Lake Mead water levels over time shown in before and after images

Lake Mead’s rapidly falling water level can be seen in photographs over time.

For the past year, the reservoir formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River has garnered national attention amid fears it could be dead in just a few years.

Deadpool, which is below 895 feet, is the level at which water would no longer flow over the dam, meaning it could no longer provide electricity to hundreds of thousands of people who depend on it.

The lake’s falling water level is attributed to the mega drought in the southwestern United States. 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.

Metsee 2022
Lake Mead 2000

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Two images show Lake Mead in July 2000 and July 2022. The levels have changed drastically.

The dry weather has resulted in seasonal rains, and melting snowpack has not replenished the lake as fast as the water is being used.

The effects of the drought can be clearly seen on satellite images and photos. Images shared by NASA’s Earth Observatory show side-by-side images of Lake Mead from July 6, 2000 and July 3, 2022.

On July 3, 2022, the lake appeared noticeably smaller.

July was a particularly dry month for the reservoir as it fell to an all-time low of 1,040 feet.

Although 2022 marked the lowest point the lake has ever had, it was also a year when water levels rose for the first time in three years. This was due to a particularly wet monsoon season.

On January 2, the lake’s water levels were measured at 1,044.99 feet.

But water levels haven’t risen enough to assuage concerns, and the future for the reservoir still looks bleak.

Lake Mead’s water level was at an all-time high in 1983. The water level was so high at this point that it actually overflowed.

A picture taken on July 5, 1983 shows an aerial view of the Hoover Dam at a time when Lake Mead was overflowing into the lateral spillways.

Overflow Lake Mead
A July 5, 1983 photograph shows the Hoover Dam as the lake reached its highest water level on record at 1,225.44 feet. In the picture, the water is so high that it has overflowed into the side overflows.
Bob Riha Jr./Getty

A closeup of the spillway in the 1980s shows water pouring out of the Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead Hoover Dam overflows
A picture of the Hoover Dam shows it overflowing when it reached its highest-ever water level of 1,225.44 feet in the 1980s.
Bob Riha Jr./Getty

A 1940 image shows a sailboat on the lake just a few years after it was built, with barely-there patches of white across the water.

Lake Met 1940
A photograph shows a sailboat on Lake Mead in 1940, not long after it was built. The white “bathtub” markings are barely visible over the water.
John Swope/Getty

However, recent photos from 2022 show drastic changes.

A photo taken in September 2022 shows a white bathtub ring near Hoover Dam, indicating where the water level used to be. In the photo, the water can be seen well below the white ring.

Lake Mead Hoover Dam
An image taken near Hoover Dam on September 16, 2022 shows a white “bathtub” ring where the water used to be. The water level has dropped a lot.
David McNew

In 2022, the lake level was so low that strange and cruel things were revealed. Shipwrecks and bodies previously buried in the lake’s waters have been found as the water continues to sink.

Shipwreck at Lake Mead
A stock photo shows a boat washed up on the drying shores of Lake Mead in September 2022.
David McNew/Getty

Another photo from 2022 shows people walking up a boat ramp that the water can’t reach because the level is so low.

Disused boat ramp in Lake Mead
Two people are pictured walking up a disused boat ramp in Lake Mead in September 2022.
David McNew/Getty

Lake Mead’s future is difficult to predict. It’s not certain when or if the lake will ever be dead, but as the drought rages it’s looking increasingly likely.

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.

Lake Mead isn’t the only body of water suffering the effects of the ongoing drought.

The Great Salt Lake in Utah recently recorded its lowest water level on record at 4,188.2 feet. Parts of the Mississippi have also dried up under dry conditions. Particularly low water levels were recorded in Memphis, Tennessee.

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 water levels over time shown in before and after images

Rick Schindler

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