Lake Mead is a lake on the
Colorado River, about 24 mi
(39 km) from the
Las Vegas Strip, southeast of the city of Las
Vegas, Nevada, in the states of
Nevada and Arizona. It is the largest
reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity. Formed by
the Hoover Dam, the reservoir serves water to the states of Arizona,
California, and Nevada, providing sustenance to nearly 20 million
people and large areas of farmland.
At maximum capacity,
Lake Mead is 112 miles (180 km) long, 532
feet (162 m) at its greatest depth, has a surface elevation of
1,221.4 feet (372.3 m) above sea level and 247 square miles
(640 km2) of surface area, and contains 26.12 million acre
feet (32.22 km3) of water.
The lake has not reached full capacity, however, since 1983 due to a
combination of drought and increased water demand. As of
Lake Mead was at approximately 40% of full capacity with
10 million acre-feet of held water. It has been smaller than
Lake Powell (the second largest US reservoir when both are full) since
3 Drought and water usage issues
4 Recreation and marinas
5 B-29 crash
6 See also
8 External links
The lake was named after Elwood Mead, who was the commissioner of the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from 1924 to 1936, during the planning and
construction of the
Boulder Canyon Project
Boulder Canyon Project that created the dam and
Lake Mead was established as the Boulder
Dam Recreation Area in
1936 administrated by the National Park Service. The name was changed
Lake Mead National Recreation Area in 1964, and
Lake Mohave and
Shivwits Plateau were added to its jurisdiction. Both lakes and
the surrounding area offer year-round recreation options.
The accumulated water from
Hoover Dam forced the evacuation of several
communities, most notably St. Thomas, Nevada, whose last resident left
the town in 1938. The ruins of St. Thomas are sometimes visible
when the water level in
Lake Mead drops below normal.
also covered the sites of the
Colorado River landings of Callville and
Rioville, Nevada, and the river crossing of Bonelli's Ferry, between
Arizona and Nevada.
At lower water levels, a high-water mark or "bathtub ring" is visible
in photos that show the shoreline of
Lake Mead. The bathtub ring is
white because of the deposition of minerals on previously submerged
Lake Mead, May 2, 2006
Lake Mead from space, November 1985: North is facing downward to the
Colorado River can be seen leading southward away from the
lake on the top left. The
Hoover Dam is located where the river meets
Sediment-laden water from the
Colorado River flowing into
Nine main access points to the lake are available. On the west are
three roads from the
Las Vegas metropolitan area. Access from the
northwest from Interstate 15 is through the
Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire State Park
Moapa River Indian Reservation
Moapa River Indian Reservation to the
Overton Arm of the lake.
The lake is divided into several bodies. The large body closest to the
Hoover Dam is Boulder Basin. The narrow channel, which was once known
as Boulder Canyon and is now known as The Narrows, connects Boulder
Basin to Virgin Basin to the east. The
Virgin River and Muddy River
empty into the Overton Arm, which is connected to the northern part of
the Virgin Basin. The next basin to the east is Temple Basin, and
following that is Gregg Basin, which is connected to the Temple Basin
by the Virgin Canyon. When the lake levels are high enough, a section
of the lake farther upstream from the Gregg Basin is flooded, which
includes Grand Wash Bay, the Pearce Ferry Bay and launch ramp, and
about 55 miles (89 km) of the
Colorado River within the lower
Grand Canyon, extending to the foot of 240 Mile Rapids (north of Peach
Springs, Arizona). In addition, two small basins, the Muddy River
Inlet and the
Virgin River Basin, are flooded when the lake is high
enough where these two rivers flow into the lake. As of February 2015,
these basins remain dry.
Jagged mountain ranges surround the lake, offering a scenic backdrop,
especially at sunset. Two mountain ranges are within view of the
Boulder Basin, the River Mountains, oriented northwest to southeast
and the Muddy Mountains, oriented west to northeast. Bonelli Peak lies
to the east of the Virgin Basin.
Las Vegas Bay is the terminus for the
Las Vegas Wash which is the sole
outflow from the
Las Vegas Valley.
Drought and water usage issues
Lake Mead receives the majority of its water from snow melt in the
Colorado, Wyoming, and
Utah Rocky Mountains. Inflows to the lake are
largely moderated by the upstream
Glen Canyon Dam, which is required
to release 8.23 million acre feet (10.15 km3) of water each
Hoover Dam is required to release 9 million
acre feet (11 km3) of water each year, with the difference made
up by tributaries that join the
Glen Canyon or flow
Lake Mead. Outflow, which includes evaporation and delivery to
Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico from
Lake Mead are
generally in the range of 9.5 to 9.7 million acre feet (11.7 to
12.0 km3), resulting in a net annual deficit of about
1.2 million acre feet (1.5 km3).
Before the filling of
Lake Powell (a reservoir of similar size to Lake
Glen Canyon Dam, the
Colorado River flowed largely
Lake Mead, making Mead more vulnerable to drought.
From 1953 to 1956, the water level fell from 1,200 to 1,085 feet (366
to 331 m). During the filling of
Lake Powell from 1963 to 1965,
the water level fell from 1,205 to 1,090 feet (367 to 332 m).
Multiple wet years from the 1970s to the 1990s filled both lakes to
capacity, reaching a record high of 1225 feet in the summer of
1983. In these decades prior to 2000,
released more than the required 8.23 million acre feet
(10.15 km3) to
Lake Mead each year. This allowed
Lake Mead to
maintain a high water level despite releasing significantly more water
than for which it is contracted. However, since 2000, the Colorado
River has experienced persistent drought, with average or
above-average conditions occurring in only five years (2005,
2008–2009, 2011 and 2014) in the first 16 years of the 21st century.
Glen Canyon was able to meet its required minimum release
until 2014, the water level in
Lake Mead has steadily declined. The
decreasing water level is due to the loss of the surplus water that
once made up for the annual overdraft.
Lake Mead as seen from the
Hoover Dam with the white band clearly
showing the high water level
In June 2010, the lake was at 39% of its capacity, and on November
30, 2010, it reached 1,081.94 ft (329.78 m), setting a new
record monthly low. From mid-May 2011 to January 22, 2012, Lake
Mead's water elevation increased from 1,095.5 to 1,134.52 feet (333.91
to 345.80 m) after a heavy snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains
prompted the release of an extra 3.3 million acre feet
(4.1 km3) from
Glen Canyon into
In 2012 and 2013, the
Colorado River basin experienced its worst
consecutive water years on record, prompting a low
Glen Canyon release
in 2014 – the lowest since 1963, during the initial filling of Lake
Powell – in the interest of recovering the level of the upstream
reservoir, which had fallen to less than 40% capacity as a result of
the drought. Consequently,
Lake Mead has fallen significantly,
reaching a new record low in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2014, its record
low was 1,081.82 feet (329.74 m) on July 10, 2014. On June
Lake Mead reached another new record low when it briefly
fell below 1,075.0 feet (327.7 m), the first official "drought
trigger" elevation, for the first time since the lake was filled. If
the lake is below this elevation at the beginning of the water year
(October 1), an official shortage declaration by the Bureau of
Reclamation will enforce water rationing in
Arizona and Nevada.
Lake Mead's water level rebounded a few feet by October 2015 and
avoided triggering the drought restrictions. However, the water level
starting falling in Spring 2016 and fell below the drought trigger
level of 1,075 feet again in May 2016. It fell to a new record low of
1,071.61 feet (326.63 m) on July 1, 2016 before beginning to
rebound slowly. Drought restrictions were narrowly avoided again
when the lake level rose above 1,075 feet on September 28, 2016, three
days before the deadline. A reprieve from the steady annual decline
occurred in 2017 when lake levels rose throughout the year due to
heavier than normal snowfall in the Rocky Mountains. As a result
of the large snowmelt, the lake regained the water levels it had in
2015 with a seasonal high of 1,089.77 feet (332.16 m). The
seasonal low of 1,078.96 feet (328.87 m) in 2017 is close to that
experienced in 2014, safely above the drought trigger for now.
However, that level is still 36 feet below the seasonal low
experienced in 2012 and the lake is projected to begin falling again
As a result of the decreasing water level, marinas and boat launch
ramps have either had to be relocated to another area of the lake or
have closed down permanently. The
Las Vegas Bay Marina was relocated
in 2002 and the
Lake Mead Marina was relocated in 2008 to
Hemenway Harbor. Overton Marina and Echo Bay Marina have been closed
due to low levels in the northern part of the Overton Arm. Government
Las Vegas Bay, and Pearce Ferry boat launch ramps have also been
Las Vegas Boat Harbor and
Lake Mead Marina in Hemenway
Harbor/Horsepower Cove remain open, along with Callville Bay Marina,
Temple Bar Marina, Boulder Launch Area (former location of the Lake
Mead Marina) and the South Cove launch ramp.
Changing rainfall patterns, climate variability, high levels of
evaporation, reduced snow melt runoff, and current water use patterns
are putting pressure on water management resources at
Lake Mead as the
population relying on it for water, and the
Hoover Dam for
electricity, continues to increase. To lower the minimum lake level
necessary to generate electricity from 1,050 feet (320 m) to 950
feet (290 m),
Hoover Dam was retrofitted with wide-head turbines
designed to work efficiently with less flow in 2015 and 2016. If
water levels continue to drop,
Hoover Dam would cease generating
electricity when the water level falls below 950 feet and the lake
would stabilize at a level of 895 feet (273 m) when the water
reaches the lowest water outlet of the dam. In order to ensure
that the city of
Las Vegas will continue to be able to draw its
drinking water from
Lake Mead, nearly $1.5 billion was spent on
building a new water intake tunnel in the middle of the lake at the
elevation of 860 feet. The 3-mile tunnel took seven years to
build under the lake and was put into operation in late 2015.
Recreation and marinas
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Lake Mead provides many types of recreation to locals and visitors.
Boating is the most popular. Additional activities include fishing,
swimming, sunbathing, and water skiing. Four marinas are located on
Las Vegas Boat Harbor and
Lake Mead Marina (in Hemenway
Harbor, NV) operated by the Gripentogs, and Callville Bay (in
Callville Bay, NV) and Temple Bar (in Arizona), both operated by
Forever Resorts. The area also has many coves with rocky cliffs and
sandy beaches. Several small to medium-sized islands occur in the lake
area depending on the water level. In addition, the Alan Bible Visitor
Center hosts the Alan Bible Botanical Garden, a small garden of cactus
and other plants native to the Mojave Desert. The Grand Wash is a
recreational area located in the north side of the lake.
Main article: 1948
Lake Mead Boeing B-29 crash
At the bottom of the lake is a
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Boeing B-29 Superfortress that crashed
in 1948 while testing a prototype missile guidance system known as
The wreckages of at least two smaller airplanes are also submerged in
List of drying lakes
List of reservoirs and dams in the United States
Lake Mead is at an Historic Low". Ecowatch. April 28,
^ USGS Circular 1381: A Synthesis of Aquatic Science for Management of
Lakes Mead and Mohave. 2012. p. 11.
^ Bureau of Reclamation, Lower
Hoover Dam Web
Designer. "Bureau of Reclamation: Lower
Colorado Region – Hoover
Lake Mead FAQs". Usbr.gov. Archived from the original on June 3,
2012. Retrieved December 13, 2014. CS1 maint: Multiple names:
authors list (link)
^ Ferrari, Ronald L. (February 2008). "2001
Lake Mead Sedimentation
Survey" (PDF). U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Retrieved February 26,
Lake Mead Water Database". lakemead.water-data.com. Retrieved
Lake Mead Water Level". August 29, 2017. Archived from the original
on August 29, 2017. Retrieved August 29, 2017. CS1 maint: BOT:
original-url status unknown (link)
Lake Mead Water Database". lakemead.water-data.com. Retrieved
^ "Water Database". lakepowell.water-data.com. Retrieved
^ Reclamation, Bureau of. "Historic Data Water Operations UC
Region Bureau of Reclamation". www.usbr.gov. Retrieved
^ a b Scott Gold (October 16, 2004). "It's a Historic Drought". Los
Angeles Times. Retrieved August 26, 2009.
^ Bryan Walsh (December 4, 2008). "Dying for a Drink". TIME. Time Inc.
Retrieved August 26, 2009.
^ "Utilization of Waters of the
Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the
Rio Grande: Treaty Between the United States of America and Mexico"
(PDF). International Boundary and Water Commission. February 3, 1944.
p. 22. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 23, 2014.
Colorado River Update" (PDF). Cap-az.com. Retrieved December 13,
^ Paul Lutus. "*
Lake Mead Water Levels". Arachnoid.com. Retrieved
December 13, 2014.
^ a b http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/hourly/mead-elv.html
Arizona Game and Fish Department (2010). "
Lake Levels/River Flow".
Arizona Game and Fish Department. Retrieved June 26, 2010.
^ U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. "
at Hoover Dam, Elevation". Retrieved February 17, 2011.
^ "Additional Water to be Released from
Lake Powell to
Avoiding Shortages in Lower Basin in 2012". Home.doi.gov. Archived
from the original on December 14, 2014. Retrieved December 13,
^ "Reclamation Forecasts Low
Lake Powell Water Release for 2014".
Wrrc.arizona.edu. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
^ HENRY BREAN LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. "
Lake Mead sinks to a record
Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
^ McGlade, Caitlin (June 24, 2015). "
Lake Mead sinks to record low,
risking water shortage". USA Today. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
^ National Park Service
^ Capehart, Mary Ann (Winter 2015). "Drought Diminishes Hydropower
Capacity in Western U.S." Water Resources Research Center. Retrieved
August 26, 2017.
^ Jenkins, Matt (March 3, 2015). "The water czar who reshaped Colorado
River politics" (41). High Country News. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
Lake Mead: Exploring the B-29". National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007.
^ "The Mystery of
Lake Mead". lasvegasnow.com. Retrieved September 17,
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Lake Mead and
National Recreation Area.
Arizona lakes water level report". azgfd.gov.
National Park Service. "
Lake Mead National Recreation Area".
"Natural Resources: "Historical and current water levels in Lake
US Department of the Interior. "
Lake Mead elevation at Hoover Dam:
monthly from Feb. 1935 to present". usbr.gov.
US Department of the Interior. "Lower
Colorado Region: Daily data of
level and flow". usbr.gov.
Colorado River system
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Rapids and features
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation