Will Lake Mead Go Back To Normal In 2024?

After the record-breaking summer of revealed dead bodies in 2022, and historically low waters that have seen the Colorado River’s connection with the sea severed, Lake Mead seems to still be suffering the effects of climate change and population growth which has seen its water levels rapidly decrease over the past few years.

Lake Mead is the largest reservoir by volume in the United States and supplies water for roughly 25 million people in the surrounding area between Nevada and Arizona. At full pool, Mead stretches for 104.6 kilometers (65 miles) beginning at the Hoover Dam, and is as wide as 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) in some places, enabling it to hold around 1,233,480 liters (325,851 gallons) of water.

However, the effects of a changing climate and increased water demands have seen the lake’s size rapidly decrease, with the area experiencing the lowest water level on record in July 2022 at 317 meters (1,040 feet). The following year, 2023, was not much better, ending the year with water levels around 324 meters (just under 1,065 feet) – a marked reduction in the steady 365 meters (1,200 feet) seen in the 1980s and ’90s.

Entering 2024, the lake’s water levels have started on a high, showing significant improvements on the preceding year’s levels. Starting the year with 325.5 meters (1,068 feet) of water and climbing to a peak of 328 meters (1,076 feet), lake conditions began the year looking hopeful in comparison to 2023’s water level during the same time.

“The combined storage of Lakes Powell and Mead, the two large reservoirs on the Colorado River, has declined somewhat since the beginning of the year,” Jennifer Pitt, the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program director, told Newsweek

However, “Lake Mead, which receives water released from Lake Powell, and makes releases to water users downstream, has since January 1 increased by about 7 percent or around 600,000 acre-feet.”

         

Despite water levels beginning to decrease throughout March, an expected seasonal change entering into summer, it is thought that this year’s reassuringly high waters may continue into the summer as a result of above-average snowpack levels.

Snowpack refers to settled snow that lays on the ground of mountainous regions that, when melted, provides an important source of water for many lakes and rivers. High snowpack levels in the surrounding mountains will mean increased water supplies as they melt throughout the warmer months and flow into the Colorado River, which provides 97 percent of the inflow into Lake Mead.

For Lake Mead, sadly, this is just a temporary fix for a much larger issue. Despite a reassuring start to the year, estimates suggest the water levels at the end of the year will be even lower than 2023, which also had figures skewed by above-average snowpack levels. 

A recent 24-month operation plan from the US Bureau of Reclamation estimates the reservoir’s water levels will steadily drop for the rest of this year, ending in December 5 meters (17 feet) lower. In 2025, December could be looking at water levels of just 318 meters (1,044 feet), just over 1 meter higher than 2022’s record-breaking low. If they ever dipped to what is known as the “dead pool” level of 273 meters (895 feet), it would be unable to release water to the states that depend on it: Nevada, California, and Arizona, as well as parts of Mexico.   

Increased supply demands from the area’s growing population, climate change affecting rainfall, causing long-term droughts, and increasing evaporation are all having major impacts on the health of this vital water source. And with lower water levels impacting the quality of the remaining water, conditions in the area are not likely to improve without drastic action.

As Pitt pointed out, the supply-demand imbalance will grow as climate change continues shrinking the Colorado River, with the reservoirs emptying faster. 

“Colorado River decision-makers are currently trying to negotiate new rules for these reservoirs,” she told Newsweek. “Their success at balancing supply and demand will be essential to provide a secure water supply for every living thing that depends on this river.”

While management demands are complex due to the lake’s size, as one of the most important reservoirs in the United States millions of people stand to be affected by the depletion of its resources.

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