Lake Mead Predicted to Drop 20 Feet Lower Than Anticipated

Jun 16, 2017

Federal water managers last month predicted rising levels in Lake Mead after an especially wet winter in the West. But they changed those forecasts this week, and now say the lake will fall much lower in the coming year. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports. 

Lake Mead and its so-called "bathtub ring" in 2015.
Credit Kirk Siegler/NPR

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says Lake Mead will drop 20 feet below what they originally anticipated for Jan. 1, 2019. The agency predicted last month in its two-year outlook that the lake would reach 1,096.77 feet. 

It's revised forecast, however, puts the level at 1,076.53 feet at the beginning of 2019, only about a foot-and-a-half above the 1,075-foot trigger point that would begin mandatory water cutbacks in Arizona. 

According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, a warm and dry early spring resulted in much less runoff from snowpack on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. That’s reduced flows into Lake Powell and the Colorado River upstream from Lake Mead.

Arizona farmers would likely be the first to face water cutbacks if a shortage is declared. But cities like Phoenix and Tucson could also face limits if Lake Mead’s levels continue to fall.