Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student, Casey Clark, makes this connection here…

The article entitled, History made: Lake Mead drops to lowest level ever, was written by Tom Yulsman, on the cejournal.net on October 16, 2010. This article relates to the domain of hydrology and the specific issues dealing with the future problems and concerns of the lowering water level of Lake Mead. One major concern is that weather models show Lake Mead heading towards a more dry and arid climate. It is expected that by 2050 average temperatures could rise as much as 4 degrees. This in turn will lead to longer and more intense drought. Ecologist Steve Running at the University of Montana makes this statement in the article: “Throughout the West we are slowly aridifying, we are heading towards a more arid climate overall.” There are concerns that will arise if the water level goes lower. At its current level, at the time this article was posted, the lake level was 1083.19 ft.  If it was to fall below 1075ft, water delivery would be decreased. Lake Powell would then open up its spill ways adding more water to Lake Mead. If it were to fall to 1050ft this would be very critical. Hoover dam would not have enough head to create electricity. Finally if it were to fall below 1000ft, the pipe lines which feed Las Vegas would be higher than the water level. Thus, leaving Las Vegas without water. Some scientists like Tim Barnett are even stating that Lake Mead has a fifty percent chance of going dry by the year 2021. In my opinion, with the level of engineering knowledge I have obtained so far in my life, I can conclude that this article is accurate and important to acknowledge and act upon. I also believe though that it is difficult to predict future climate and weather conditions which is entirely dependent upon the future of Lake Mead. Even the USBR, (United States Bureau of Reclamation) the organization that runs the Hoover dam and monitors Lake Mead’s water level, has articles and graphs (one shown below of lake meads water level from 1935 till present) with concerns about what the future holds for Lake Mead. While this article does a good job conveying the issues of what could happen if the water level were to go lower in the future to the operation of hoover dam and the cities that are supplied by Lake Mead, it does not explain any permanent solutions. It also does not refer to any data on specifics such as water usage by cities from Lake Mead or average daily flow from the Colorado River into Lake Mead.

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Figure 1: Lake Mead water level average per year as of December 31, 2012.
Retrieved from: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/lkmeadbar.pdf

When looking at the broader context of this article we can start relating it to global, economic, environmental and societal issues. On a global level, if the drought trend was to continue it could affect agricultural trade with other countries due to possible restrictions on farmers being able to use water from Lake Mead on their crops. This would limit the amount of food produced in these areas. A very real and possible impact on an economic scale would be on Las Vegas. This city relies heavily (90%) on Lake Mead for water and would cause a huge economic impact on tourism, Las Vegas’ main source of income. Hoover dam would also be adversely affected. If there is not enough water in Lake Mead to run the generators, supplement power would need to be found from sources such as coal, which would have a negative impact on the environment.  Societal issues could arise and in the worst case scenario end in mass population movements, abandoning cities that were once supplied by Lake Mead if a new source of water is not found or the current drought trend does not change. By looking at this one article in a broader context we can see that it affects a relatively small area when comparing it to the rest of the world. We can then begin to realize that being able to make informed decisions and preventive solutions before problems actually occur can be applied to any man-made reservoir. In the future, more data needs to be collected and more actions taken on future issues to prevent losing Lake Mead. 

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Figure 2: Map of predicted droughts year 2030-2039.
Retrieved from: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39741525/39640811#.UQ2wsKX7K8A

 References:

Yulsman, Tom. “Lake Mead Drops To Lowest Level Ever.” http://www.cejournal.net/?p=4088 . October 10, 2010.

Quinlan, Paul. “Lake Mead’s Water Level Plunges as 11 Year Drought Lingers”. http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/08/12/12greenwire-lake-meads-water-level-plunges-as-11-year-drou-29594.html?pagewanted=all  August 13, 2010.

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