Along with the rest of the Western United States, Lake Mead in Nevada is suffering from the ongoing drought. The water levels have shrunk substantially from 1984 to 2016, as seen in this Google Timelapse. In the past, the reservoir has provided 90 percent of Las Vegas’ drinking water, yet federal water managers are now predicting that the lake will not have enough water to fulfill deliveries to Arizona and Nevada in 2018.
Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the fastest growing cities in America, and the shrinking of it’s main fresh water supply is not something that will help the rising population levels. According to CBS News, the water levels of the Lake Mead reservoir were down more than 60 percent from their capacity in May of 2015. In September of 2015, the reservoir was down 147 feet from full capacity, and only 38 percent full. In 2016, the reservoir was just 36 percent full, and only keeps shrinking.
What exactly is causing this shrinking? Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States, and is fed by the Colorado River and it’s tributaries, which are fed by snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. Since the Southwestern United States and the Colorado River Basin have been experiencing a drought for the past fourteen years, there just isn’t as much water flowing in the system. Although the snow should still be melting, the winters have been uneven and the precipitation has been below average, due to warmer temperatures and global warming. All of these factors in combination have contributed to the drying up of Lake Mead.
Unfortunately, this drought is not going away anytime soon. The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, according to scientists from NASA, Columbia University and Cornell University. Although the region is already historically dry, rising temperatures spurred by the greenhouse effect result in more evaporation and less precipitation for the region as a whole. Only time will tell whether the situation will improve, but things are not looking great.