CBS and Yahoo News each had an article today about the reduction in Lake Mead’s volume which, should current dry climate conditions continue, will render the lake unusable in 6 to 9 years, and drain it by 2021.
Had I not been there in 1982, 2003 and 2006 I would probably not appreciate this article nearly so much; but having seen the lake essentially full and then half-emptied in a single generation, I am well aware that barring a weather miracle the disappearance of Lake Mead is almost inevitable. The potential disaster that could envelop the Las Vegas suburbs -which Nevada politicians will try to avoid by sacrificing farm irrigation – is just a little further along the horizon.
The demarcation between white and gray rock in the photo above is the high-water mark (reached shortly after my first visit to the lake), which is over 90 feet above the current water line. The top of Hoover Dam is a good 120 feet above the water line – looking down from above, the water seems very far away.
From the area just north of Boulder City (and just west of the lake) are two water treatment stations that ozonate the lake water prior to sending it down to Las Vegas. These pumping stations use two giant straws that stick out into the lake, and constantly sip away at it. The tremendous growth of Las Vegas and its suburbs has forced the Nevada State Water Authority to draw up plans for a third straw, which will go on line sometime around 2010. They do not make a sucking sound, but coupled with the ongoing decade-long Western drought these straws have effectively overwhelmed the Colorado River’s ability to replenish the lake faster than the water is being drawn off. Without a dramatic change in the current weather patterns the predictions posited in today’s articles will be unavoidable.
Lake Mead and its shoreline are hauntingly beautiful. Go see it now, before it disappears.