Southern Nevada relies on the water stored behind our iconic Hoover Dam in Lake Mead to supply our region with drinking water, as well as water for various other uses. Over the last 20 years, the Colorado River has suffered the worst drought in history causing Lake Mead to decline to unprecedented levels. Due to the prolonged lack of precipitation, low snowpack, dry soil conditions and increasing temperatures, the residents and industries located in the lower region of the Colorado River Basin, including Southern Nevada, will have the first ever shortage in 2022.
Through water contracts, shortage guidelines and drought agreements, including the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Interim Guidelines) and the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), the Colorado River Commission works closely with the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the other lower basin states, agencies and water users as well as the Republic of Mexico to collaborate and design best drought management practices for future Colorado river water supply for all its many users.
The Bureau of Reclamation began implementing the Interim Guidelines in 2007, to govern, amongst other things, how Lake Mead will be operated in times of low reservoir elevations. In a year when a shortage is declared by the Bureau of Reclamation under the Interim Guidelines, Nevada’s consumptive use1 will be reduced depending on Lake Mead elevation. The DCP, which went into effect in 2019, requires water savings contributions in addition to the Interim Guidelines. All of these reductions and contributions are aimed at protecting critical lake levels to ensure an adequate ongoing water supply and continued hydropower production, a valuable green energy source reliant on a sufficient water level for the turbines at Hoover Dam to sufficiently function.
The Bureau of Reclamation declared for the very first time under the Interim Guidelines a shortage condition for 2022 with Lake Mead elevation projected to sit below 1075 feet on January 1, 2022. Nevada will be required to reduce its annual entitlement of Colorado River water (300,000 acre-feet) by 13,000 acre-feet (Figure 1). At this Lake Mead level, the DCP agreement requires that Nevada make an additional water savings contribution of 8,000 acre-feet to Lake Mead. Altogether, in 2022 Nevada faces reductions and contributions to Lake Mead totaling 21,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water.2
Over the past 10 years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been preparing for a possible shortage declaration and has done an excellent job in incentivizing water conservation programs, updating water infrastructure, banking conserved water, using water more efficiently and working with our neighbors in Arizona and California and with Mexico in preparation for possible shortage. Because of that effort, Southern Nevada has conserved over 2.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water for future use and has successfully reduced our consumptive use despite increasing population growth.3 Further, because of the persistence of this drought, Nevada is working diligently with the other Basin States in analyzing short and long term risks of Lakes Powell and Mead dropping below critical elevations and identifying what additional actions may be necessary to avoid such an occurrence. It is imperative that we all do our part in conserving water and helping to sustain our lifestyle here in southern Nevada. To better understand the status of our water supply and to stay up to date on current drought conditions and responses, please visit the links provided below.
1Consumptive use is defined as water that is beneficially used and not returned to the system.
2At a Lake Mead Elevation below 1075 feet and above 1050 feet, Arizona and Mexico are also required to take reductions and make contributions, which are significantly larger amounts than Nevada. See Figure 1.
3For a full description of SNWA’s Water Resource Plan see: https://www.snwa.com/assets/pdf/water-resource-plan-2020.pdf
Last updated September 02, 2021