California Drought to Affect Lake Mead Levels - 8 News NOW

California Drought to Affect Lake Mead Levels

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LAS VEGAS - California will soon take a larger share of water out of Lake Mead at a time when the lake is reaching increasingly lower levels.

The State of California officially declared a drought emergency January 17. As part of that declaration, the state will draw more water from Lake Mead, which sits east of Las Vegas.

Southern Nevada water officials say this development could lead to water restrictions in the valley by next year.

Las Vegas gets approximately 90 percent of its water supply from Lake Mead. The lake's level is approximately 1,100 feet above sea level. Once that level drops to 1,075 feet, the Southern Nevada Water Authority can declare a water shortage, which would lead to tougher water restrictions.

Water officials say the lake could reach that level by next year, depending how much water California takes from the lake. The Southern Nevada Water Authority predicts the Golden State will take the water during the course of the next year.

Dropping lake levels will create another problem: the shut down of the lake's first intake pipeline. If the lake drops below that pipeline, the pipeline is rendered useless.

SNWA is trying to alleviate the problem with the construction of a third intake pipeline that sits deeper inside the lake. If construction of the third intake is not completed by the time the first intake becomes obsolete, water officials say southern Nevada could face significant problems.

"It's sort of a slow motion disaster," said SNWA spokesman J.C. Davis. "It's not a super storm or a typhoon that happens all at once. It sort of happens in slow motion, and you notice it month after month, year after year."

Electricity supply from Hoover Dam is also at stake. The dropping water level at Lake Mead could affect hydropower produced at the dam. While southern California uses most of that power, it's still a concern for Las Vegas.

"Las Vegas is a relatively small consumer of power from Hoover Dam. The vast majority of it is sold on the western grid as it's called, and it goes down to California," Davis said. "Nonetheless, anything that tightens the supply on the grid is going to potentially affect energy prices, so that's something that we'll have to keep an eye on."

The water authority says the third intake is more than half finished and should be completed by next summer.

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