Did All Of The Winter Rain Help Out With Lake Mead’s Water Levels?

Reading and seeing all the news about your heavy rains over the winter, I am interested in the water levels for Lake Mead.

Has the rains increased the water levels any?


Astor Kinney

Ted Responds:

Heavy, sustained rains like we had will generally bring it up a few inches (and did this time). Unfortunately a drop in the bucket for what it needs, but we’ll take all the help we can get. The rise isn’t so much from the rain we got here in the Las Vegas area as it was the runoff from the Virgin River. Those were the rains and floods that made national news, washing away homes in Littlefield, Arizona about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Contrary to popular opinion, the lake level isn’t low because of Las Vegas’ water use. Southern California uses over 14 times the amount of Colorado River (Lake Mead) as Nevada does. Arizona uses almost 10 times as much as Nevada does.

When they drew up the agreement to split the water, very few people were living in Nevada and the Las Vegas area had more than enough ground water. Hence, they thought that Nevada would never need to even tap their share of the Colorado River. Other states were allowed to use the excess which went unused by states with the rights to it (My understanding is that although Colorado has rights to half the river’s water, they don’t need it and thus don’t use it).

Then… Nevada started using ours. California was already over-drawn (taking more than their allotment, what other states didn’t use). Then the drought hit for the past decade. And Lake Mead’s water level is the lowest it has ever been since they started filling it.

Nevada continues to stay within our allotment. We continue to convert grass to desert landscaping and take other water conservation measures (and they are working). The Southern Nevada Water Authority has aquired significant water rights in Northern Nevada and we are prepared to spend $3 Billion on a pipeline to pipe that water down to Las Vegas.

Side Note: Resorts are actually an efficient use of water. Landscaping, pools, and water features are enjoyed by many tens of thousands guests and visitors each day. For example, the amount of water to fill the Bellagio lake is the equivalent of what just a few households would use in an entire year. Next-to-nothing in the big picture. But it is enjoyed by tens of millions yearly.

Of interesting note: A water expert I talked with earlier this year told me that it takes more power to pump Colorado River over to Southern California than it would to desalinate Pacific Ocean water. (25% of the power from Hoover Dam goes specifically to pump water hundreds of miles across the desert to areas of California). So why not start using desalination and let Lake Mead fill up again? California fears that once it stops taking some of the water it is entitled to, it could end up relinquishing the rights to it (use it or lose it).

Per filling Lake Mead back up, what we need is year after year of above-average snow in Western Colorado where snow from the mountains feeds the genesis of the river. That or having everyone in Southern California turn off their taps (obviously out of the question)!

Ted Newkirk
CEO, Managing Editor

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