Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, is located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was created in the late 1930’s after the construction of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. After the opening of Hoover Dam it took approximately six years for Lake Mead to fill, during which time the flow of the Colorado River was virtually non-existent resulting in environmental impacts all the way to the Colorado River Delta (where the Colorado River flows into the Gulf of California (the Sea of Cortzez).
Lake Mead is named for Elwood Mead who headed the Bureau of Reclamation from 1924 until his death in 1936 (the same year that Hoover Dam was completed).
Lake Mead serves as the main source of raw water to Las Vegas, which has been the fastest growing metropolitan area for more than a decade. The Las Vegas Valley has grown by approx. 500,000 residents since 2000.
As of May 2009 the reservoir was at 43 percent of capacity and the word “crisis” is used to describe the situation. Even though above-average rainfall in early 2010 raised the level of Lake Mead more than a foot at Hoover Dam, as of April 2010 the water level was reported at 1,100 feet. At 1,025 feet Hoover Dam loses the capacity to produce electricity.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is pressing ahead with a rural groundwater pipeline project that will bring 150 million gallons of water a day from counties located in northeastern Nevada up to 300 miles away. An initial 75-mile segment of the project could be operational by 2012.
The SNWA web site says, “The Colorado River system is facing the worst drought on record. Lake Mead’s water level has dropped approximately 100 feet since January 2000.” (Source.)
“But that’s not soon enough. The primary raw water intake at Lake Mead could become inoperable as soon as 2010 based on current drought and user projections, spelling potential disaster for Las Vegas.” (Source.)
Graph of Lake Mead water level.