Lake Mead on Colorado River hits lowest water levels since 1930s amid drought

A key reservoir on the Colorado River has dipped to its record low in the latest showing of the drought’s grip on the region.

The surface elevation of Lake Mead along the Nevada-Arizona border dipped to 1,071.56 feet (326.6 meters) at 11 p.m. on Wednesday evening. The level was last hit in July 2016 and is 18.5 feet (5.6 meters) lower than one year ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It’s the lowest level since Lake Mead was filled in the 1930s.

"We’re expecting the reservoir to keep declining until November, then it should start to rebound," said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Patti Aaron.

The water level affects the recreation industry at what is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country and the efficiency of hydropower generation at Hoover Dam.

It won’t be used to determine next year’s water deliveries to Arizona, California and Nevada until August when the Bureau of Reclamation issues an official projection. Already, the agency has said it’s expected to declare the first-ever shortage declaration that prompts cuts in Arizona and Nevada.

"People are certainly concerned," Aaron said. "You look at the reservoir and it’s concerning."

Lake Mead levels ebb and flow throughout the year depending on weather patterns and how much water is consumed or evaporates. Officials project the lake will fall to 1,064 feet (324 meters) before rebounding in November when agriculture needs decrease, Aaron said.

States, water districts and tribes have propped up Lake Mead over the years through various agreements to keep it from falling to a point where it could not deliver water downstream.

The Colorado River supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as a $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry.

Businesses struggle to adapt

Meanwhile, the recreation industry is getting hit hard, with one boat harbor seeing a dramatic downturn in customers because of the low levels.

"A lot of laying awake at night, figuring how to do something," said Gail Kaiser, manager at Las Vegas Boat Harbor.

Kaiser is having to make changes to her business because of the low water levels. The launch ramps at their marina has been closed as they make adjustments, and they are warning boaters to be more aware when out on the water.

"There are places you could go last week and can't go this week," said Kaiser. "Check out where you are going to go."

Lake Mead does ebb and flow throughout the year depending on weather patterns, but Kaiser says while this is the lowest she has seen it. Despite the low water levels, Kaiser says people can still have a good time on the lake.

"Everyone thinks there is no water now, but there is still a big lake," said Kaiser.

Governor Ducey speaks out

While visiting areas impacted by the Telegraph Fire on June 10, Governor Doug Ducey responded to questions about to the low water levels on the lake.

"The drought and water is something we address every day in Arizona," said Gov. Ducey.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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