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May 3, 2015

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Lake Mead’s water level rises 30 feet after wet winter


Sam Morris / Sun file photo

Discoloration around the banks of Lake Mead shows how much the water level has declined over the years.

Lake Mead Losing Water

An old fishing pier, not used for nearly 15 years, is now far from the water's edge at Lake Mead. Launch slideshow »

Map of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

601 Nevada Way, Boulder City

Lost and found

A salvage party dismantles a house in St. Thomas, Nevada in 1942. St. Thomas, which was abandoned to the rising waters of Lake Mead in 1938, has resurfaced due to fluctuating lake levels several times over the decades. Launch slideshow »

A wet winter in the Rocky Mountains has translated into more water in Lake Mead, pushing the lake’s elevation to its highest point since 2009.

The lake’s surface level has risen nearly 30 feet to 1,110 feet after hitting a low in November. Projections have the lake rising another 40 feet over the next year, helping stave off a potential water shortage.

This year’s surge is being attributed to “substantial snowpack” in the Rocky Mountains, which led to more water running into Lake Powell, which lies on the Arizona-Utah border upstream of Lake Mead.

According to Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rose Davis, excess water from Lake Powell is being sent to Lake Mead under conditions established in the Colorado River Compact.

Lake Mead’s elevation had plunged nearly 100 feet over the past decade, as a lingering drought choked the Colorado River. The lake came within six feet of dropping below the point that would have caused a water shortage. Further drops would have triggered limits on water use in the valley, but the recent increase has pushed the date of a possible shortage back to at least 2014, Davis said.

“It’s too early to say the drought is over, but we’ve had a great year,” Davis said.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area park planner Jim Holland said boaters and beachgoers will be affected.

As the water level receded, muddy shorelines that had once been underwater have been exposed. Holland said the rise will mean a more comfortable, less muddy day at the beach for visitors.

But the increased elevation isn’t enough to reopen any of the four boat launch ramps closed in the past decade, Holland said.

The ramp at Overton Beach on the northern part of the lake would be the first to reopen, he said, but park officials are waiting to see if the water level will stabilize or continue rising before investing the money to restart a water treatment plant that was mothballed as part of the closure.

“We need some guarantee of what the lake level is going to be,” he said. “We can’t spend that money to open it up and then have to close it shortly after.”

And boaters will have to deal with new terrain, as parts of the lake are newly submerged. Holland advises boaters be cautious, warning that rock outcroppings once exposed could be covered by just a few feet of water.

“Be careful near the shore,” he said. “It’s very difficult for us to stay ahead of hazards that are being created by rapidly changing elevations … The lake’s very different from the last time you visited.”

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  1. Since day one of Lake Mead the levels have cycled. Once again it is showing it comes back. Early projects are saying that next winter will be similar to this winter and that will bring the lake back up even more.

    Glad to see it, Lake Mead is a blast and needed to keep Las Vegas alive and well.

  2. Im with you Vegaslee, the outlook is good and lets keep the water coming!

  3. Thirty feet of new water. Four more years of a wet winters up north should put us back to a safer level of water.

  4. The ONE THING that this reporter DID NOT address in this article that greatly pertains to water and the water levels, is now the recent addition OF the City of North Las Vegas Waste Water Treatment Plant's treated water going into LAKE MEAD!!!!!

    It is a whole bunch of continuous water flow 24/7 now, that appears to be non-stop. What about that???

    Kindly, if you will, add to this report/article, and also include information on water quality, the laboratory reports stating exactly what the treated water is like leaving the plant entering into the Sloan Channel, then when just as it enters Lake Mead. Please give us a tickler of some science, to not only make me happy, but the inquiring minds of many others who live along the Sloan Channel, and those who swim in Lake Mead. That would truly be RESPONSIBLE REPORTING.

    Thank you very much for all you do for our community!
    Star Ali Mistriel

  5. THis is great news!!!

  6. Hi guys,

    In response to the comment about the effect of North Las Vegas's new Waste Water Treatment Plant, I tried to contact someone at the Bureau of Reclamation (which oversees Lake Mead) but I haven't heard anything back from them.

    I've done some quick math based on some previous reporting by our others in our newsroom, and from what I can tell, the amount of water flowing from that new treatment plant is minimal when compared to the size of Lake Mead.

    In this story ( we reported that at peak capacity, the plant will discharge 25 million gallons of treated water daily.

    While that may seem like a lot, Lake Mead measures its water supply in acre-feet, which converts at a ratio of 1 acre-foot equaling ~326,000 gallons.

    Using the conversion, North Las Vegas discharges about 76 acre feet of water daily to Lake Mead.

    According to this story (, about 8.23 million acre-feet of water is discharged into Lake Mead annually from upstream reservoirs (although that number is higher this year due to the excessive snow).

    Boiling it all down the discharge from North Las Vegas's new treatment plant would account for at most .3 percent of all the water flowing into Lake Mead in a given year.

    As far as the water quality, I don't have specific information on that, although it's been covered some in other stories.

    The city maintains its clean water (it has been treated), although some residents along the channel have raised issues with the odor from the water (see the first story I linked).

    Hope that helps.


  7. This is bad news for the naysayers. They will need to find another negative story to hang onto now.

  8. Mr. Keith,

    The 30 feet is what it has come up since last November. They are expecting another 40 feet by years end. That will put the lake at 1150.

    One more year like this and we will be over the spill way again. That would be a good sight to see. Has been a while since we saw water running over the dam. ;)

  9. @Heretic...........The Colorado River Compact was designed by Herbert Hoover in the 1920's. California gets the lions share of the water AND power the dam produces. About 59%. Las Vegas gets about 5%.

  10. Still a hot dry place! It is good that people don't have to move out of Vegas. It would be something if Vegas was just the Strip and a bunch of Fema trailers to hold alien workers. Maybe move it all to area 51!