Yesterday I toured Hoover dam. This is an awesome facility, built during the depression to provide a consistent source of water for cities and agriculture in surrounding states. Lake Mead provides water for 20 Million people and irrigation for 1.4 million acres. 90% of the nation’s winter lettuce is grown with Lake Mead water. The secondary purpose is to generate electric power, massive amounts of electric power. The dam’s output is equivalent to the output of two nuclear generating plants.
“Las Vegas gets 90% of its drinking water from Lake Mead.”
Hoover Dam takes the flow of the Colorado River and uses it to form Lake Mead. Much of the Colorado’s water comes from melt off of Rocky Mountain snow pack.
Drought conditions have created unprecedented water shortfalls. Putting at risk the very ability of Hoover dam to produce electricity. Below is a photo I recently took of Lake Mead’s “bathtub ring” that shows how much the water level has dropped from its highest level.
The situation at Lake Mead offers an example of how climate change could adversely impact the US. Climate change models predict that droughts like the one currently being experienced out west will become more common. This while the draw down from Lake Mead is at already unsustainable levels. Everything from power production to agriculture to drinking water will be adversely impacted. Consider that Las Vegas gets 90% of its drinking water from Lake Mead. Below is a chart showing the drop in water level over the years. The rise in 2011 is due to a sustained release from Lake Powell, basically a last resort.
This New York Times article does a good job of explaining the overall situation. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/us/28mead.html?_r=1
Other Hoover Dam links: