Drought Hits Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe


Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe eastern shore. Lake Mead and Lake Tahoe are in serious trouble when it comes to water levels.

Drought conditions are wreaking havoc with Nevada’s lakes and rivers.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported Tuesday that the mountain snowpack this year is the ‘worst in a century.’ The Lake Tahoe Basin’s snowpack was only 3 percent of normal for the date and the Truckee River Basin’s was measured at 14 percent.

Lake Tahoe is so low no water will flow from the lake into the Truckee River. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority urged customers to immediately cut water use by a minimum of 10 percent.

And while no one can say how long the drought will last, the dry conditions are impacting the state’s agriculture and livestock businesses, while producing dangerous conditions fueling wildfires.

Pat Mulroy, the senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at Brookings Mountain West, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that when it comes to water supply in the West there is not one single solution.

 “There is no silver bullet. I think it is a combination of various actions and some of them are longer term planning efforts and some of them are shorter term on the ground response actions,” Mulroy said.

The long-time head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority believes solutions like conservation, reuse and desalination are all part of the effort to improve the water situation.

However, a solution that people ignored several years ago is getting traction. Mulroy suggested many years ago that floodwater along the Mississippi River could be used to augment the drier parts of the Southwest.

 “The idea is beginning to find people who are little more serious about looking at it as a possibility,” Mulroy said.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think we’re in a position where we can wipe any option off the table.”

She believes a comprehensive national solution could address several problems at once.

Another conversation she believes must be had, in light of the worsening drought, is between cities and farmers.

“There is something we’re really missing and that is the missing conversation that is void of hyperbole and knee-jerk reactions between the urban community and the agricultural community,” Mulroy said.

She thinks both areas can help each other face the drought, but continued acrimony will get not anyone anywhere. Mulroy expressed dismay at a recent Reno Gazette-Journal column which questions whether California could ‘steal’ water from Northern Nevada reservoirs in a water emergency.

“See that is absolutely nonsense. Rather than thinking long term and thinking we need strategic partners,” Mulroy said. “That kind of hyperbole has got to stop.”

Mulroy believes in the end people have to understand the reality we’re all living in.

“We here in the West have got to get our heads around that the 21st Century is going to be much, much drier than the 20th Century and this adjustment of thinking that we live in a land of abundance when in truth we live in an area of shortage takes some time,” Mulroy said.  


Lake Mead
United States Geological Survey

The so-called "bath tub ring" shows just how much the Lake Mead has dropped over the year.


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Pat Mulroy, senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy,  Brookings Mountain West.

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