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Southern Nevada Water Authority

Drought

Drought

Lake Mead's water level has dropped
more than 130 feet since 2000.

The Colorado River system is facing the worst drought on record. The water level of Lake Mead, which serves as a reservoir, has dropped more than 130 feet since January 2000.

Southern Nevada relies on the Colorado River for 90 percent of its water supply. Challenges created by declining lake levels include:

  • Possible reduction in available Colorado River  water available if conditions warrant a shortage declaration
  • Facility operational challenges if lake levels fall below water intakes
  • Water quality issues as the warmer surface water draws closer to the intake openings

Prepared for Impacts

The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has been monitoring and responding to the drought for more than a decade.  The SNWA Water Resource Plan includes detailed plans for securing short and long term water resources.

In addition, SNWA implemented one of the most progressive and comprehensive conservation programs in the nation. Community participation in these programs and adherence to conservation measures such as landscape restrictions and mandatory watering restrictions have garnered significant results.

Between 2002 and 2014, Southern Nevada’s consumption of Colorado River water decreased by 32 billion gallons — a 30 percent reduction — despite the addition of 520,000 residents during that time.

Impact of Shortage Declaration

If Lake Mead dips below 1,075 feet, the Secretary of the Interior could declare a shortage. According to the 2007 Interim Surplus Guidelines, Nevada would be required to reduce its Colorado River allocation from 300,000 acre feet per year to 287,000 acre feet.

Even if the secretary declared a shortage, Southern Nevada would not experience any immediate impacts due to the success of the community’s conservation efforts.  Per capita water use has declined significantly and Southern Nevada is not currently using its full Colorado River allocation.

Facility and Water Quality Impacts

Should the drought continue and Lake Mead water levels fall to 1,050 feet or lower, SNWA’s drinking water Intake No. 1 would not be able to draw water from the lake. The SNWA Board of Directors approved construction of a third intake in 2005. Intake No. 3 will allow SNWA to draw water from the lake should levels drop below 1,000 feet.

In December 2014, the SNWA Board approved the development of a low lake level pumping station at Lake Mead. When finished in 2020, the new pumping station will be capable of pumping water from the lake to an elevation as low as 875 feet (above sea level), and it will work in concert with the community’s current intake system.

Read the SNWA Water Resource Plan for details about short and long term water resource planning initiatives.

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