What record-low water levels at the Hoover Dam reservoir look like from space

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The US’s largest water reservoir, Lake Mead on the Hoover Dam, is in very, very unhealthy form. How unhealthy is it? New satellite tv for pc photos from NASA present simply how a lot the reservoir’s footprint has shrunk over the previous 20 years — and the distinction between July 2000 and July 2022 is stark.

Water ranges at Lake Mead are at a historic low — the reservoir hasn’t been this empty since 1937 when it was being crammed for the primary time. It’s at the moment at simply 27 % capability. The final time it was near full capability was 1999, only one yr earlier than the picture on the left of the slider under was taken.

Satellite tv for pc photos of Lake Mead taken on July 6, 2000 (left) and on July 3, 2022 (proper)
Picture: NASA Earth Observatory / Lauren Dauphin and Picture: NASA Earth Observatory / Lauren Dauphin

The water elevation on the Hoover Dam stood at a meager 1,041 ft on July 18th, 2022, based on the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Lake Mead. That’s a scary quantity as a result of, as soon as it drops under 1,000 ft, it can have an effect on the dam’s capacity to function its hydropower generators. The dam sometimes supplies energy to 1.3 million individuals in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

That’s not the one hassle at Lake Mead. Final yr, officers declared a water scarcity there — the primary time such a declaration had ever been made alongside the Colorado River system. Forty million individuals rely on the system for water throughout the southwestern US and northwestern Mexico. On the time, water ranges at Lake Mead had dropped to 1,071.57 ft. The water elevation is already even decrease than that and is predicted to drop one other 20 ft by subsequent summer season.

Lengthy-term drought made worse by local weather change has sucked the reservoir dry. Within the chart under, NASA plots out what that’s seemed like over the previous 2022 years. Greater than 80 % of the Western US is at the moment “abnormally dry,” based on the US Drought Monitor. Effectively over a 3rd of the area is dealing with “excessive” or “distinctive” drought.


Picture: NASA Earth Observatory / Lauren Dauphin

Vanishing water at Lake Mead has left behind what’s euphemistically known as a “bathtub ring.” You’ll be able to see it fairly effectively within the photos under that zoom in on one part of the reservoir. The pale fringes surrounding the water that continues to be are locations the place water left behind calcium carbonate and different minerals — exhibiting the place the excessive mark was once.


Picture: NASA Earth Observatory / Lauren Dauphin

The receding water is uncovering the reservoir’s secrets and techniques — sparking treasure hunts and even homicide mysteries. A physique present in a barrel this yr is suspected to be the sufferer of a mob hit within the Nineteen Eighties, The Washington Publish reviews. (Las Vegas is close by.) Vacationers have additionally began scouring the lake in quest of jewellery and different valuables, the Publish reviews. That’s provided that they’ll handle to get on the water — 5 of six boating ramps are closed and automobiles are reportedly getting caught within the mud alongside the lake’s shrinking shores.