Why Increased Snowpack May Not Help Lake Mead Water Levels

The increased snowpack that has accumulated this winter may not be able to help Lake Mead's water levels.

Parts of the western U.S—which is currently in the grips of a drought—saw a few weeks of unusually wet weather throughout December and January. For instance, January was Colorado's eighth snowiest month ever.

This has increased the amount of snowpack in the Colorado Rockies. This provides much-needed water to Colorado River reservoirs like Lake Mead that are rapidly drying up due to the drought.

However, the snowpack will be disappearing soon, according to projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Also, there is only so much of it to go around.

Lake mead and snow
A side by side image shows snow on mountains and Lake Mead. Lake Mead relies on snowpack for its water. Jag_cz / bloodua/Getty

As of Feburary 8, Lake Mead's water levels are at 1,047.11 feet. The water levels steadily increased throughout January due to the wet weather. In July 2022, the lake reached its lowest water levels ever, at 1040 feet.

There are fears that if it gets too low it will reach dead pool—this will mean it will no longer be able to power the Hoover Dam, which provides hydopower for the surrounding communities.

Many reservoirs across the U.S. are facing the same fate. While the recent wet weather was welcome, helping water levels rise slightly, officials are now considering what happens next.

On 30 January, water officials from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming met to discuss future plans for the lake. They came up with a proposal that was sent to the government for consideration.

At the moment, many experts agree that snowpack should be diverted to Lake Powell, rather than Lake Mead.

Lake Powell is another Colorado River reservoir that is facing the effects of the ongoing megadrought. It powers Glen Canyon Dam, which is at risk of not being able to produce power if the lake's water levels drop any further.

Jennifer Pitt, director of the Audubon's Colorado River Program, previously told Newsweek: "The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages the Colorado River, projects that by the end of 2023 Lake Mead will drop another 20 to 30 feet, meaning the reservoir would be down to around 21 percent full. It could drop even lower— Reclamation may need to keep more water upriver in Lake Powell because the Glen Canyon Dam could be damaged if the water level there gets too low."

Despite the recent influx of cold and wet weather in the region, it is not likely to help the drought situation. As the western U.S. has been in drought since 2000, it would take years of rainfall to fix the situation and lift its drought status.

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