The reservoir created by Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel that symbolized the American ascendance of the 20th Century, has sunk to its lowest level ever, underscoring the gravity of the extreme drought across the U.S. West.
As of Thursday, the lake surface fell to 1,071.56 feet above sea level, dipping below the previous record low set on July 1, 2016.
It has fallen 140 feet since 2000 – nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty from torch to base – exposing a bathtub ring of bleached-white embankments.
Droughts are a recurring natural hazard but made worse recently by an accumulation of extremely dry years for most of this century.
Scientists say human-influenced climate change has exacerbated the situation.
Arizona could have its supply cut by 320,000 acre-feet according to officials.
That is a year’s supply for nearly 1 million households, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
Lake Mead, formed in the 1930s from the damming of the Colorado River at the Nevada-Arizona border about 30 miles east of Las Vegas, is the largest reservoir in the United States.
It is crucial to the water supply of 25 million people including in the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas, Reuters reported.
The Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam constructed in the 1930’s in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to Arizona, Nevada, and part of Mexico.
The Dam generates electricity for parts of Arizona, California and Nevada and as the water in Lake Mead drops, so does the dam’s electrical output.
On average, the dam usually produces about 2,074 megawatts, which is enough electricity for about 8 million people, according to the Western Area Power Administration.
Tuesday’s capacity was just 1,567 megawatts, a drop of about 25 percent.
Every foot of lake level decline means about 6 megawatt of lost capacity.
Experts believe that while the lake’s water level is expected to reach a new lows this week, its excepted to continue dropping until November.
The drought that has brought Lake Mead low has gripped California, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Basin spanning Nevada, Oregon and Utah, plus the southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico and even part of the Northern Plains.
Farmers are abandoning crops, Nevada is banning the watering of about one-third of the lawn in the Las Vegas area, and the governor of Utah is literally asking people to pray for rain.
The latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor released on Thursday showed that more than half of the western U.S. is either in an ‘extreme’ or ‘exceptional drought.’
The rains that deluged the West at the end of 2015 – before the previous low-water mark was set at Lake Mead – were a mere respite from what is now a 22-year drought, the driest period in 115 years of record-keeping by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water resources in the Western states.