It is difficult to predict when Lake Mead will run out of water. The lake’s water levels are dependent on a variety of factors, including climate change, population growth, and water usage. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead’s water levels have been declining since 2000 and are projected to continue to decline over the coming decades.

Lake Mead Dead Pool and You

Lake Mead Dead Pool - pumping stationA dead pool (not a superhero) is when a water reservoir can no longer generate power because the water levels are too low. As of October 2020, the water level at Lake Mead was 1,082.90 feet (ca. 330 meters), which is approximately 33.1% of capacity. The Lake Mead Dead Pool level is 985 feet (ca. 300 meters). The average annual loss of lake level at Lake Mead is about 1.2 feet (0.37 meters) annually. To reach Lake Mead Dead Pool, it will take about 7–8 years to reach this water level. However, the Bureau of Reclamation estimates that when Lake Mead reaches a critical water level of 1,075 feet (ca. 328 meters) above sea level, the lake will no longer be able to release water down river. This could happen at any time, and could happen during the summer months because of water evaporation and increased energy demands. If water is not released, then Lake Mohave, the reservoir below Lake Mead, has approximately 31 days at which it can release water to the communities that use its water, which includes Laughlin, 

The communities, or rather states, which use the water in Lake Mohave are Nevada, Arizona, and California – with California taking about 66% of all the water. The lowest point that Arizona takes water from the Colorado River is at Lake Mead, which is located on the Arizona-Nevada border.  The official “dead pool” level of Lake Mead is 1,075 feet (ca. 328 meters). At this level, Arizona can no longer take water from Lake Mead. Lake Mead would stop releasing water downstream when the water level reaches the dead pool elevation, which is 895 feet (ca. 273 meters) above sea level.

What a Lake Mead Dead Pool means to Arizona

Arizona has access to water from a variety of sources, including the Colorado River, the Salt and Verde Rivers, and groundwater. In addition, Arizona has access to water from other states, such as California, New Mexico, and Utah. Arizona also has access to water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which is a large system of canals and pipelines that bring water from the Colorado River to the state. It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of water stored in underground reservoirs in Arizona, as the amount of water stored in these reservoirs can vary greatly depending on the region and the time of year.

According to the United States Geological Survey, Arizona is estimated to have between 4 and 5 million acre-feet of water stored in underground reservoirs. As of July 2019, the population of Arizona was estimated to be 7,278,717. The annual growth rate of Arizona is estimated to be 1.45%. Arizona is allowed to take 2.8 million acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River. This means that Arizona will run out of water for its current population in about 7.5 years.

Lake Mead Dead Pool and California

Lake Mead Dead Pool Lake Mohave (the lake and reservoir directly below Lake Mead) typically reaches dead pool in late summer or early fall when the water level drops below the elevation of the dam. At this point, the lake stops releasing water downstream. This means that the communities south of Lake Mohave will run out of water if Lake Mead reaches a dead pool of 895 feet (ca. 273 meters) AND Lake Mohave runs out of water after 31 days. The lowest point that California takes water from the Colorado River is at the Imperial Dam, located near Yuma, Arizona. Typically, the Colorado River never reaches the ocean, it dries up in Mexico.

Imperial Dam typically reaches dead pool in late summer or early fall, when the water levels in the reservoir drop below the level of the outlet works. At this point, the dam stops releasing water downstream. Imperial Dam drops below the outlet works at an elevation of -50 feet (ca. 15 meters). Essentially, most of the water from the Colorado River below Lake Mead, is claimed by California.

When Lake Mead dead pool happens, then California will continue to take out water from the Colorado River as far down as Yuma, Arizona, which is at the border of the United States and Mexico.  The total combined acre feet stored in Lake Mohave, Lake Havasu, and Imperial Reservoir is approximately 8.3 million acre feet. However, when Lake Mead is below the Lake Mead dead pool of 1075 feet (ca. 328 meters) and above its lowest release level of 985 feet (ca. 300 meters), there are approximately 1.5 million acre feet. This then provides a total of 9.8 million acre feet, which can provide water to about 78.4 million people, animals, and farms. Thankfully, most of the water that waters the farms in the Imperial Valley (north of Bakersfield) comes not from the Colorado River but other rivers and reservoirs, including the Kern River.

Approximately 22 million people rely on water from the Colorado River in California, which means that there is at least 4 years of water available for those living in southern California, if Lake Mead Dead Pool is reached. That level is expected to hit in decades, so there are plenty of years left before there is a true crisis in California.

How the Lake Mead Dead Pool affects Nevada

On the other hand, the State of Nevada is part of the Colorado River Compact, which is an agreement between the seven states that share the Colorado River. This agreement sets out the amount of water each state is allowed to take from the river. Nevada is allowed to take up to 300,000 acre-feet of water each year, this is typically only about 1.2% of the total taken from the Colorado River. Most of Nevada’s water comes from the Colorado River and its tributaries, as well as from underground aquifers. Nevada takes water from the Colorado River via the Hoover Dam, located on the Arizona-Nevada border. So, when Arizona stops taking water from the Colorado River, so does Nevada.

It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of water left in underground reservoirs in Nevada, as this can vary significantly depending on the location and other factors. However, the US Geological Survey estimates that Nevada has approximately 1.5 trillion gallons of groundwater stored in its aquifers. An acre foot is equal to approximately 325,851 gallons (ca. 1,233 m³). The average person uses approximately 1/8th of an acre foot of water per year. The population of Nevada as of July 1, 2019, was 3,080,156. The annual population growth rate of Nevada from 2018 to 2019 was 1.7%. This means where are roughly 4,619,900 acre feet left in underground reservoirs, and that there is about 7.5 years left of water in the reservoirs for each person – with little to no population growth (this is not an option). 

However, the Lake Mead Dead Pool means that the 300,000 acre feet allotment and the 8 person per acre foot of water per person, will not, in fact, affect those who live in Nevada. That is, unless they can no longer pump out water from Lake Mead. 

Lake Mead Dead Pool and You

Lake Mead Dead Pool If you live in California, the Lake Mead Dead Pool will not impact you for decades, but could alter you if you live in Nevada or Arizona in less than 10 years. Arizona is looking particularly grim as far as water is concerned. 

Bullhead City, Arizona takes its water from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The CAP is a 336-mile-long system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants, and pipelines that brings water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona. Laughlin, Nevada takes its water from the Colorado River via the Davis Dam, located about a few miles upstream from the city. 

Essentially, the Colorado River communities are safe for several years past the Lake Mead Dead Pool levels, which affect both Nevada and Arizona. Based on this information, it is not a good place to move or buy property. Instead, look to properties not in a drought stricken area. Within 10 years, even the Colorado River Communities will be impacted, but some will not be altered for decades, giving a false sense of water security.

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