NASA scientist: Shrinking Lake Mead levels, satellite images ‘a wake-up call’

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 10:53 PM PDT
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LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - A NASA scientist calls the startling satellite images of shrinking Lake Mead “a wake-up call,” as climate change challenges the Western region’s efforts to conserve water amid the worst drought in centuries.

NASA published photos of the progression of the drought over two decades in an article titled, “Lake Mead Keeps Dropping.” The agency works to study the impact of climate change on the crucial water source for the Western U.S.

“The message is, get ready for a drier future,” said Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, as the drier trend will continue through the century as global warming continues.

“This is not a few bad years. the western U.S. has been basically in a drought since 2000. This is a really quite exceptional drought. This is a much longer, more persistent, more widespread drought than really any drought that the U.S. has experienced probably for the last 1,200 years,” Cook said.

Could Lake Mead dry up, in the next 100 years? It’s possible, Cook said, but policymakers have the power to create change to slow the decline. The last two years have shown the most significant drops to unprecedented levels, according to NASA’s chart analysis.

“This really shows that despite all the efforts to reduce water use and withdrawals from Lake Mead over the last 20 years, even the last two years are really beginning to test what’s been done. We’re starting to live in unprecedented times. And we’re starting to stress our adaptation and are policies in ways that they have not been stressed before,” he said, acknowledging the efforts of Western governments to curb water usage.

FOX5 spoke to the Southern Nevada Water Authority over its policies to curb water usage. Southern Nevada boasts the smallest use of water of any other region, with California and Arizona consuming the lion’s share. Southern Nevada has decreased its usage by 26% since 2002, as the population has surged more than 750,000 people.

It will take years for Lake Mead to recover, but conservation will slow or stop the rate of decline, Cook said.

“We can say with confidence that it’s probably going to take a while for Lake Mead to return to full capacity. The hole we’ve dug, the deficit that we have, is just so large, that it’s really going to take a really monumental effort to reduce water use, and just some luck, to get the moisture to get things back to the way they used to be. Is there a potential to at least, start to stop the decline? Slow it down, or at least begin to recovery? I think, yes,” Cook said.