LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A promising winter dried out quickly when spring arrived, and water flow stands at 58% of normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin, according to a Bureau of Reclamation report released on Friday.
That means continuing water conservation efforts, even though Lake Mead has risen 2 feet over the past year. Predictions for the coming year put the level about 5-6 feet lower than current levels.
Lake Mead fell below 1,090 feet in June after rising as high as 1,098.5 in March. That plunge below 1,090 feet has triggered contingency plans in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico, all of which will make “water savings contributions.”
“Thankfully, our reservoirs continue to do what they were built to do and are providing reliable water by holding it over from wetter years,” Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said.
Lake Mead will operate in the “normal” range through September, 2021. It is currently at 1,085.28 feet — about 10 feet above the “shortage” level, but more than a foot above last August.
Last year’s projections that Lake Mead would rise nearly 15 feet actually underestimated as January measurements hit 1,094.68 feet — more than 2 feet higher than predicted. But Bureau of Reclamation officials expect the lake to dip to 1,089.62 feet by January 2021.
There are no guarantees when it comes to the Colorado River, and the Nevada desert is much more of a “taker” than a “giver” — the Las Vegas valley is currently on day 116 with no measurable precipitation.
Water levels fluctuate through the year with precipitation and spring runoff from streams and rivers that extend all the way into the peaks of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Water managers make decisions each year on how to allocate water through the system.
The Bureau of Reclamation has typically allowed higher water levels at Lake Powell, upriver from Lake Mead. Lake Powell is currently 109 feet below full.
Lake Mead is equipped to continue to provide water even if levels fall drastically. The 2020 completion of the Low Lake Level Pumping Station allows pumping even if the lake drops 200 feet below its current level.
Lake Mead has dropped more than 130 feet since the drought began in 2002, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.