Surrounded by a white band of dried rocks, the vast drop in water levels is visible this week at Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir in the United States, which has been shrinking amid a two-decade-long megadrought.
The "bathtub ring" around the drought-stricken lake, on the Arizona-Nevada border and over 40 kilometers east of Las Vegas, is made of minerals deposited on the rock walls when the lake's water level was higher.
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Some boat launching ramps along the lake were closed due to the low water levels. Lots of things underneath Lake Mead have resurfaced in recent weeks, including formerly sunken boats, as the lake's water level is continuing to decline.
Lake Mead's water levels have dropped to historic lows since it was filled in the 1930s. As of Thursday night, the water in the lake, formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, was around 1,042.3 feet above sea level - a decline of more than 43 feet from 1,085.95 feet by the end of January 2021, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The highest recorded level of the lake was in 1983 when it was 1,225 feet above sea level. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's 24-month outlook released last month said it was forecasting the most probable lake level would be 1,014.86 feet by September 2023.
Lake Mead currently provides municipal water for the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, and Boulder City, as well as municipal and industrial water and irrigation water for downstream users, according to the U.S. National Park Service.
"Altogether, about 25,000,000 people rely on water from Lake Mead, and it is unlikely that the Southwest could have developed as it has without it," said the agency in an overview of the lake on its official website.
The lake is nearing "dead pool status," NBC, a major broadcasting television network in the country, noted in a report last month.
If the reservoir drops below 895 feet - a possibility still years away - the lake would reach dead pool status, with potentially catastrophic consequences for millions of people across the U.S. states of Arizona, California and Nevada, and parts of Mexico, said the report.
"The situation is critical," commented the Los Angeles Times, the biggest newspaper on U.S. West Coast, in a report earlier this month.
If the lake's surface drops another 150 feet, there will not be enough water flowing through Hoover Dam to supply large metropolitan centers downstream, including Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego, explained the newspaper, adding that "When that happens, Lake Mead will be a 'dead pool'."
The megadrought is draining Lake Mead faster than anticipated, Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest circulating daily newspaper in Nevada, pointed out in a report last month.
Water shortages and demand on the Colorado River Basin will require reductions in water use of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet in 2023 to preserve "critical levels", said the report, citing Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton.
Last August, the federal government declared a shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, triggering substantial cutbacks in water deliveries to the U.S. states of Arizona and Nevada, as well as Mexico. Many Arizona farmers have left some fields dry and unplanted, and have turned to more groundwater pumping, the report added.