Hoover Dam Celebrates 90th Anniversary with Record-Low Water Levels

Ninety years after construction of the Hoover Dam was first approved, its reservoirs are are at an all-time low as a result of the drought gripping the Western U.S.

Contracts were signed with six companies in April 1931 for construction of the dam, according to Patti Aaron, the external affairs officer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's Lower Colorado Region. The first cement was poured two years later, and construction was completed later that decade—despite the Great Depression.

Hoover Dam
"Right now, we are at the lowest level in the reservoir since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s," U.S. Bureau of Reclamation External Affairs Officer Patti Aaron said of declining water levels at Lake Mead. In this photo, Lake Mead is seen behind the Hoover Dam from the Nevada side of the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge on June 15, 2021 in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Ninety years later, photos of plummeting water levels at the Hoover Dam's Lake Mead reservoir have stunned many Americans. An estimated 81 million people were experiencing the impacts of drought by late June, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Integrated Drought Information System.

Lake Mead is the country's largest reservoir and supplies water to several major cities in Arizona, California and Nevada.

"Right now, we are at the lowest level in the reservoir since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s," Aaron told Newsweek.

The water level at Lake Mead fell to 1,071.56 feet above sea level in early June, according to Reuters. At the time, that was a new record.

Until this month.

According to a July 6 report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead's water level has since dropped to 1,068.55 feet above sea level, leaving the reservoir about 35% full.

The reservoir's water level is "lower than anyone has seen almost in their lifetime," Aaron said.

Drought conditions are expected to continue through the summer, raising concerns about the region's available water supply. Cutbacks have already begun impacting agriculture production in some parts of California.

Lake Mead
The white "bathtub ring" around Lake Mead shows the record low water level of Lake Mead as drought continues to worsen on July 1, 2021 near Boulder City, Nevada. David McNew/Getty Images

In addition to water supply concerns, declining water levels at U.S. reservoirs and lakes also bring concerns about water-generated electricity. At the Hoover Powerplant, which funnels hydropower to Arizona, California and Nevada, Aaron said efficiency has declined by about 25%.

Though the photos of low water levels have alarmed many, and the drought is expected to continue drying out the region in the months to come, Aaron said the Bureau of Reclamation has a strategy to prevent water levels from declining to what she described as "critical" levels.

"I think it's important to know we're concerned, but this is not unplanned," Aaron said. "There are agreements and mechanisms in place to protect the reservoir from hitting critical levels. So, although it's concerning, it is not at a critical level."