Extreme drought has Vegas water official talking disaster

Associated Press File Photo

Associated Press File Photo

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The top water official in Las Vegas is floating the idea of seeking federal disaster aid to deal with ongoing drought and decreasing water levels at the Colorado River reservoir that provides most of Sin City’s water.

With federal water managers due next week to release Lake Mead water level forecasts, Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that she thinks drought could hurt the Southwest as much as Superstorm Sandy did the Atlantic seaboard in 2012.

“This is as much an extreme weather event as Sandy was on the East Coast,” Mulroy said. “Does a drought not rise to the same level as a storm? The potential damage is just as bad.”

Authority officials said Thursday that no formal disaster aid request had been submitted.

The vast Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam provides almost all of the water supply for more than 2 million residents and hundreds of thousands of tourists a year in and around Las Vegas. Drought has dropped the lake water level more than 100 feet since 2000.

The lake, with a surface elevation of 1,106 feet above sea level on Thursday, was still almost half full, at 47 percent, a federal Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman said. But it has been getting closer to the 1,075-foot trigger for water supply cuts for Nevada and Arizona.

Bureau officials plan to post a two-year projection Aug. 16 for managing Colorado River water between the Lake Powell reservoir upstream and Lake Mead.

Under normal conditions, Lake Powell releases at least 8.23 million acre-feet of water a year downstream to Lake Mead for use by Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico.

One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average Las Vegas-area homes for a year. Under a series of agreements stretching back 90 years, Nevada gets 300,000 acre-feet of river water annually.

But drought has federal water managers warning water decision-makers from seven Western states, conservation groups and Indian tribes that the river could be unable to meet demands of a growing regional population over the next 50 years.

Water authority engineers also face the possibility that water intakes for the Las Vegas supply could be affected if the Lake Mead water level drops to 1,050 feet above sea level. The water authority has two intakes, and is drilling a third to be capable of drawing water from one of the deepest parts of the lake.

Mulroy told the Review-Journal that the $817 million drilling project is due to be finished by the end of 2014.

The water authority also is pursuing a controversial and expensive plan to tap groundwater in counties along the Nevada-Utah border and pump it to Las Vegas.


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