A massive, drought-starved reservoir on the Colorado River has become so depleted that Las Vegas is now pumping water deeper into Lake Mead where other states downstream don’t have access.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority announced this week that its low-level lake pumping station is operational and released photos of the highest water intake visible at 1,050 feet (320 meters) above sea level. the sea to the lake behind the Hoover Dam.
“While this underscores the severity of the drought conditions, we have been preparing for this for more than a decade,” said Bronson Mack, spokesman for the water authority. The low level inflow allows Las Vegas “to maintain access to its primary water supply in Lake Mead, even as water levels continue to decline due to ongoing drought and climate change conditions. “, did he declare.
The decision to start using what had been seen as a hedge in case we needed it against drying up faucets comes as water managers in several states that rely on the Colorado River take new steps to conserve water. water in the midst of what has become a perpetual drought. .
“We don’t have enough water supply right now to meet normal demand. The water is not there,” spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Rebecca Kimitch, said this week. The agency has told some 6 million people in sprawling Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties to reduce their outdoor watering to one day a week, starting June 1, or face heavy fines.
The surface level of another massive Colorado River reservoir, Lake Powell, fell below a critical threshold in March, raising concerns about whether the Glen Canyon Dam can continue to generate electricity for some 5 million customers in the western United States.
Lake Mead and Lake Powell upstream are the largest man-made reservoirs in the United States, part of a system that provides water to more than 40 million people, tribes, agriculture and industry in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and across the southern border in Mexico.
In Arizona, falling Colorado River levels have prompted a focus on conservation and raised fears of reduced water deliveries to desert areas that include metro Phoenix, Tucson, tribal lands and farms.
At Lake Mead, the new pumps are fed from an intake drilled closer to the bottom of the lake and completed in 2020 to ensure the ability to continue to draw water for Las Vegas, its casinos, suburbs and 2.4 million inhabitants and 40 million tourists a year.
The “Third Straw” draws drinking water from 895 feet (272.8 meters) above sea level – below a point at which water would not be discharged downstream from the Hoover Dam.
Together, the pipeline and pumping projects cost over $1.3 billion. Drilling began in 2014, when the lake level was expected to continue to drop due to drought. The increasingly dry conditions in the region are now attributed to long-term climate change.
Lake Mead, between Nevada and Arizona, reached its high water mark in July 1983, 1,225 feet (373.4 meters) above sea level. On Friday, the level was 1,055 feet (321.6 meters) – approximately 30% full. Some of the steeper cliffs lining the lake feature 170 feet (51.8 meters) of white mineral tub ring.
“Without the third take, southern Nevada would shut down,” said Pat Mulroy, a longtime former head of the Las Vegas-based water authority, who is now a consultant. “It’s pretty obvious, since the first straw is out of the water.”
A mid-level pipeline can also draw water from 1,000 feet (304.8 meters).
The authority maintains that Las Vegas’ water supply is not immediately threatened. He points to water conservation efforts that he says since 2002 have reduced regional water consumption from the Colorado River by 26%, while the region’s population has increased by 49%.