Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory features Lake Mead, where water levels have reached their lowest point since the reservoir was first filled in 1937. On July 18, 2022, Lake Mead was filled to just 27 percent of its capacity.
This downward trend has been ongoing for the past 22 years. The last time Lake Mead approached its full capacity – 9.3 trillion gallons of water – was in the summers of 1983 and 1999.
“The largest reservoir in the United States supplies water to millions of people across seven states, tribal lands, and northern Mexico,” says NASA. “It now also provides a stark illustration of climate change and a long-term drought that may be the worst in the U.S. West in 12 centuries.”
“The low water level comes at time when 74 percent of nine Western states face some level of drought; 35 percent of the area is in extreme or exceptional drought. In Colorado, location of the headwaters of the Colorado River, 83 percent of the state is now in drought, and the snowpack from last winter was below average in many places.”
According to NASA, Lake Powell is currently filled to just 27 percent of capacity, and the entire Colorado river system stands at 35 percent. Last month, the US Bureau of Reclamation told states in the Colorado River basin to create an emergency plan to stop using between two and four million acre-feet of water over the next 18 months or the federal government will step in.
Beyond its critically important water supply, Lake Mead is a recreational area that is particularly popular for boating. According to the National Park Service, five of the lake’s six boat ramps are now closed.
“Declining water levels due to climate change and 20 years of ongoing drought have reshaped the park’s shorelines,” said the Park Service. “As Lake Mead continues to recede, extending launch ramps becomes more difficult and more expensive due to the topography and projected decline in water levels.”
Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory