Alarmingly low Lake Mead water levels causes officials to replace parts in brand new pumping station

Water levels at Lake Mead are shockingly low, and photographs prove it: a major water intake is now exposed above the surface.
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 7:21 AM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - Water levels at Lake Mead are shockingly low, and photographs prove it: a major water intake is now exposed above the surface. The dire situation is even causing the Southern Nevada Water Authority to make changes to its brand new Low Lake Level Pumping Station, which provides Nevadans with the water they need.

Construction on the massive multi-million dollar pump began in 2015 and finished two years ago. The new pump became operational this year. But now, low water levels have engineers already replacing certain parts within the pipes.

“A symbol of how serious the situation is on the Colorado River right now: reservoir levels are lower than they’ve ever been,” said Colby Pellegrino, General Manager of Resources at the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Officials are removing 1100-pound plates from the pumping system’s pipes to ensure that their Low Lake Level Pumping Station is operating at its full capacity amid decreasing water levels. They are replacing them with free-flow inserts.

“We’re removing these so we can have a better flow of water without as much power needs to be able to run this operationally, to put it very simply,” said Doa Ross, Department General Manager of Engineering, Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The $522 million dollar pumping station was paid for by Southern Nevada taxpayers, and aims to benefit them specifically.

“This is important for Southern Nevada, because we have built a solution in place for us. So if we hit a point that we call ‘dead pool’ -- which is elevation 895 -- California, Arizona, and the country of Mexico no longer has access to the Colorado River, but Southern Nevada still does,” said Ross.

Ongoing drought conditions in the Colorado River basin have caused Lake Mead’s elevation to fall by more than 150 feet since 2000.

So with hundreds of thousands of people expected to come into town this week for the NFL draft and a busy summer ahead, will we see impacts on our water levels? Officials weighed in.

“We have historically had, on average, 42 million visitors every single year,” said Ross. “All of our system and resources are built around that number, so having tourism is such an important part of Southern Nevada’s economy, it doesn’t affect us.”

Pellegrino said water conservation comes down to responsible watering of landscaping, reporting any leaks or water waste that we see, and avoiding using grass in our lawns.

“What happens indoors doesn’t really matter for the way we use water, because we collect all the water that hits the sewer, and return it back to Lake Mead,” said Pellegrino. “And that doesn’t count against the water we use from the Colorado River. What does, is our outdoor water uses: be that evaporative cooling, landscapes are the number one use, and septic tanks, to a smaller degree, and so those are the uses we need to focus on.”

As aforementioned, the top of “intake number one” is now visible, and the pumping station, which was completed in 2020, is now in operation.

According to SNWA, as Lake Mead water levels continue to fall “during the worst drought in the history of the Colorado River Basin,” the Low Lake Level Pumping Station will ensure that Southern Nevada maintains access to its primary water supplies in the lake.

The pumping station has the capacity to deliver up to 900 million gallons a day to its treatment facilities.