All dried up -- are Lake Meade’s days numbered?

Drawing down: The white banks show the one-time high water mark of Lake Meade in Arizona. One group of researchers say there's a 50 percent chance the lake could dry up by the year 2021
Drawing down: The white banks show the one-time high water mark of Lake Meade in Arizona. One group of researchers say there's a 50 percent chance the lake could dry up by the year 2021Courtesy amysh
Have you ever been to Hoover Dam? It’s a popular day trip destination for those looking for a break from the gambling in Las Vegas.

One of the impressive sights is the huge body of water stopped up behind the dam: Lake Meade. The water stretches and snakes for miles and miles upstream on the Colorado River, which cuts its way through the Grand Canyon. That reservoir of water is also the main drinking supply for much of the southwest U.S.

But analysts from San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography that there’s a 50 percent chance that water will dry up by 2021. In a shorter time span, they say that there’s a 10 percent chance water in the lake will not be usable for drinking by 2013, just five years away.

The dire predictions are based on global climate change factors along with a growing demand for water in southern Nevada and southern California.

Due to current drought conditions, Lake Meade and its sister reservoir, Lake Powell upstream from the Grand Canyon, are only currently half full. Combined, they provide water to 27 million people spread over seven states.

But an official from the Central Arizona Project said that the predictions are alarmist and absurd and that the reservoirs are in no danger of drying up.

And I remember just a couple weeks ago we posted a story here on the Buzz that Rocky Mountain areas have seen wondrous amounts of snowfall this winter. A lot of that snow runoff finds its way into the Colorado River.

Do you have any deep thoughts to share on the southwest water situation? Post them here and let other Science Buzz readers know how you feel.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I think this brings up larger questions about the fast rate of population growth in the American southwest. At some point the lack of available water for these communities is going to have to have some effect on burgeoning cities. So if these primary water sources are drying up should we be building more homes and suburbs in the desert? What are some responsible ways to prevent this or encourage more sustainable development out there. We can't simply outlaw growth in Las Vegas, LA, Phoenix.

posted on Sat, 02/16/2008 - 11:12am
hmoob_muas's picture
hmoob_muas says:

ive been here before, its a pretty place, 50% of the water will
be gone? thats pretty scary!!

posted on Mon, 02/18/2008 - 11:49am
flinch619's picture
flinch619 says:

real talk. ive been to lakke mead a couple times and i always wondered why theres that line on the outside rocks......scary stuff


posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 10:36am
Thor's picture
Thor says:

There have always been lines along the shore of Lake Meade as the water level will go up or down depending on how much water they're allowing to flow through Hoover Dam at any particular time. The same is true along the banks of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The problem now, is that those white lines along the shore are going lower than people have ever seen them before.

posted on Thu, 02/28/2008 - 5:59pm
zypher's picture
zypher says:

scary i never been there but I want to go, but if it dries up ill never get to go. I think that this is a def sing of global warming. We need to try to stop global warming because some day i want to go there and see that beautiful sight.

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 10:50am
Candice's picture
Candice says:

Yes are days are numbered on this earth if we keep treating it like the way we are. WITH GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND ALL. Real talk fam we should treat the earth better. We treating it grimy right now. Real talk fam we wouldn't want no one doing us bogus like that. Folk around here need to realize that the earth is our crib. Fam we need to treat the world like our homie.

Peace out Kid

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 10:56am
andyshadexx's picture
andyshadexx says:

I could guess the reason of the dries up by just read the head line. (Global warming).

posted on Wed, 02/20/2008 - 11:02am
Looney_Tooney's picture
Looney_Tooney says:

Dang! That sucks yo. Global warming is just doing all this right?

posted on Sun, 02/24/2008 - 1:52pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

man im so scared i dont like stuff like that just to think our days are number man i cant imange it dryed up thats crazy....

posted on Wed, 02/27/2008 - 11:09am
tiffany_88's picture
tiffany_88 says:

The reason bcause the lake dry up is called GLOBAL WARMMING.

posted on Thu, 03/06/2008 - 11:18am
tiffany_88's picture
tiffany_88 says:

The reason bcause the lake dry up is called GLOBAL WARMING.

posted on Thu, 03/06/2008 - 11:18am
Gearard's picture
Gearard says:

Lake Mead's life may well be short if current trends continue. I drove over the dam a few months ago and was astonished how low the water level was.

Sure we can blame global warming for the lack of incoming water to the reservoir, but it is the growth of the population in the supplied communities that is the real driving force behind the lower water levels. This winter has been kind to the SouthWest in rain and snowfall to the watersheds, but the numbers are abnormally high and we should not expect such precipitation in the coming years.

I regularly monitor the water levels in the reservoirs that supply my are of eastern Mesa though the SRP's two websites related to water resources these sites are updated daily for for the first and almost continually for the second:

After my trip a few months ago I went looking for information on Lake Meade and was unable to find similar resources for that reservoir. Apparently the Federal government only measures lake water levels once per month and provides no higher resolution data. I found a site that takes that raw data and provides a nice chart.

Take a look at the graph, look at the long and steady decline in Lake Mead's level since 2000 (with a short spike in 2004)

If you look at the last time such a rapid and continuous decline occurred in 1963-1965, there was a very long recovery that took almost 20 years. There's a huge difference now that the graph can't account for, massively larger populations and higher water demand in the downstream service areas.
If that last recovery took 20 years then I don't see how we can expect any long-term recovery from this drought without severe changes in human behavior.

posted on Sun, 03/09/2008 - 11:56pm

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