NASA releases new images of historic Lake Mead drought

These photos show Lake Mead from 2000 through 2022. (NASA)

NASA recently released new photos that show the drastic water levels of Lake Mead.

The water levels have been consistently dropping since the year 2000, making it a 22-year downward trend and resulting in the lowest water levels since 1937 when the reservoir was being filled for the first time.

As of July 18, 2022, the lake was only at 27% capacity — a historic low.

Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States and supplies water to millions of people across seven western states, tribal lands and northern Mexico.

These images provide an eye-opening illustration of the long-term drought that may be the worst in the U.S. West in 12 centuries.

Lake Mead keeps dropping. (NASA)

Starting from the beginning, Lake Mead gets its water from the famous Colorado River, and the headwaters of the Colorado River are just a small stream in the mountains of northern Colorado, where 83% of the state is now in drought due to the snowpack from last winter sitting below average.

The Colorado River then flows south to Lake Powell, which is only at 27% capacity, through the Grand Canyon, and then into Lake Mead, which is where the Hoover Dam is located.

As of July 18, 2022, it was reported that the water elevation at the Hoover Dam was 1041.30 feet above sea level. This is compared to the water level at the end of July 2000 when it was 1199.97 feet.

Lake levels at the dam should stay above 1,000 feet to continue operating hydropower turbines at normal levels.

At maximum capacity, Lake Mead would reach an elevation of 1,220 feet near the dam and would hold 9.3 trillion gallons of water. The lake last approached full capacity in the summers of 1983 and 1999.

This chart shows lake elevation data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), which manages Lake Mead, Lake Powell and other portions of the Colorado River watershed. (NASA)

Only 10% of the water in Lake Mead comes from local precipitation and groundwater each year — the rest comes from snowmelt in the Rockies.

The Colorado River basin provides electric power and water to roughly 40 million people — most notably the cities of San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles — and 4 to 5 million acres of farmland in the Southwest.

In June 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued an emergency request to the Colorado River basin states to reduce water usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet over the next 18 months.

On top of being a main source of water, Lake Mead is also a place for recreation. Due to the extreme drop in water levels, the National Park Service has closed six of the seven boat ramps.

NASA recently released new photos that show the drastic water levels of Lake Mead.