LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Lake Mead, the Colorado snowpack and the ongoing drought grab headlines across the nation, but what does the record snowfall on Mt. Charleston mean for the Las Vegas valley and the water level at Lake Mead? It is a ‘good news – bad news’ situation.

The good news

Here in Las Vegas, the record snowfall on Mt. Charleston to the west and the Sheep Mountains to the north is good news. So far this winter-into-spring season, Lee Canyon ski resort has recorded 265 inches, more than 22 feet, of snow.

When the snow eventually begins to melt, gravity will take over. As the water flows down from higher elevations, it begins a long journey that does not end at Lake Mead. According to the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) the water will slowly seep into the ground.

“The snow that we receive in the Spring and Sheep Mountains helps to recharge (replenish) our local principal aquifer,” LVVWD spokesman Bronson Mack told “That’s the primary water resource benefit that we receive from the local snowpack along those ranges.”

Mack added the water from the local mountains will also recharge the aquifer used by mountain communities in Lee Canyon and Kyle Canyon on Mt. Charleston.

The water that makes it down to the valley will then replenish the main aquifer underneath Las Vegas. This aquifer sits between 300 to 1,500 feet below ground.

This drinking-water supply is protected from surface contamination by a layer of clay and fine-grained sediments throughout most of the valley.

Las Vegas Valley Groundwater Management Program – Southern Nevada Water Authority

Primary users of aquifer groundwater in the Las Vegas valley are the LVVWD, North Las Vegas, and thousands of thousands of single-family homes, which includes many private well owners. There are “more than 6,000 wells within the Las Vegas Valley that provide groundwater year-round,” according to the LVVWD.

Other, and better-known groundwater users are most of the major hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. This includes the most visited spot on the Strip, the fountains at the Bellagio.

According to MGM International, “The iconic Lake Bellagio and fountains use no water from Lake Mead or the Colorado River. Instead, the lake and all Bellagio property irrigation come from underground wells onsite.”

The bad news

When asked if when Mt. Charleston snow melts, how much of it will eventually end up in Lake Mead, the answer from the LVVWD is a definitive “none.”

The news also isn’t great for a small amount of water seeping into the ground. There are two recognized aquifer zones in the Las Vegas valley.

The usable one is the ‘principal aquifer.’ This is where at least 10% of Southern Nevada’s water supply comes from. But there is also what’s known as the ‘shallow aquifer,’ which is only about 50 feet below the surface.

“The shallow aquifer system creates nuisance water,” Mack told “This is water that seeps from the ground in areas like Valley View and Sahara, Cabana and Vegas Valley, areas near the Silverbowl and other locations of the valley.”

Mack added that water that can be seen dripping from the ceiling of the airport connector tunnel is also coming from the shallow aquifer.

The shallow aquifer water quality is poor, according to the LVVWD. It is filled with dissolved solids exceeding acceptable drinking water standards in most locations.

Groundwater wells

There are different uses of groundwater wells in the Las Vegas valley. Below are examples provided by the Las Vegas Valley Groundwater Management Program, which is part of the Southern Nevada Water Authority:

Domestic wells
A domestic well serves a single home without a water right permit. Domestic well water usage may not exceed 1,800 gallons per day. Thousands of these wells exist in the Las Vegas Valley. One goal of the Groundwater Management Program is to involve domestic well owners in finding solutions to problems such as overdrafting.

Community wells
A community well (also known as a quasi-municipal well) has a number of homes connected to it. Hundreds of these wells exist in the valley. A water permit for a community well allows 1,000 gallons per day, per home. Water usage may not exceed 365,000 gallons per year, per home. All quasi-municipal wells are required to have a meter, and accurate readings must be kept of all water pumped from the well. The goal of the Groundwater Management Program is to develop solutions that will benefit these well users and protect the long-term value of the local groundwater basin.

Commercial and industrial wells
Many golf courses and other commercial businesses own and operate wells. Although the amount of groundwater they use is typically limited by permit, these businesses and their employees rely heavily on that water for their economic livelihood. For this reason, the businesses have a vested interest in finding ways to protect the long-term quantity and quality of water in the groundwater basin.

Small water companies
In most cases, a small water company is another type of community well owner. There are many private water companies in the Las Vegas Valley and all of them are subject to the same issues and concerns experienced by other well owners.

Municipal water providers who own wells
In the Las Vegas Valley, city water is managed on a regional basis among several municipal providers. Two of these providers own and operate wells to help meet peak demands for water in the summer. This cooperation in managing supply and demand means the groundwater basin is an important resource that indirectly affects everyone in the valley, including residents who are on a municipal water system