Lake Mead

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Lake Mead
Lake Mead in Clark, Nevada.jpg
Lake Mead in January, 2019.
Location Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona
Coordinates 36°15′N114°23′W / 36.25°N 114.39°W / 36.25; -114.39 Coordinates: 36°15′N114°23′W / 36.25°N 114.39°W / 36.25; -114.39
Lake type Reservoir
Primary inflows Colorado River
Primary outflows Colorado River
Basin  countriesUnited States
First floodedSeptember 30, 1935;84 years ago (1935-09-30) by the Hoover Dam
Max. length120 mi (190 km)
Surface area 247 sq mi (640 km2)
Max. depth532 ft (162 m)
Water volume Maximum: 26,134,000 acre⋅ft (32.236 km3)
Shore length1759 mi (1,221 km)
Surface elevationMaximum: 1,229 ft (375 m)
Website Lake Mead National Recreation Area
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Mead is a man-made lake that lies on the Colorado River, about 24 mi (39 km) from the Las Vegas Strip, southeast of the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the states of Nevada and Arizona. It is the largest reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity. Formed by the Hoover Dam on September 30, 1935, the reservoir serves water to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, as well as some of Mexico, providing sustenance to nearly 20 million people and large areas of farmland. [1]

Contents

At maximum capacity, Lake Mead is 112 miles (180 km) long, 532 feet (162 m) at its greatest depth, has a surface elevation of 1,221.4 feet (372.3 m) above sea level and 247 square miles (640 km2) of surface area, and contains 26.12 million acre feet (3.222×1013 L) of water.

The lake has remained below full capacity since 1983 due to drought and increased water demand. [2] [3] [4] As of April 2020, Lake Mead held 42.97% of full capacity with 11.3 million acre feet (1.39×1013 L), up from 10.4 million acre feet (1.28×1013 L) in 2019 and the low of 9.8 million acre feet (1.21×1013 L) 2016. [5] [6] It has been smaller than Lake Powell (the second largest US reservoir when both are full) since 2013. [7] [8] [9]

History

Elwood Mead Elwood-mead.jpg
Elwood Mead

The lake was named after Elwood Mead, [10] who was the commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1924 to 1936, during the planning and construction of the Boulder Canyon Project that created the dam and lake. Lake Mead was established as the Boulder Dam Recreation Area in 1936 administrated by the National Park Service. The name was changed to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in 1947, and Lake Mohave and the Shivwits Plateau were later added to its jurisdiction. [11] Both lakes and the surrounding area offer year-round recreation options.

The accumulated water from Hoover Dam forced the evacuation of several communities, most notably St. Thomas, Nevada, whose last resident left the town in 1938. [12] The ruins of St. Thomas are sometimes visible when the water level in Lake Mead drops below normal. [12] Lake Mead also covered the sites of the Colorado River landings of Callville and Rioville, Nevada, and the river crossing of Bonelli's Ferry, between Arizona and Nevada.

At lower water levels, a high-water mark or "bathtub ring" is visible in photos that show the shoreline of Lake Mead. The bathtub ring is white because of the leaching of minerals on previously submerged surfaces. [13]

Geography

Lake Mead on May 2, 2006. Lake Mead Nevada1.jpg
Lake Mead on May 2, 2006.
Lake Mead from space in November 1985: North is facing downward to the right. The Colorado River can be seen leading southward away from the lake on the top left. The Hoover Dam is located where the river meets the lake. Lake mead.jpg
Lake Mead from space in November 1985: North is facing downward to the right. The Colorado River can be seen leading southward away from the lake on the top left. The Hoover Dam is located where the river meets the lake.
Sediment laden water from the Colorado River flowing into Lake Mead on March 29-30, 2013. Meadandcoloradoriver.jpg
Sediment laden water from the Colorado River flowing into Lake Mead on March 29–30, 2013.

Nine main access points to the lake are available. On the west are three roads from the Las Vegas metropolitan area. Access from the northwest from Interstate 15 is through the Valley of Fire State Park and the Moapa River Indian Reservation to the Overton Arm of the lake.

The lake is divided into several bodies. The large body closest to the Hoover Dam is Boulder Basin. The narrow channel, which was once known as Boulder Canyon and is now known as The Narrows, connects Boulder Basin to Virgin Basin to the east. The Virgin River and Muddy River empty into the Overton Arm, which is connected to the northern part of the Virgin Basin. The next basin to the east is Temple Basin, and following that is Gregg Basin, which is connected to the Temple Basin by the Virgin Canyon. When the lake levels are high enough, a section of the lake farther upstream from the Gregg Basin is flooded, which includes Grand Wash Bay, the Pearce Ferry Bay and launch ramp, and about 55 miles (89 km) of the Colorado River within the lower Grand Canyon, extending to the foot of 240 Mile Rapids (north of Peach Springs, Arizona). In addition, two small basins, the Muddy River Inlet and the Virgin River Basin, are flooded when the lake is high enough where these two rivers flow into the lake. As of February 2015, these basins remain dry.

Jagged mountain ranges surround the lake, offering a scenic backdrop, especially at sunset. Two mountain ranges are within view of the Boulder Basin, the River Mountains, oriented northwest to southeast and the Muddy Mountains, oriented west to northeast. Bonelli Peak lies to the east of the Virgin Basin.

Las Vegas Bay is the terminus for the Las Vegas Wash which is the sole outflow from the Las Vegas Valley.

Drought and water usage issues

Lake Mead receives the majority of its water from snow melt in the Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah Rocky Mountains. Inflows to the lake are largely moderated by the upstream Glen Canyon Dam, which is required to release 8.23 million acre feet (10,150,000 ML) of water each year to Lake Mead. Hoover Dam is required to release 9 million acre feet (11,000,000 ML) of water each year, with the difference made up by tributaries that join the Colorado below Glen Canyon or flow into Lake Mead. Outflow, which includes evaporation and delivery to Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico [14] from Lake Mead is generally in the range of 9.5 to 9.7 million acre feet (11,700,000 to 12,000,000 ML), resulting in a net annual deficit of about 1.2 million acre feet (1,500,000 ML). [15]

Before the filling of Lake Powell (a reservoir of similar size to Lake Mead) behind Glen Canyon Dam, the Colorado River flowed largely unregulated into Lake Mead, making Mead more vulnerable to drought. From 1953 to 1956, the water level fell from 1,200 to 1,085 feet (366 to 331 m). During the filling of Lake Powell from 1963 to 1965, the water level fell from 1,205 to 1,090 feet (367 to 332 m). [16] Multiple wet years from the 1970s to the 1990s filled both lakes to capacity, [17] [18] reaching a record high of 1,225 feet (373 m) in the summer of 1983. [18]

In these decades prior to 2000, Glen Canyon Dam frequently released more than the required 8.23 million acre feet (10,150,000 ML) to Lake Mead each year. This allowed Lake Mead to maintain a high water level despite releasing significantly more water than it is contracted for. However, since 2000, the Colorado River has experienced persistent drought, with average or above-average conditions occurring in only five years (2005, 2008–2009, 2011 and 2014) in the first 16 years of the 21st century. Although Glen Canyon was able to meet its required minimum release until 2014, the water level in Lake Mead has steadily declined. The decreasing water level is due to the loss of the surplus water that once made up for the annual overdraft.

Lake Mead as seen from the Hoover Dam with the white band clearly showing the high water level on December 22, 2012. Lake Mead Panorama 2.jpg
Lake Mead as seen from the Hoover Dam with the white band clearly showing the high water level on December 22, 2012.

In June 2010, the lake was at 39% of its capacity, [19] and on November 30, 2010, it reached 1,081.94 ft (329.78 m), setting a new record monthly low. [20] From mid-May 2011 to January 22, 2012, Lake Mead's water elevation increased from 1,095.5 to 1,134.52 feet (333.91 to 345.80 m) after a heavy snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains prompted the release of an extra 3.3 million acre feet (4,100,000 ML) from Glen Canyon into Lake Mead. [21]

In 2012 and 2013, the Colorado River basin experienced its worst consecutive water years on record, prompting a low Glen Canyon release in 2014 – the lowest since 1963, during the initial filling of Lake Powell – in the interest of recovering the level of the upstream reservoir, which had fallen to less than 40% capacity as a result of the drought. [22] Consequently, Lake Mead's level fell significantly, reaching a new record low in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2014, its record low was 1,081.82 feet (329.74 m) on July 10, 2014. [23] On June 23, 2015, Lake Mead reached another new record low when it briefly fell below 1,075.0 feet (327.7 m), the first official "drought trigger" elevation, for the first time since the lake was filled. If the lake is below this elevation at the beginning of the water year, an official shortage declaration by the Bureau of Reclamation will enforce water rationing in Arizona and Nevada. The water year begins October 1 to coincide with seasonal Rocky Mountain snowfall, which produces most of the Colorado River's flow. [24] [25]

Comparison of Lake Mead water levels from July 6, 2000 to July 24, 2015. Lake Mead 2000 2015 comparison.gif
Comparison of Lake Mead water levels from July 6, 2000 to July 24, 2015.

Lake Mead's water level rebounded a few feet by October 2015 and avoided triggering the drought restrictions. However, the water level started falling in Spring 2016 and fell below the drought trigger level of 1,075 feet again in May 2016. It fell to a new record low of 1,071.61 feet (326.63 m) on July 1, 2016 before beginning to rebound slowly. [26] Drought restrictions were narrowly avoided again when the lake level rose above 1,075 feet on September 28, 2016, three days before the deadline, and the Bureau of Land Reclamation did not issue a shortage declaration. [27] [28]

A reprieve from the steady annual decline occurred in 2017 when lake levels rose throughout the year due to heavier than normal snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. [29] As a result of the large snowmelt, the lake regained the water levels it had in 2015 with a seasonal high of 1,089.77 feet (332.16 m). The seasonal low of 1,078.96 feet (328.87 m) in 2017 was close to that experienced in 2014, safely above the drought trigger. [30] However, that level was still 36 feet (11 m) below the seasonal low experienced in 2012, and the lake was projected to begin falling again in 2018. [31] Despite these and other predictions of an impending shortage determination by 2020, snowpack of 140% of average in the Upper Colorado River basin as of April 2019 resulted in 128% above average inflow into Lake Powell, resulting in 1090.20 foot water level on Lake Mead. [32] [33] In December 2019, Lake Mead water level reached 1090.47, about ten feet above projections. As of April, 2020, the water level stood at 1096.39 feet, again benefiting from above average mountain snowpack (107% of average). [34] Since 2018, Lake Mead water levels have remained well above the 1075 foot level that would trigger a shortage determination. [35] [28] The Bureau of Reclamation expects that the continued Colorado River basin drought will yield a Lake Mead level of 1,084.39 feet by 2022. [36]

As a result of the decreasing water level, marinas and boat launch ramps have either had to be relocated to another area of the lake or have closed down permanently. The Las Vegas Bay Marina was relocated in 2002 [37] and the Lake Mead Marina was relocated in 2008 [38] to Hemenway Harbor. Overton Marina and Echo Bay Marina have been closed due to low levels in the northern part of the Overton Arm. Government Wash, Las Vegas Bay, and Pearce Ferry boat launch ramps have also been closed. Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina in Hemenway Harbor/Horsepower Cove remain open, along with Callville Bay Marina, Temple Bar Marina, Boulder Launch Area (former location of the Lake Mead Marina) and the South Cove launch ramp. [39]

Changing rainfall patterns, climate variability, high levels of evaporation, reduced snow melt runoff, and current water use patterns are putting pressure on water management resources at Lake Mead as the population relying on it for water, and the Hoover Dam for electricity, continues to increase. To lower the minimum lake level necessary to generate electricity from 1,050 feet (320 m) to 950 feet (290 m), Hoover Dam was retrofitted with wide-head turbines, designed to work efficiently with less flow in 2015 and 2016. [40] If water levels continue to drop, Hoover Dam would cease generating electricity when the water level falls below 950 feet (290 m) and the lake would stabilize at a level of 895 feet (273 m) when the water reaches the lowest water outlet of the dam. [41] In order to ensure that the city of Las Vegas will continue to be able to draw its drinking water from Lake Mead, nearly $1.5 billion was spent on building a new water intake tunnel in the middle of the lake at the elevation of 860 feet (260 m). [42] [43] The 3-mile (4.8 km) tunnel took seven years to build under the lake and was put into operation in late 2015.

Recreation and marinas

Lake Mead provides many types of recreation to locals and visitors. Boating is the most popular. Additional activities include fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and water skiing. Four marinas are located on Lake Mead: Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina (in Hemenway Harbor, NV) operated by the Gripentogs, and Callville Bay (in Callville Bay, NV) and Temple Bar (in Arizona), both operated by Forever Resorts. The area also has many coves with rocky cliffs and sandy beaches. Several small to medium-sized islands occur in the lake area depending on the water level. In addition, the Alan Bible Visitor Center hosts the Alan Bible Botanical Garden, a small garden of cactus and other plants native to the Mojave Desert. The Grand Wash is a recreational area located in the north side of the lake.

On October 28, 1971 Lake Mead hosted the 1st ever B.A.S.S Bassmaster Classic. This fishing site was a "mystery lake" and the location of the tournament was not told to the 24 anglers until their plane was in the air. This "winner take all" payout of $10,000 was won by Bobby Murray of Arkansas. By comparison the 2018 B.A.S.S. Bassmaster Classic winner Jordan Lee from Alabama won $300,000. [44]

Lake Mead Cruises, the Desert Princess is a three-level paddle wheeler certified by the U.S. Coast Guard for 275 passengers. They have daily cruises to the Hoover Dam.

B-29 crash

At the bottom of the lake is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress that crashed in 1948 while testing a prototype missile guidance system known as "suntracker". [45]

The wreckages of at least two smaller airplanes are also submerged in Lake Mead. [46]

The novel Lords of St. Thomas (GWP, 2018) by Jackson Ellis tells the story of the last family to vacate the flooded town of St. Thomas in 1938 following construction of the Hoover Dam and creation of Lake Mead. [47]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border between the U.S. states of Nevada and Arizona. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers, over a hundred of whom died. Originally known as Boulder Dam from 1933, it was officially renamed Hoover Dam for President Herbert Hoover by a joint resolution of Congress in 1947.

Colorado River Major river in the western United States and Mexico

The Colorado River is one of the principal rivers in the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The 1,450-mile-long (2,330 km) river drains an expansive, arid watershed that encompasses parts of seven U.S. states and two Mexican states. Starting in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the river flows generally southwest across the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona–Nevada border, where it turns south toward the international border. After entering Mexico, the Colorado approaches the mostly dry Colorado River Delta at the tip of the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora.

Glen Canyon Dam dam in Coconino County, Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona, United States, near the town of Page. The 710-foot (220 m) high dam was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) from 1956 to 1966 and forms Lake Powell, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the U.S. with a capacity of 27 million acre feet (33 km3). The dam is named for Glen Canyon, a series of deep sandstone gorges now flooded by the reservoir; Lake Powell is named for John Wesley Powell, who in 1869 led the first expedition to traverse the Colorado's Grand Canyon by boat.

Lake Powell Reservoir Utah and Arizona in the United States

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United States Bureau of Reclamation Government agency

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Lake Mead National Recreation Area U.S. National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a U.S. National Recreation Area located in southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. Operated by the National Park Service, Lake Mead NRA follows the Colorado River corridor from the westernmost boundary of Grand Canyon National Park to just north of the cities of Laughlin, Nevada and Bullhead City, Arizona. It includes all of the eponymous Lake Mead as well as the smaller Lake Mohave – reservoirs on the river created by Hoover Dam and Davis Dam, respectively – and the surrounding desert terrain and wilderness.

Davis Dam dam in Clark County, Nevada / Mohave County, Arizona, USA

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Elwood Mead was a professor, politician and engineer, known for heading the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) from 1924 until his death in 1936. During his tenure, he oversaw some of the most complex projects the Bureau of Reclamation has undertaken. These included the Hoover, Grand Coulee and Owyhee dams.

Lake Mohave is a reservoir on the Colorado River between the Hoover Dam and Davis Dam in Cottonwood Valley defining the border between Nevada and Arizona in the United States. This 67 mile stretch of the Colorado River flows past Boulder City, Nelson, Searchlight, Cottonwood Cove, Cal-Nev-Ari, and Laughlin to the west in Nevada and Willow Beach and Bullhead City to the east in Arizona. A maximum width of 4 miles wide and an elevation of 647 feet (197 m), Lake Mohave encompasses 28,260 acres of water. As Lake Mead lies to the north of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mohave and adjacent lands forming its shoreline are part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area administered by the U.S. National Park Service.

Risks to the Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam, a concrete arch dam on the Colorado River in the American state of Arizona, is viewed as carrying a large amount of risk, most notably due to siltation. The Colorado and San Juan rivers deposit large volumes of silt into Lake Powell, slowly decreasing its capacity. The sediment will eventually build up against the dam and could affect its safe operation and lead to its failure.

Hoover Dam Police federal security police force, stationed at Hoover Dam, United States

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Course of the Colorado River

The Colorado River is a major river of the western United States and northwest Mexico in North America. Its headwaters are in the Rocky Mountains where La Poudre Pass Lake is its source. Located in north central Colorado it flows southwest through the Colorado Plateau country of western Colorado, southeastern Utah and northwestern Arizona where it flows through the Grand Canyon. It turns south near Las Vegas, Nevada, forming the Arizona–Nevada border in Lake Mead and the Arizona–California border a few miles below Davis Dam between Laughlin, Nevada and Needles, California before entering Mexico in the Colorado Desert. Most of its waters are diverted into the Imperial Valley of Southern California. In Mexico its course forms the boundary between Sonora and Baja California before entering the Gulf of California. This article describes most of the major features along the river.

Marble Canyon Dam dam in Coconino County, Arizona

The Marble Canyon Dam, also known as the Redwall Dam, was a proposed dam on the Colorado River in Arizona. The dam was intended to impound a relatively small reservoir in the central portion of Marble Canyon to develop hydroelectric power. Plans centered on two sites between miles 30 and 40 in the canyon. At one point a 38-mile (61 km) tunnel was proposed to a site just outside Grand Canyon National Park to develop the site's full power generation potential, reducing the Colorado River to a trickle through the park.

Boulder Canyon (Colorado River) canyon on the Colorado River, above Hoover Dam, now flooded by Lake Mead

Boulder Canyon, originally Devils Gate Canyon, is a canyon on the Colorado River, above Hoover Dam, now flooded by Lake Mead. It lies between Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona. It heads at western end of the Virgin River Basin of Lake Mead, at about 36°09′05″N114°32′51″W. Boulder Canyon divides the Black Mountains into the Black Mountains of Arizona, and the Black Mountains of Nevada. Its mouth is now under the eastern end of the Boulder Basin of Lake Mead, between Canyon Point in Nevada and Canyon Ridge in Arizona. Its original mouth is now underneath Lake Mead between Beacon Rock and Fortification Ridge on the southern shore in Arizona.

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