in the area, 2022 was a particularly low point for Lake Mead. At the same time in 2021 the water level was 1,067 feet while in 2020 it was 1,086 feet.

But in August, water levels began to rise slightly after a particularly wet monsoon season.

As 2022 draws to a close, water levels have reached 1,044 feet. Although water levels have risen slightly, the future for the reservoir still looks bleak.

Andrea Gerlak, a professor in the School of Geography, Development & Environment at the University of Arizona, previously said news week that Lake Mead is “dangerously close” to reaching an altitude low enough for the turbines to stop spinning and produce electricity.

“But more importantly – when the Hoover Dam stops producing electricity – it will challenge our assumptions about how we manage water and energy in the US Southwest,” said Gerlak, who is also director of the Udall Center for Studies of the university is in the public order.

“It will finally be time to have these difficult discussions about what it means to share a resource together and manage it in a sustainable and equitable way in the face of climate change,” she added.

Why will Lake Mead dry up?

The weather in Nevada and Arizona was particularly difficult to predict in 2022. The region continues to suffer from the worst mega drought on record.

This drought stretch has been drier than any other in the US in the past 1,200 years. Scientists attribute this mainly to human-caused climate change.

As the drought persists, people in surrounding communities are making far greater use of the river’s resources than they used to. Coupled with the dry conditions, this means the water doesn’t replenish as quickly.

The drought is also affecting water levels, which fluctuate seasonally due to winter snowpack flowing down from the Rocky Mountains. This has become less frequent and harder to predict during the dry conditions.

How long will Lake Mead last?

The exact future of Lake Mead is difficult to predict. It largely depends on weather patterns over the next few years and what action is taken to save the lake.

It’s likely that 2023 will bring more of the same for Lake Mead. A forecast by the Bureau of Reclamation estimates there is a 47 percent chance that the water level could drop below 1,020 feet in 2023.

However, in a few years, the Deadpool level looks like an increased possibility.

A two-year probabilistic projection of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River system has found that Lake Mead could reach 992 feet by the end of July 2024. That’s the bureau’s “probable minimum” the lake could reach within 24 months.

The “probable maximum” is estimated at 1,059.41 feet. In other words, this is the best-case scenario.

Its future also depends on the flows and levels of the rest of the Colorado River. Over the past century, the river’s flow has decreased by 20 percent, data from the US Geological Survey shows.

Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River program director at the National Audubon Society, an environmental organization, previously said news week: “The Colorado River has experienced an extended drought over the past 23 years, which has been exacerbated by climate change.

“Rising temperatures are drying out the region, causing the river to flow less. Due to climate change, it is not possible to predict the future of the river. There is no historical precedent for today’s conditions,” she added.

Will Lake Mead ever fill up again?

Lake Mead’s water levels began to rise in August this year for the first time in three years. This is because the region has been hit by the wettest monsoon season the Las Vegas Valley has seen in a decade.

During that time, areas saw more than half an inch of rain in just 10 minutes Las Vegas Review Journal reported at the time.

But if the mega-drought continues, the lake is unlikely to fill up naturally any time soon.

Do you have a tip for a science story for Newsweek to cover? Have a question about Lake Mead? Let us know at Lake Mead Update: Are Water Levels Rising?

Rick Schindler

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