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Watch: Why Lake Mead is losing water

Updated August 19, 2021 - 10:04 am

Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., is about to reach its lowest point since the installation of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

The lake is 34 percent full with a water level of 1,067 feet as of early August. If the water level falls below 950 feet, Nevada runs the risk of not having enough power.

Decades of drought and increased water needs have strained the Colorado River as a source that supplies drinking water and hydroelectric power for 40 million people, and irrigation for more than 5 million acres of farmland across seven Western states and Mexico.

Ten percent of Lake Mead’s water comes from precipitation and groundwater, the other 90 percent comes from the Colorado River, which stretches 1,450 miles starting on the west slope of Rocky Mountain National Park.

But the river is experiencing its 22nd consecutive year of drought, with this past year being the worst recorded in 1,200 years, according to the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.

So what is being done about the water shortage?

Lake Mead will experience its first federally declared water shortage next year. The declaration, triggered by water level projections released Monday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, will force Nevada to slash its allocation of Colorado River water in 2022.

Monday’s water level projections will also change operations at the Glen Canyon Dam, which releases water downstream to Lake Mead from Lake Powell.

It will take a collective effort to maintain this critical water resource.

Read more:

First federal water shortage declared for Lake Mead.

New plan slows Lake Mead decline by paying Southern California farmers not to plant crops

Lake Powell drops to lowest level in reservoir’s history

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the water level at which power production could be lost.

Stephanie Castillo is a 2021 Mass Media reporting fellow through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Follow her on Twitter @PhutureDoctors.

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