The Colorado River crossed a worrying new milestone in the rapidly worsening western drought on Wednesday. The level of Lake Mead — the massive reservoir that supplies Las Vegas with drinking water and hydroelectric power — reached 1071 feet above sea level, its lowest level since the 1930s since Hoover Dam was built.
“It should represent an earthquake in people’s sense of urgency, on all fronts,” Felicia Marcus, a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Water in the West program, told the Arizona Republic’s Ian James.
What’s worrying about this new record, in the middle of what’s become the most extensive severe drought on record across the West, is that lake levels are expected to keep falling — triggering a crisis that could quickly devolve into an emergency. In a year, river forecasters predict the lake will drop below 1050ft. At 950ft, Hoover Dam will fail to generate electricity. At 860ft, Las Vegas will no longer be able to draw drinking water. Water managers in the region are expected to declare the first-ever official shortage on the Colorado River in August, triggering mandatory rationing.