Las Vegas Sun

January 26, 2022

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Storms haven’t reversed Lake Mead’s low water levels

Lake Mead

Sam Morris / Sun file photo

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

Although the El Niño has brought large storms to the southwest, it hasn't been enough to reverse the shrinking of Lake Mead, Southern Nevada Water Authority staff reported at the agency's monthly board meeting Thursday.

Many of the watersheds that feed the Colorado River have gotten less rain and snow than normal this year. In some areas at the extreme north end of the basin, precipitation is less than half of what could be expected in a normal year.

The flow into Lake Powell is 66 percent of the normal levels. That means the lake won't reach equalization -- which keeps the lake full by passing on to lower basin states only their 8.23 million acre foot annual allotment of water in low flow years -- and that the lower basin won't get the extra water needed to raise levels at Lake Mead. Lake Mead is now at 44 percent of capacity.

Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy said that unless precipitation levels raise significantly next winter, Las Vegas could face rationing by early 2012.

In a 2007 contract between the lower basin states, brokered by the Interior Department, Nevada agreed to reduce the amount of water it takes from Lake Mead by 13,300 acre feet a year once the water in the reservoir drops to 1,075 feet above sea level.

The loss would be enough water to supply 6,650 average Southern Nevada homes at the rate they’re using water today.

Elevation 1,075 is also the point where the Water Authority says it will have to begin building its pipeline project. The agency in recent years has contended this option is something of a last resort -- and something that wouldn’t be triggered for many years.

"Next year is a telltale year," Mulroy said.

In other news, SNWA Deputy General Manager of Engineering and Operations Kay Brothers announced she will retire after 20 years with the agency and is moving to Colorado.

SNWA Board member Susan Brager asked her to do a rain dance once she gets there.

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