The disappearing Lake Mead


Lake Mead – note the waterline

There is nothing quite like driving through the desert to reinforce the importance of water to our understanding of civilisation. While nature has adapted ways of survival with minimal water, we have been driven by ways to control the environment so as to maintain our sense of civilisation. Not only do we need enough to drink to stay alive, we also have a host of other uses that quickly suck it up. We grow crops, shower daily, mop our floors and wash our dishes. Civilisation needs water, even in the desert.

As you drive through the desert there is an appreciation of how the spread of settlers across the American continent, and into the Wild West, meant there was a need to adapt their surroundings if civilisation was to be established. Over time, grand solutions have been found which allow humans to make their homes in the desert of the American southwest. However, this method can utilise, redirect or store the water that flows down – but it does not create it. For that, we need Mother Nature.

Lake Mead in 1983 following record rainfall (By Bureau of Reclamation photographer)

I make no claim to be anything resembling a climate change expert. What I do know, is that travelling through California there was a lot of discussion around the drought conditions there. Visiting Lake Mead in Nevada highlighted to me how attempts to control water can only extend to manipulating its flow. The lake is manmade, formed by the Hoover Dam. The water in Lake Mead comes from the Rocky Mountains – snow falls, melts and then flows down the Colorado River. When the conditions change and less water flows down, then the water level at Lake Mead reduces. Since the year 2000, a persistent drought has hit the Colorado River, so the water level at Lake Mead continues to drop. This has impacted the electricity output from Hoover Dam. The impact of this is significant, and I thought this video offered an interesting insight into this.

Visually, the impact of dropping water levels is significant. This challenge is one for which a solution will need to be found if humans are going to continue to live in the desert of the American southwest.


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