Drought in the southwestern U.S. will deplete the vast Lake Mead this week to levels not seen since Hoover Dam was completed and the reservoir on the Colorado River was filled in the 1930s, federal water managers said Tuesday.
The projected lake level of about 1,080 feet above sea level will be below the level of about 1,082 feet recorded in November 2010 and the 1,083-foot mark measured in April 1956 during another sustained drought.
But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional chief Terry Fulp said water obligations will be met at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. The result will be full deliveries to cities, states, farms and Indian tribes in an area that's home to some 40 million people and the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
"We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts," Fulp said in a statement.
The lake on Tuesday was just under 1,082 feet above sea level, and the reservoir was about 39 percent full, said Rose Davis, a bureau spokeswoman in Boulder City, Nevada.
The dropping level since the reservoir was last full in 1998, at just under 1,296 feet above sea level, has left as much as 130 feet of distinctive white mineral "bathtub ring" on hard rock surfaces surrounding the lake.
Davis said the bureau expects a slight increase in water level to about 1,083 feet by Jan. 1, 2015.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 30 miles east of Las Vegas, is among the federal government's top tourist attractions. It drew some 6.3 million visitors in 2013, about the same number as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Boaters and swimmers have largely ignored the dropping water levels in a place where splashing in cold fresh water on 100-plus-degree summer days is a treat. But they've also dealt with marina closures in recent years. Visitors who used to feed scraps to carp from restaurant deck tables may now need to trek hundreds of yards with sandwiches and beach blankets to enjoy a waterside lunch.
"We projected this was coming," Davis said. "We are basically where we expected to be, given the dry winters in 2012 and 2013."
Lake Mead today stores about 10.2 million acre-feet of water and is managed in conjunction with Lake Powell, the reservoir farther up the Colorado River near the Utah-Arizona state line.
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