Will the Colorado River dry up? Mr. Beat examines the dangers of cities like Las Vegas running out of water due to recent population growth and drought in the American Southwest.
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Produced by Matt Beat. All images by Matt Beat, found in the public domain, or used under fair use guidelines. Music by Tabby Cat.
One of the driest cities in the world is one of my favorite places to visit. Las Vegas. 2.2 million people live in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. Every day, these 2.2 million people all need to drink water, bathe in water, wash their stuff with water, water their plants and lawns, and even play in water. The average household in Vegas uses around 222 gallons (840 liters) of water per day. So that’s 489 million gallons (1.9 billion liters) for everyone per day.
That’s a lot of water needed in a city that gets just over 4 inches, or 10 cm, of rain each year. And recently, the city suffered its longest drought on record- a period of 116 straight days without rain.
So where the heck does Las Vegas get its water? How can all of this continue to exist? Especially something like this in one of the driest places on earth? Well most of the water Las Vegas gets originated here….the Colorado River. A river that supplies water for...you know...just seven states in the country? I’m not joshing you. That one river is the lifeblood of these seven states. Because they all rely on the same river, they all signed an agreement called the Colorado River Compact, and it divided up the water from the river in this way (table). This agreement gave 97 billion gallons of water per year for Nevada. At the time the agreement went into effect, 1928, this was way more water than Las Vegas needed. Heck, it had less than 5,000 people living there back then.
In 1935, the U.S. government completed the Hoover Dam, which then created the largest reservoir in the United States. Lake Mead. Over the past few decades, however, Lake Mead has started to go dry due to the recent 20-year long drought in the American Southwest and increased demand from Vegas. The lake hasn’t reached full capacity since 1983, and is currently at about 40% capacity, meaning it’s now technically the second-largest reservoir in the United States after nearby Lake Powell. See that bathtub ring? That’s how high the water used to be.
Back in 2008, two researchers predicted Lake Mead would completely run out of water by 2021 if the drought continued and people in Vegas didn’t dramatically cut back on water. Since 2008, Vegas residents HAVE dramatically cut back on water, and the drought overall hasn’t affected the area as badly, but the Southern Nevada Water Authority has lately looked to other possible sources for water just in case Lake Mead DOESN’T make it.
#lasvegas #geography #vegas