Lake Mead’s water levels this week dropped to historic lows, bringing the nation’s largest reservoir less than 150 feet away from “dead pool” — when the reservoir is so low that water cannot flow downstream from the dam.
Lake Mead’s water level on Wednesday was measured at 1,044.03 feet, its lowest elevation since the lake was filled in the 1930s. If the reservoir dips below 895 feet — a possibility still years away — Lake Mead would reach dead pool, carrying enormous consequences for millions of people across Arizona, California, Nevada and parts of Mexico.
“This is deadly serious stuff,” said Robert Glennon, an emeritus professor at the University of Arizona who specializes in water law and policy.
Persistent drought conditions over the past two decades, exacerbated by climate change and increased water demands across the southwestern United States, have contributed to Lake Mead’s depletion. Though the reservoir is at risk of becoming a dead pool, it would most likely take several more years to reach that level, Glennon said.
In the meantime, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and water managers across the southwestern United States are making efforts to manage the flow of water into the Colorado River and regulate water use among states in the region. These measures are designed to help replenish Lake Mead, which was created on the Colorado River on the Arizona-Nevada border when the Hoover Dam was built in the early 1930s, and another severely depleted reservoir, Lake Powell, which was created along the border of Utah and Arizona.
Dead pool would not mean that there was no water left in the reservoir, but even before Lake Mead were to hit that point, there are concerns that water levels could fall so low that the production of hydroelectric power would be hindered.