A Shrinking Lake Mead

The decline of Lake Mead is obvious at first glance. One only has to look at the white bath tub ring in the reservoir which clearly shows where water levels used to be. We saw it clear as day when we were there a couple of years ago.  I took a photograph in 2016 a mere 5 years ago which I showed in a previous post.( http://themeanderer.ca/nature-always-bats-last) When I saw a photo in the Guardian I was shocked how much farther the water level had dropped. It was stunning.

As Oliver Milman reported in the Guardian,

The decline of Lake Mead is apparent even at a cursory glance. The US’s largest reservoir is now barely a third full, the dark basalt rock of its canyon walls blanched by a distinctive white calcium ring where the water level once was. This level has plunged by about 130ft in the past 20 years and is currently receding by about a foot a week as farms hit their peak irrigation period.

A lot of people go to Lake Mead for recreation including boating, fishing and swimming. According to Milman,

“The pace of change has been jarring to the millions of people who regularly boat, fish and swim on the lake, with the National Park Service recently laying down new steel platforms to extend launch ramps that no longer reach the water. Some marinas have been wrenched from their moorings and moved because they have been left marooned in baking sediment.”


Meanwhile Las Vegas, which gets nearly all of its water from Lake Mead, was recently the fastest growing city in the United States. Last year it had a record of 240 days without rain, but it is still growing. Now it has to worry about where it will get its water.

The Colorado River is the source of the water for Lake Mead and it is fed mainly by snow melt from the mountains but that snowmelt has declined by 19% since the 1950s. Because of that, and because so much of the water from the river is siphoned off for lawns, golf courses, drinking water, and above all agriculture in California, the Colorado River rarely reaches the Pacific Ocean anymore. Kayaks have to be carried on shoulders to get there. According to Milman,

“Only 1.8% of the west is not in some level of drought, with California, Arizona, and New Mexico all experiencing their lowest rainfalls on record. Lakes in Arizona are so low they can’t be used to fight the fires spurred by drought.”

Do cities like Las Vegas really make sense in a desert? How about Phoenix? Or Los Angeles? I don’t know what the future will bring, but it is bound to be interesting.

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