"We don't have enough water supplies to meet normal demand right now"
LAS VEGAS -- A huge, drought-starved reservoir at the Colorado River has been so low that Las Vegas is now pumping water from Lake Mead deeper than other states downstream.
Southern Nevada Water Authority released photos this week showing the highest intake at 1,050 feet (320m) above sea level in the lake behind Hoover Dam.
Bronson Mack, a water authority spokesperson, said that while this highlights the severity of the drought conditions it also means that we have been preparing for it for over ten years. He said that the low intake allows Las Vegas to "keep access to its primary water supply in Lake Mead even if water levels continue declining due to ongoing droughts and climate change conditions."
As the drought continues, water managers across several states that depend on the Colorado River are taking new steps to conserve water.
"We don’t have enough water supplies to meet the normal demand right now." Rebecca Kimitch, spokesperson for Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, stated this week that the water supply is inadequate. The agency advised 6 million residents in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties that they would reduce their outdoor watering to just one day per week by June 1 or face stiff penalties.
In March, Lake Powell's surface level dropped below a crucial threshold, raising questions about Glen Canyon Dam's ability to continue providing power for its 5 million customers in the U.S. West.
Lake Powell and Lake Mead upstream are the largest man-made reservoirs in America. They are part of a system that supplies water to over 40 million people, tribes and industries in Arizona, California and Colorado.
Arizona's falling Colorado River levels have caused concern about water supply to desert areas, including metro Phoenix, Tucson, tribal land, and farms.
The new pumps at Lake Mead are fed by an intake that was drilled closer to the bottom of Lake Mead. It was completed in 2020 to allow for the continued drawing of water for Las Vegas, its suburbs, 2.4 million residents, and 40 million tourists annually.
The "third straw" draws water at 895 feet (2272.8 meters) above the sea level -- below the point at which water wouldn't be released downstream of Hoover Dam.
The combined cost of the pump and pipeline projects was more than $1.3B. The drilling began in 2014 amid predictions that the lake level would continue falling due to drought. Long-term climate change is now responsible for the increasing drought conditions in the region.
Lake Mead is located between Arizona and Nevada. It reached its highest water level in July 1983 at 1,225 feet (373.4 meters) above the sea level. The level was approximately 30% full on Friday at 1,055 feet (3321.6 meters). The white mineral "bathtub" ring is visible at 170 feet (51.8m) on some of the cliffs that border the lake.
"Without the third intake Southern Nevada would be closing its doors," stated Pat Mulroy, a former chief of the Las Vegas-based water authority and now a consultant. It's obvious that the first straw has run out of water.
A middle-level pipeline can also draw water up to 1,000 feet (304.8 metres).
According to the authority, Las Vegas' water supply is not at risk. It cites water conservation efforts, which it claims have reduced regional consumption of Colorado River water water by 26% since 2002 while the area's population has increased 49%.