Lake Mead Keeps Dropping: Water Levels Are at Their Lowest Since 1937

Lake Mead July 2000 Annotated

July 6, 2000

Lake Mead July 2022 Annotated

July 3, 2022

Water levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest since April 1937, when the reservoir was still being filled for the first time, continuing a 22-year downward trend. Lake Mead was filled to just 27 percent of capacity as of July 18, 2022.

As the largest reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead supplies water to millions of people across seven states, tribal lands, and northern Mexico. Additionally, it also currently serves as a stark illustration of climate change and a long-term drought that may be the worst in the U.S. West in 12 centuries.

This extremely low water level comes at a time when 74 percent of nine Western states face some level of drought; 35 percent of the area is in extreme or exceptional drought. In Colorado, the location of the headwaters of the Colorado River, 83 percent of the state is now in drought, and in many places, the snowpack from last winter was below average.

The images above are natural-color images that were acquired by Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 on July 6, 2000, and July 3, 2022. The detailed images in the series below also include a view from Landsat 8 on July 8, 2021 (middle). Light-colored fringes are visible along the shorelines in 2021 and 2022. These are mineralized areas of the lakeshore that were formerly underwater when the reservoir was filled closer to capacity. The phenomenon is often referred to as a “bathtub ring.”

Lake Mead Overton Arm 2000 2021 2022

July 6, 2000 – July 3, 2022

In the chart below, the lake elevation data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), which manages Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and other portions of the Colorado River watershed. As of July 18, 2022, the water elevation at the Hoover Dam was 1041.30 feet (317.4 meters) above sea level; the water elevation at the end of July 2000 (around the time of the Landsat 7 image above) was 1199.97 feet (341 meters). Lake levels at the dam should stay above 1000 feet to continue operating hydropower turbines at normal levels.

At maximum capacity, Lake Mead would reach an elevation 1,220 feet (372 meters) near the dam and would hold 9.3 trillion gallons (36 trillion liters) of water. The lake last approached full capacity in the summers of 1983 and 1999.

Lake Mead Monthly Elevation June 2022

December 1, 2000 – 2022

About 10 percent of the water in Lake Mead comes from local precipitation and groundwater each year, with the rest coming from snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains that flows down the Colorado River watershed through Lake Powell, Glen Canyon, and the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River basin is managed by USBR and other agencies to provide electric power and water to roughly 40 million people—most notably the cities of San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles—and 4 to 5 million acres of farmland in the Southwest. The river water is allotted to states (including tribal lands) and Mexico through laws like the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

Above Lake Mead, Lake Powell is currently filled to just 27 percent of capacity, and the entire Colorado river system stands at 35 percent. USBR announced in August 2021 that state water allocations would be cut in 2022; further modeling and negotiation are underway for 2023 allocations. In June 2022, USBR issued an emergency request to the Colorado River basin states to reduce water usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet over the next 18 months.

In addition to serving as a major drinking and irrigation source for the Southwest, Lake Mead is a national recreation area that is particularly popular with boaters. According to the National Park Service, five of six boating ramps/launches are now closed. “Declining water levels due to climate change and 20 years of ongoing drought have reshaped the park’s shorelines,” the Park Service said on its website. “As Lake Mead continues to recede, extending launch ramps becomes more difficult and more expensive due to the topography and projected decline in water levels.”

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and lake elevation data from the Bureau of Reclamation.

4 Comments on "Lake Mead Keeps Dropping: Water Levels Are at Their Lowest Since 1937"

  1. Mike Pollock | July 21, 2022 at 2:22 pm | Reply

    I hate to say it but our planet will not live forever. It is its entropy that is causing this loss of water. After all, look at Mars. It once had water and now doesn’t. This is because the gravity our planet produces is based on the energy the core creates, not its mass alone. The Big Bang theory is what makes science not realize this fact since all the energy we see was supposedly created with gravity based on mass alone. It wasn’t. All the energy was created by a collision in space. 13.8 billion years ago, our universe turned itself into a gargantuan particle collider that created quark plasma shrapnel as the galaxies. They were formed immediately from the collision and had all their energy from that second as well. That is how all the laws of physics are applied to the event that happened 13.8 billion years ago.
    What is causing all the heat and cold on our planet is the lessening of our atmosphere. Since gravity is slowly allowing it to leak into space, there is less protection from the radiation of our Sun but also less protection from the absolute zero cold of space.

  2. bob mccullough | July 21, 2022 at 5:14 pm | Reply

    13.8 billion years ago?? Aren’t we bright? Man is just a small speck in the universe. Perhaps we should be a little more reliant on our Creator as we view His creation. Few people live to be 100 years old. Wake up people, God loves you and sent his Son Jesus to save his creation. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

  3. It is so simple really, 1900 the world population was around 1 billion, 2022 it is around 7.8 billion. They all want gizmos, cars, airplane holidays, etc., the environment cannot cope with the pollution, the planet is being poisoned and the population with it. There is no population control, we have not had any big wars to reduce the population and eliminate the young breeding people so the current big bang is people…..

  4. Bob McCullough, your deity sure hasn’t done a lot to keep his creation in working order. It seems a lot like either he doesn’t care or we’re on our own.

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