Water levels in Lake Mead continue to plummet, soon reaching dead pool status. Could the end of Las Vegas be far behind? After all, without water there can be no city, right? Well, let’s stop right there, put the fear mongering aside, and take an actual look at what the falling waters in Lake Mead actually mean for Las Vegas.
Nevada and several of the western states experience their worst drought in centuries, and climate change is turning up the heat. There is a very real possibility that the water levels in Lake Mead will fall so law that Hoover Dam will not be able to produce electricity and stop releasing no water. What does this mean for Nevada? California? Arizona?
Hello everyone, and welcome to This Week in Gambling, where we’re talking about water, or the lack of water, or if losing water could mean the end of Las Vegas! If you haven’t heard yet, human beings need water to survive. And the American southwest has been in the midst of a drought that’s been going on for a couple hundred years now. So naturally, that is where they decided to build Las Vegas!
Vegas needs both power and water Lake Mead, or what’s left of it, is about 30 miles outside of town and was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam in order to provide both water and hydroelectric power. Now that we’re past the history lesson, growing populations and climate change have pushed Lake Mead to critically low levels. Currently the lake is holding less than 30% of its capacity, and falling fast. But what exactly does “critical” mean for Las Vegas?
Well, the dam needs at least 900 feet of water in order to produce electricity. A couple of years ago water levels were about 1,100 feet. Today they’re just over a thousand, with another 30 foot loss expected within the next year. And that means Lake Mead is about 100 feet above dead pool status. When that happens, and it probably will, Hoover Dam will no longer be able to produce electricity. And that’s bad news for people in California and Arizona, because believe it or not, Las Vegas only gets about 20% of its power from the dam!
However, even if the lights do stay on in Las Vegas, they still have a water problem, right? I mean, they do get 90% of their water from Lake Mead. But here’s where things get interesting! You see, even though the city does get 90% of its water from Lake Mead, Nevada water needs only pull about 2% of all the water being taken from the lake in any given year! All the rest goes primarily to… you guessed it! California and Arizona!
But even if and/or when Lake Mead goes to dead pool status, and no water or electricity is flowing through Hoover Dam, Las Vegas will still have access to water via their own pump located more than 100 feet deeper in the lake! So, considering how little water the city actually pulls from Lake Mead, and the fact that they already have numerous water conservation projects in place, it doesn’t look like the end of Las Vegas anytime soon! Even in a worst case scenario!
In a bit of irony, Las Vegas has been hit by two flash floods from monsoonal rains over the past couple of weeks. All that rain falling at once was able to raise the water level at lake mead by 6 inches. But what is 6 inches for a lake that’s expected to fall another 30 feet over the next year?
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Finally this week, water rationing and water restrictions will probably not be enough to save Lake Mead. So now, there’s talk of plans to pump water all the way down from Alaska, or perhaps all the way over from the Mississippi River. There’s even talk of building a massive desalinization plant and pumping in water from the Pacific Ocean! While each of those ideas has merit and sounds exciting, they have huge logistical challenges and are probably years away from becoming a reality. In the meantime, it doesn’t look like the end of Las Vegas or the city drying up anytime soon. The real challenges lie ahead for those people in California and Arizona, so good luck to you all.