Lake Mead just 37% full as drought holds Western U.S. in its grip

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A drought has much of the Western U.S. in its grip. Scientists are calling it a “mega-drought,” brought on by climate change. It’s taking a dramatic toll on the Colorado River System, which provides water to 40 million people in seven states, including Nevada.

Lake Mead is now just 37% full, and this week, it could hit its lowest point ever.

The last time the lake reached its lowest level since being filled in the 1930s was in 2016.

If we have a federal shortage in 2022, that would mean a decline of about 8,000-acre-feet, or 2,608,000,000 gallons, of water to the Silver State. Right now, it wouldn’t cause any cuts here because we don’t take all the amount we are allotted out of the lake.

To help save water, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Assembly Bill 356, which prohibits the use of Colorado River Water on non-functional turf. Beth Moore with the Southern Nevada Water Authority explains this is grass that never gets stepped on, like in medians, near sidewalks or parking lots.

“We identified that there are approximately 5,000 acres of non-functional turf in the valley that accounts for about 12% of our water use,” Moore revealed.

Patti Aaron, public affairs officer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Region, recommends we keep conserving water any time we can.

“The state has been great about doing large-scale conservation and leaving water in Lake Mead, so we haven’t reached critical levels because all of those operational guidelines and all of that conservation has been put into place,” Aaron told 8 News Now. “Today, Lake Mead is at elevation 1,072.1, and in July of 2016, the reservoir hit 1,071. We are expecting to hit that elevation again within the next few days.”

Most of the water in the Colorado River comes from snowpack in the Rockies. Last year, that was at 25% of the normal quantity. We need 3-4 consecutive above-average years of snowpack to be able to refill Lake Mead.

Mandatory cuts to water usage amounts would hit California and Arizona harder. However, because of complex agreements with Nevada, they would be using credits from previous years to offset those cuts. This means they could still take large amounts of water out of the lake.

The biggest water users are not on the Las Vegas Strip; they’re on farmland. The Strip only uses about 4% of our water.

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