LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — For Las Vegas, water is life.
After years living with a lingering sense of doom, residents have taken some pleasure in seeing Lake Mead fill up a little bit on the strength of a record snowpack for the Colorado River. The fact remains that it’s only a third full, but it’s a big improvement over last year. In fact, the lake is 23 feet higher today than its low point in July of 2022.
With every inch Lake Mead rises, 2 billion gallons are added. It’s a simple number to remember in all the news about how the lake level changes. 1 inch = 2 billion gallons.
Over the past seven days (Aug. 20-27), the lake has gained about 13 and a half inches — 27 billion gallons. The increase at Lake Mead is because releases from Glen Canyon Dam — 280 miles upstream on the river — have been increased. While Hoover Dam is releasing water at 7,712 cubic feet per second (cfs) over the past week, it has been getting water released from Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell) at 12,635 cfs. That’s why the level has been going up at Lake Mead.
The Bureau of Reclamation cut releases from Hoover Dam by 30% due to decreased water demand in agricultural areas of Southern Arizona and Southern California, spokesman Doug Hendrix said last week. If demand had not changed due to the storm, there likely would not have been any change to Lake Mead’s elevation. Runoff was not enough to impact the reservoir significantly.
Lake Mead’s level is likely to peak in September, and then the anxiety begins again after a truly remarkable year in the Colorado River’s history.
It makes for some interesting comparisons in water usage and water savings. We’ve done some of the math below:
Nevada used 224,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead in 2022. That’s about 36.5 inches — a fraction over 3 feet of the water in the lake.
Compare that to California’s allocation of Colorado River water from Lake Mead — 4.4 million acre-feet. That’s equal to 59.7 feet. California is the biggest user of Colorado River water. Nevada’s allocation is 6.25% of what California gets. But Nevada only used 5%.
Bronson Mack, outreach manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District, said Nevada is on pace to use 19% less water this year than it did in 2022. That’s 13.8 billion gallons that will stay in Lake Mead because of conservation efforts in Las Vegas. That’s almost 7 inches added to the lake.
If California could match that kind of savings, the lake would rise 11.5 feet in just a year — half the total that Lake Mead went up during this extraordinary year for snow.