Lake Mead Lower Than Ever as Drought Blankets the West

Lake Mead, the reservoir that serves 20 million people in Arizona, California and Nevada (and Mexico), is at record lows once again. The water level currently sits at 1,067 feet, about 161 feet below the full pool of 1,229 feet. 

The Bureau of Reclamation announced in August the first-ever shortage declaration for Lake Mead and the lower Colorado River Basin, which will trigger cuts to state water allocations.

According to NASA Earth Observatory, Lake Mead is filled to only 35% of its capacity and is at the lowest it’s been since April 1937, when the lake was still being filled. Aerial space images (below) from 2000 and 2021 show the dramatically smaller lake.

“The low water level comes at a time when 95% of the land in nine Western states is affected by some level of drought,” the report said. “It continues a 22-year megadrought that may be the region’s worst dry spell in 12 centuries.” 

Beginning on Oct. 1 for the 2022 water year, Arizona will receive 512,000 fewer acre-feet of water, approximately 18% of the state’s annual apportionment and 8% of its total water use, for agriculture and human consumption). An acre-foot is enough for 1-2 households each year.

While Arizona faces the largest cuts, Nevada and Mexico will also be impacted – Nevada taking 7% less than usual and Mexico taking 5% less.