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The Hoover Dam reservoir is at an all-time low

Much of the Western US faces drought, extreme heat, and fire risk

Tourists Visit The Hoover Dam
A general view of Lake Mead, a human-made lake that lies on the Colorado River, about 24 miles southeast of the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, in the states of Nevada and Arizona, on December 21st, 2019, in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States and 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.
Photo by Paul Rovere / Getty Images

Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam, that feeds water to 25 million people across Western states, is historically low. On June 9th, the water level dipped to 1,071.57 feet above sea level, narrowly beating a record low last set in 2016.

The lake surface has dropped 140 feet since 2000, leaving the reservoir just 37 percent full. With such a dramatic drop, officials expect to declare an official water shortage for the first time ever. That could affect water and energy that Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam deliver to Arizona, California, and Nevada.

Water levels at Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US, are expected to keep dropping throughout the year. The drought tugging at the lake’s water levels is affecting other states in the region, too. “Please join me and Utahns, regardless of religious affiliation, in a weekend of humble prayer for rain,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a video plea last week. He declared a state of emergency in March as Utah, like much of the West, plunged deep into drought.

The West is ablaze in deep red and burgundy on drought maps for the US, signaling “extreme” to “exceptional drought.” Farmers, who are already abandoning crops for lack of water, are feeling the strain the most.

A snapshot of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Drought Monitor on June 1st, 2021.
A snapshot of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Drought Monitor on June 1st, 2021.
NOAA

It didn’t help that a sweltering spring heatwave hit much of the continental US this past weekend. Las Vegas, some 30 miles from Lake Mead, reached 109 degrees Fahrenheit and could see even higher temperatures next week. Altogether, the drought and heat are scary omens for this year’s fire season. An above-normal risk of fire is forecasted for the Southwest through June, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

In July, the Southwest’s monsoon season is expected to kick in and provide some relief — at least temporarily. Climate change has brought on higher spring and summer temperatures, more severe wildfires, less snow (which much of the West relies on for water), and more intense dry seasons.