U.S. Water News Online
LAS VEGAS -- Lake Mead's water level likely will slip to
``drought alert'' status by the end of the year and could create an
emergency water shortage by 2005, according to a Southern Nevada
Water Authority official.
Deputy Chief Kay Brothers told board members the snowpack on the
western slopes of the Rocky Mountains isn't deep enough to put an end
to the worst drought in more than a century.
Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River and the source of southern
Nevada's drinking water, has dropped 60 feet in the last two years,
to its lowest level since 1972.
Much of the March snowstorm that dumped up to 7 feet of snow and
paralyzed parts of Colorado missed the western slope. Scientists now
expect the resulting runoff this year to be 62 percent of normal.
``We'll be in emergency in a year or two if we don't get normal or
above runoff,'' Brothers said after the meeting.
A National Weather Service official said it will take a few years
of improved snowpack conditions before the Colorado River system can
``In order for us to get out of the drought, we're going to have
to have substantial rains and snows in the western Rockies probably
for three or four consecutive years,'' said Kim Runk, a meteorologist
for the National Weather Service.
About 8.2 million acre feet of water will flow this year into Lake
Mead, while 9.5 million acre feet will be released from Lake Mead to
meet water demands downstream, Brothers said.
The difference of more than 1 million acre feet will put the
lake's surface elevation at or below the 1,145-foot mark, which would
trigger a ``drought alert.''
An acre foot is about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to meet the
needs of an average family of five for a year.
The lake would have to drop another 20 feet, down to the
1,125-foot mark, to create a drought emergency.
With Lake Mead's surface currently at 1,151 feet, and the
reservoir at 64 percent of its capacity, the Las Vegas area is
already under drought-watch conditions.
Under a drought plan adopted by the Southern Nevada Water
Authority, golf courses will soon be restricted from using more than
7 acre feet of water a year. If Las Vegas moves into a ``drought
alert,'' it will force courses to cut use even more, to 5.7 acre feet
of water a year.
Likewise, the plan calls for increased enforcement of existing
restrictions on daytime lawn watering from May through August. It
allows watering only every other day in September and October; once
per week from November through February; and every other day in March
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