Is Lake Mead In Nevada Drying Up?


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The experts say yes – and this could mean some really, really bad news for residents of Nevada and California. I just finished reading an article in one of my favorite magazines, Good, about how Lake Mead’s water level dropped 14 feet last year and the Bureau of Reclamation predicts it will drop another 14 feet this year. That’s a drop of a whopping 28 feet in just 2 short years (and over 100 since 2000) – leaving the “folks in the know” to put 50-50 odds on Lake Mead being bone dry come 2021. Only 12 more years! That’s a very scary fact for some people living in the Southwest who depend on that water. Not only does it provide drinking water for the region, but it also waters crops and powers the generators at the Hoover Dam, which provides electricity to over 500,000 homes. Seems those thousands of golf courses and green lawns in the middle of the desert have been hurrying up the pace of the decline – and something needs to be done about it asap.

While places like Las Vegas are giving money to residents to “de-grass” their lawns (which I think is a fantastic idea – who thinks its a good idea to use fresh water just to have a green yard?), replacing them with cactus and other drought-resistant plants, I don’t think it goes far enough. Seems that politicians don’t actually want to make any substantial changes to their water policies because they are afraid of the political repercussions – something I am getting very tired of seeing. In L.A. for example, under a severe drought warning, the Mayor asked people to water their lawns “only” 2 times a week…I am not sure if the Mayor knows that L.A. is actually in the middle of a desert and maybe there shouldn’t be grass growing there anyway! We need real, heavy-duty water restrictions put in place everywhere in the Southwest that feeds off the Colorado River if we want to have water flowing out here in the next 50 years. If we don’t, we are going to look back with amazement at how we stupidly ignored all the signs pointing to a severe drought in the area.

According to Wikipedia (which is never 100% accurate, but most numbers seem to back this statistic up anyway), as of May 2009, Lake Mead is currently at only 43% of its capacity. If it drops much further, the government might step in and reduce the amount that cities and towns can draw from it by 400,000 acre-feet per year, and Good says a reduction of that size would be equal to turning off the tap at 800,000 homes. Think that statistic would be enough to convince people in the Southwest to stop building golf courses, run mammoth fountains at casinos, and have lush green yards in the middle of 115 degree summer heat?

I sometimes doubt it. But I do think it’s worth an attempt to educate people about the facts.

NASA estimates that for each twenty feet in water-level change at Lake Mead, it costs the National Park Service around $6 million in work to move/adjust marinas and services. That’s an awful waste of money that could be going to other projects. But it’s going to seem like pocket change compared to what could be coming, if we as a nation do not go to work on re-writing our water policies. At minimum, every house in America that is eligible should have rain barrels or cisterns installed for watering plants; there should be watering limits placed on parks, golf courses, and other public and/or private facilites, and new homebuilders should be working on legislation allowing for the use of grey water in every new house/apartment building constructed. Even if you have a well, you should be watching your water use – it’s still being pulled out of the ground and the aquifers, which can lead to declines in the water table in your area.

Without access to clean water, we cannot exist. It’s time for us to see what is truly going on and work to change our behavior before it’s too late.

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  1. One correction: LA is not “in the middle of a desert” as the article states. LA’s climate is much more mild than Las Vegas’, and is classified as “Mediterranean”, not “desert”.

    The average high temp. in the summer in LA is about 75 degrees, while in Las Vegas it is around 100 degrees. LA gets an average of 12 inches of rain per year, compared to less than 5 inches in Las Vegas.

    I’m not defending all of the lawns in LA, but they require much less water in the summer than lawns in Las Vegas do.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! One thing that shocks me is how many people — even self-professed progressives — seem to think that it’s OK to spend a half hour or more in the shower.

    I was talking to someone here in L.A. who takes showers up to an hour long because that’s where she “thinks”. Nothing I said to alert her that we’re in the middle of a drought registered with her; it was like talking to a plastic doll.

    I think that the only way to combat the widespread ignorance and foolishness of this matter is to impose stiff penalties and stiff regulations on how much water use is permissible.

  3. LA is, in fact, a desert – and if you took the water away, it return to one. It may not be Las Vegas or Palm Springs, but without water being brought in from the north and east, LA would not exist as it is – it would revert back to a desert-like place. Where I lived in LA for 14 years it was over 100 degrees all summer long.

  4. A good deal of water issues in Los Angeles – again, not a desert – and Las Vegas and such places would be to use reclaimed water. Reclaimed water use is still relatively rare, with much wastewater going into the ocean in Southern California. More than energy-intensive desalinization plants, wastewater reclamation could help areas with poor local water sources be less dependent on water from far away and ease them through droughts better.

  5. What about meat production? According to their own stats (I really don’t want to post a link), it takes 435 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, but some say the number may be as high as 12,000 gallons. Either way, it’s a shame how much of our resources we are wasting on a food that we don’t need to survive…and is contributing to the health crisis in America. (Specifically referring to factory-farmed meat). Have you seen Food, Inc.?

  6. Actually, Los Angeles is NOT a desert. Temperature has nothing to do with being a desert; it’s all about precipitation and surface water. Because Los Angeles receives about 12″ a year and has surface water, it’s semi-arid but not a desert. In fact, Antarctica is one of the driest deserts on earth.

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