The Sinking City

¡¡¡¡Lake Mead water levels are expected to hit their lowest level this week since the reservoir was formed in the 1930s, federal officials said Tuesday, June 7.

¡¡¡¡U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patti Aaron said the projections show that today, June 10, Lake Mead water levels will reach 1,071.61 feet, the record low July 1, 2016.

¡¡¡¡And the drop in lake levels is unlikely to stop there.

¡¡¡¡¡°We expect it to go back further into November,¡± said Aaron.

¡¡¡¡Lake Mead is heading for its first federal government-declared water shortage, a product of a decade-long drought that has dried up the Colorado River. About 90 percent of the water in southern Nevada comes from Lake Mead.

¡¡¡¡A deficiency declaration would be issued when the Bureau of Reclamation¡¯s water level projections in August showed lake levels to be below 1,075 feet early next year.

¡¡¡¡In the event of a shortage, Nevada would cut its annual allocation of 300,000 acre-feet of water from the river by 13,000 feet. This reduction would be in addition to an 8,000 acre-foot contribution that Nevada agreed to in 2019 if Lake Mead¡¯s water table should continue to drop below 1,090 feet.

¡¡¡¡One acre of water is roughly equivalent to what two houses would use in 16 months.

¡¡¡¡Even if the state¡¯s allotment were cut, Southern Nevada wouldn¡¯t feel the pressure right away. Last year the area consumed 256,000 acres of feet, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority has stored approximately eight years¡¯ worth of water at that usage rate in Arizona, California, Lake Mead, and the Las Vegas aquifer.

¡¡¡¡Less drainage, less power

¡¡¡¡This year the Colorado River Basin is expected to see the second driest year in more than a century on record. The driest year on record was 2002.

¡¡¡¡According to Aaron, a smaller snowpack in the Rockies this year has resulted in less inflow into Lake Mead.

¡¡¡¡¡°The runoff election is now essentially over,¡± she said. This year¡¯s runoff election is 31 percent of the average.

¡¡¡¡The drainage season usually runs from April to July, Aaron said.

¡¡¡¡The sinking lake level has also reduced the electricity generating capacity of the Hoover Dam.

¡¡¡¡According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam¡¯s power plant can produce around 2,080 megawatts. Aaron said the current capacity is 1,567 megawatts, enough to power about 350,000 homes.

¡¡¡¡¡°When the lake level is high, there is more pressure on the water that is forced into the turbines,¡± said Aaron. ¡°And with less pressure, they have to work harder, so they are not quite as efficient.¡±

¡¡¡¡For every foot in elevation that lake level drops, the dam loses about 6 megawatts of capacity, Aaron said. The lowest water level that will allow the dam to continue generating electricity is 950 feet.

¡¡¡¡¡°But we are in no danger of reaching that point,¡± said Aaron.

¡¡¡¡Conservation efforts

¡¡¡¡Southern Nevada water authorities have stated that conservation has long prepared them for a shrinking Lake Mead.

¡¡¡¡¡°The expected all-time low at Lake Mead is worrying for all of us who live in the area and love the lake. During a joint meeting with the utility advisory committee, the city council directed the committee to review recommendations on water conservation in the coming year, ¡±said Lisa LaPlante, communications manager for Boulder City. ¡°City workers regularly look for ways to reduce water use and have moved over the past decade to desert landscaping in many areas that once grew grass.¡±

¡¡¡¡Scott Huntley, senior manager of public services for the water board, said the board wanted the public to continue to take conservation measures, such as: These include removing non-functional lawns, adhering to seasonal watering schedules, and using a discount program to convert grass in yards to desert landscape.

¡¡¡¡¡°These measures will have a huge impact on the future,¡± he said.

¡¡¡¡^

¡¡¡¡Lawn removal

¡¡¡¡Under a law enacted by Governor Steve Sisolak on Friday June 4th, nearly a third of all grass in southern Nevada must be removed by the end of 2026.

¡¡¡¡Effective January 1, 2027, the law prohibits the Colorado River water distributed by the Water Authority from being used to irrigate ¡°non-functional lawns.¡± The agency has said this will include grass between streets and sidewalks, in median strips and roundabouts, and decorative grass outdoors in commercial, housing developments and similar areas. Single-family houses, golf courses and parks are exempt from the ban.

¡¡¡¡The water board estimates the turf removal move will save about 10 percent of the area¡¯s Colorado River allocation, approximately 30,000 acre-feet.

¡¡¡¡The lower water level is already affecting recreational opportunities at Lake Mead, but it shouldn¡¯t change the number of visitors per year, according to the National Park Service.

¡¡¡¡Greg Hauburger, who works in the park¡¯s public affairs bureau, said one of the most immediate effects on recovery will be the temporary closings and delays on Lake Mead¡¯s boat ramps as work continues and maintenance continues.

¡¡¡¡¡°We encourage visitors to be patient and plan ahead by checking our website for the latest conditions under¡° Current Conditions at Lake Mead & Lake Mohave ¡±while our maintenance teams work to extend launch pads with cane mats and remove them built to wait. -up sediment and hazards like stones from the ramps. The sinking lake level will also offer some new bays for kayakers and paddleboarders to explore. ¡°

¡¡¡¡Last year Lake Mead had more than 8 million visitors and Hauburger expects this year¡¯s numbers to be similar.

¡¡¡¡Hali Bernstein Saylor, editor of Boulder City Review, and reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear contributed to this report.

¡¡¡¡Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.