NEVADA (CNN) -- A crippling drought in the western US is dropping the water level at Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam to a historically low level, putting pressure on the region's drinking water supply and the dam's electric capacity.

By Thursday, Lake Mead's water level is expected to sink to the lowest it's been since it began filling during construction of the Hoover Dam, according to Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patricia Aaron.

"Lake Mead will most likely hit elevation 1,071.61 (feet) on Thursday, June 10. That will match the previous lowest elevation on record since the 1930s," Aaron said.

The lake is currently at 1072’ above sea level, but at the current rate, it is expected to fall below that level and continue to fall as the demand for water continues throughout the summer.


"We are suffering the effects of 21 conservative years of drought," said Doug Hendrix, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Reclamation for the Lower Colorado Basin.

Lake Mead is currently at 36% capacity, but this level was never unexpected for the water authorities along the Colorado River Basin.

“We have been preparing for this moment for about 20 years -- literally," Southern Nevada Water Authority Senior Analyst JC Davis said. "There are agreements among the states as to who will absorb how much are the shortage if that comes to pass."

Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam to reach lowest water level in decades

Lake Mead has declined about 140 feet since 2000 and now sits at 37% of full capacity.

Water in the Lower Colorado River Basin that Lake Mead is a part of is used for many different things in several states with Arizona and California being some the biggest consumers of the water. Water in these states is used to fill the taps in homes, and fields for crops to drink up and grow.

“We are going to have to stretch water further and also give the reservoirs on the Colorado River more time to recapture water and rebuild,” said Hendrix.

While the lake's water level is expected to reach a new low this week, it won't be the bottom. "We anticipate the elevation of Lake Mead to continue to decline until November 2021," Aaron said.

When the water rights were negotiated in the early 1900s, Nevada’s population was extremely small, so Nevada received a smaller portion of the water along the river.

“Nevada has, by a lot, the smallest allocation of Colorado River Water," Davis said.

Nevada has a 300,000 acre-foot entailment to water. Most of the water used in the state finds its way back to the water system, this gives the Southern Nevada Water Authority flow credits for the water it puts back in. With these credits, Nevada is staying well below the amount water allocated to it according to Hendrix.

"It's going to be very important for the residents here and for the businesses to do all they can to conserve," Davis said.

A crippling drought in the western US is dropping the water level at Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam to a historically low level, putting pressure on the region's drinking water supply and the dam's electric capacity.


Parts of the West and the Intermountain West have been in near continual drought conditions for decades. The Intermountain West is the area between the Rocky Mountains and Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

"Some years are better than others and not in all places at all times, but the region has never fully recovered with enough rainfall and snowfall to erase the deficit," CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.

Miller described the drought as a "vicious cycle" in which dry land leads to less evaporation, which leads to fewer clouds and more sun, which equals more heat and evaporation.

"Climate change is clearly playing a role, as recent years have all been among the hottest in history. The warmer temperatures are driving that vicious cycle, and making it harder for normal or even above average rainfall years to make a dent in the drought," Miller said. "When one or two below average rainfall/snowfall years occur, as we have just seen, the results are disastrous."

As the water in Lake Mead drops, so does the dam's electrical output. Hoover Dam usually produces about 2,074 megawatts, according to the Western Area Power Administration. That's about enough electricity for nearly 8 million people. Tuesday's capacity is 1,567 megawatts, a drop of about 25%.

"Every foot of lake level decline means about 6 (megawatt) of lost capacity," Aaron said.

With no relief in sight, officials are planning for another unprecedented declaration in August, which is when operating conditions are set for the following year. It's likely a Level 1 Shortage Condition will be declared for 2022 for Lake Mead, Aaron said, meaning surrounding states will have to implement water-saving measures.

Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam to reach lowest water level in decades

Lake Mead has declined about 140 feet since 2000 and now sits at 37% of full capacity.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said the planned drop in water coming from Lake Mead next year will be "painful," but the department is already working on contingency plans.

"While we may have less water coming to Arizona from the Colorado River in 2022, Arizona's water managers and suppliers have been taking measures to prepare and will continue to work to ensure the river remains stable for generations to come," Buschatzke said.

CNN has reached out to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources about its planning for future water needs.

FOX5 contributed to this report.

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(8) comments


Based on the fact that there's no moratorium on construction in Southern Nevada's due to the advertised extreme water shortage, it would appear the Southern Nevada leadership is either just money hungry or incompetent.


Nevada has a long and glorious history of short-sighted leadership.


Either pump Lake Tahoe water in or desalinated ocean water in !


Lake Tahoe is also low due to the drought and pumping in desalinated water either from the Sea of Cortez or the Pacific Ocean would be cost prohibitive. It would make much more sense to stop growing water intensive crops in the Imperial Valley. Remember most of the water in Lake Mead is allocated for California, Nevada only receives 3%.


California has the Pacific ocean. If they would have built desalination plants instead of spending billions on a bullet train to nowhere, they would have been better off. But we all know Piglosi's husband was behind that and It's all about the money.


California built the world's largest desalinization plant at the same time as the train.


1234: If that's the case they don't need our water!


Of course, it's that dreadful climate change fault again. Bill Gates will come up with another pandemic plan.

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