Federal government expected to declare first-ever water shortage at Lake Mead

Local News

LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — Last week we took a look at the Colorado River system which brings water to millions of people in the West – including right here in Las Vegas.

But water levels at Lake Mead keep dropping. The federal government is expected to declare its first ever “tier one” shortage.

At Nevada’s Lake Mead, the water has slowly but surely been disappearing.

Tracy Snethen: “Probably, maybe 10 years ago, that you would be underwater completely.”
Reporter Chip Yost: “Right where we’re standing now?”
Tracy Snethen: “Right where we’re standing now, yeah.”

Tracy Snethen of Southern California has been boating at the lake with his family  for decades

“I mean, you look at some of these surrounding mountains and hills and stuff,” he said. “The water was up where the brown part is and now it’s down and we’ve watched it come down over the last 10, 15 years. It just keeps going down and down and down and now it’s almost impossible to watch.”

Lake Mead is also the reservoir for the Hoover Dam and to see just how much it’s gone down look at this picture from November of 2000, paying particular attention to the intake towers, and compare that to a picture in June of this year.

It’s a scary picture for the multiple states who rely on Lake Mead and the Colorado River system of which it’s a part of for water.

“For us, Lake Mead is particularly important in California,” said Deven Upadhyay, Metropolitan Water District.

He is the chief operating officer of the MWD which is the largest treated drinking water provider in the United States. The district provides water to about 19 million Southern Californians in six different counties. Much of that water is delivered by the Colorado River aqueduct.

“When you look at kind of an average over the last 10 years, the Colorado River provides about 25% of the water that’s used in Southern California.

Places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson also get water from the river but soon they may not be getting as much.

“We’re at the point where some serious decisions will likely have to be made,” said Doug Hendrix, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

He says in August the record low water levels in Lake Mead are expected to trigger the bureau’s first ever declaration of a tier one water shortage on the system.

That would mean cutbacks starting next year in the amount of Colorado River water sent to Nevada and Arizona states that have already seen reductions in their share of the river’s water. Mexico would also get less.

But because of senior water rights and other agreements, California’s share of water from the Colorado won’t be cut, just yet. But if the trend continues, California could be next.

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