Lake Mead dropping faster than projections, but snowpack could help

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — It’s the wet season. But so far, you’d never know it by looking at Lake Mead.

The current water level at the lake is about 3 feet below predictions released in April of 2021:

A forecast released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expected the lake to be at 1,070.22 feet above sea level in January.

The federal government formally declared a water shortage in the West in August. The level at Lake Mead typically rebounds in winter and early spring, but with the level currently at 1,067.15 feet, it’s currently lower than the day the shortage was declared (1,067.67 feet on Aug. 16, 2021).

New forecasts are due out this spring.

There is some good news.

Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin — the Rockies, where the Colorado River begins and flows to Lake Mead — is ahead of where it’s been for the past four years. Storms in late December dropped enough snow to put snowpack on pace for a better year.

The graphic below shows the current year in dark blue compared to the previous four years and the median snowpack (thick red line).

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

The water that flows from the Rockies is stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, but 20 years of drought have resulted in plummeting levels. Concern over water supplies has prompted conservation efforts and — just this year — some bans on grass, which requires far more water than other landscaping options.

The federal government is preparing to spend millions to boost recycling and reclamation to secure water supplies, and there are even plans to invest in desalination programs.

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