Las Vegas and its 2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year may have a problem. As we noted a month ago, America's largest reservoir Lake Mead reached a record low, nearing levels that would force the Interior Department to declare a "shortage," which will lead to significant cutbacks for Arizona and Nevada. Well it has got worse...
At 1072 Feet, Lake Mead has never been more empty...
Under the federal guidelines that govern reservoir operations, the Interior Department would declare a shortage if Lake Mead’s level is projected to be below 1,075 feet as of the start of the following year. In its most recent projections, the Bureau of Reclamation calculated the odds of a shortage at 10 percent in 2017, while a higher likelihood – 59 percent – at the start of 2018.
But those estimates will likely change when the bureau releases a new study in August. Rose Davis, a public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said if that study indicates the lake’s level is going to be below the threshold as of Dec. 31, a shortage would be declared for 2017.
That would lead to significant cutbacks for Arizona and Nevada. California, which holds the most privileged rights to water from the Colorado River, would not face reductions until the reservoir hits a lower trigger point.
And now, to put this rapid decline in context, NASA Earth Observatory published the two space images...
As NASA explains, they’re from a pair of Landsat satellites and show the lake near its highest and lowest points over the past 32 years. The Landsat 5 satellite acquired the top image on May 15, 1984. The lake last approached full capacity in the summer of 1983. Landsat 8 acquired the second image – below – on May 23, 2016.
As one water research scientist warned, "this problem is not going away and it is likely to get worse, perhaps far worse, as climate change unfolds."
As population growth and heavy demand for water collide with hotter temperatures and reduced snowpack in the future, there will be an even greater mismatch between supply and demand, said Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in water and energy issues.
“The question becomes how to resolve this mismatch across states that all depend on the river to support their economic growth,” Sanders said. She expects incentives and markets to help ease some of the strains on water supplies, “but it is going to be tricky to make the math work in the long term.”