Lake Mead Shrinking: Hoover Dam Reservoir Is Vital to Las Vegas

Monday, 03 Feb 2014 12:32 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Lake Mead is shrinking and so is the Las Vegas water supply.

The largest reservoir in the United States, Nevada's Lake Mead stretches some 12-miles long at full capacity with a 759-mile shoreline.

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Over the past 14 years however, the body of water, which was formed by the Hoover Dam in 1935, has been shrinking due to a prolonged drought. The loss of water is perhaps best demonstrated by a white line along the lake's partial rock enclosure that illustrates just how much the water has dwindled away in recent years, CBS News reported.

"This was all underwater," Pat Mulroy, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told CBS News referring to a white line along the rocks. "I mean boats were everywhere. There was a whole marina here."

Additionally, the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, is also drying up according to satellite photos of the waterway, CBS News noted.

As a result of the shrinkage, which amounts to some 4 trillion gallons of water since 2000, small islands are beginning to emerge in areas of the lake that were once all water.

"It's a pretty critical point," Mulroy added. "The rate at which our weather patterns are changing is so dramatic that our ability to adapt to it is really crippled."

Currently, Lake Mead provides water to some 20 million people between Arizona, southern Nevada, and southern California.

If the reservoir continues to dry up at its current rate, the lake will lose another 20 feet in 2014, and might lead to automatic water supply cuts in Nevada and Arizona, which could severely impact Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its water from the Lake Mead. Within the next few years, at least one of Las Vegas' two reservoir pipes could be above water, CBS News noted.

In anticipation of continued water loss, Nevada is reportedly in the process of constructing a third tunnel inside the reservoir that stretches three-miles-long and allows for deeper access into the lake. The $817 million project is expected to be completed in 2015.

"We're really scrambling to make sure that this intake is done in time before we lose our first intake," J.C. Davis, the project's spokesperson, told CBS News. "Without Lake Mead, there would be no Las Vegas."

Adding to the dilemma is the fact that Las Vegas' population has increased significantly over the past 10 years, adding some 400,000 residents in a decade, which in turn resulted in a 33 percent increase in water usage since 2004.

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