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Homebetter_planetLake Mead's first water level forecast this year brings better news

Lake Mead’s first water level forecast this year brings better news

Lake Mead’s first water level forecast of the 2023 water year brought better news than originally expected.

Projections released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimate that the reservoir, which lies between Arizona and Nevada on the Colorado River, will be 2.57 feet higher than predicted in forecasts from last month.

The most recent data comes from the bureau’s “most probable” forecast for the reservoir. Officials report that the lake could drop to an elevation of 1,056.94 feet in October 2024. Last month’s predictions said it would drop further than this, to 1,054.37 feet. Lake Mead’s water level currently stands at 1,066.09 feet.

This most recent projection is the first released in the 2023 water year. The water year runs from the beginning of October to the end of September.

Fall usually marks a fairly stagnant period for the reservoir.

“Most years exhibit a seasonal pattern, with decreases in pool elevation from February to August, roughly, and then a slow rise back to February again,” Tom Corringham, a research economist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, told Newsweek.

This year, Lake Mead’s elevation rose from January to September, which was “somewhat unusual,” but not overly so, Corringham said.

“There have been other years like 2023 in the historical record,” he said.

Any change and update in Lake Mead water levels is important to officials, as concerns remain about the reservoir drying up. Despite slight fluctuations in the lake’s water levels, it remains only about 30 percent full.

The reservoir received an influx of water this past spring, thanks to a particularly wet year in the Southwest. Above-average levels of snowpack that accumulated in the surrounding mountains replenished the reservoir.

But levels remain dangerously low for the lake, which provides water for approximately 25 million people living in the Colorado River Basin.

Lake Mead hit a record low level in the summer of 2022, at 1,040 feet. Although the situation has since improved, officials are paying close attention to trends to ensure it does not get worse.

The concern is that if the region faces severe drought again, the lake could reach dead pool levels, around 895 feet. At that point, water would no longer flow past Hoover Dam.

Lake Mead is far from the only reservoir in the U.S. in this predicament. Lake Powell, its neighbor, has also reached record low levels in recent years. Like Lake Mead, it received a substantial influx of water following the high accumulation of snowpack, but the situation remains concerning.

Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about Lake Mead? Let us know via science@newsweek.com.

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