As drought persists across more than 95% of the American West, water elevation at the Hoover Dam has sunk to record-low levels, endangering a source of hydroelectric power for an estimated 1.3 million people across California, Nevada and Arizona.
The water level at Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir serving the Hoover Dam, fell to 1,068 ft. in July, the lowest level since the lake was first filled following the dam’s construction in the 1930s. This month, the federal government is expected to declare a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, triggering cutbacks in water allocations to surrounding states from the river.
Widespread drought conditions throughout the Southwest over the past 20 years have led to a more than 130-foot drop in the water level at Lake Mead since 2000.
The Bureau of Reclamation’s latest projections, from July, show the lake’s water level falling another 31 ft., to 1,037 ft., by June 2023.
For dams to produce power, they rely on the immense pressure created by the body of water they are blocking. As water levels go down, less pressure is exerted and the dams in turn produce less hydroelectric energy, which means the dam can produce less power.