WASHINGTON — New photos from a pair of NASA satellites tell a dramatic story of the drought in the western United States, illustrating a shocking drop in water levels at Lake Mead over the past 22 years.
The reservoir sits just under the Hoover dam, on the border of Nevada and Arizona, just south of Las Vegas.
The photographs were taken by NASA's geographical monitoring satellites Landsat 7 and Landsat 8. The first was taken on July 6, 2000. It shows a healthy basin of water near the Overton Arm of the reservoir. The second, from July 3, 2022, shows a much shallower pool of water surrounded by the dried-up banks that were once underwater.
Large portions of the lake's northern section appear to have completely dried up. The reservoir is currently holding about 27% of its total capacity.
According to NASA, Lake Mead's water levels are currently at their lowest point since April 1937, when it was still being filled for the first time.
The dried-up lake has also revealed a number of human remains, possibly dumped by the mob or those belonging to drowning victims or missing persons.
Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. Using water from the Colorado River, it supplies millions of people across seven states.
But drought, brought on by climate change, has dramatically reduced its ability to deliver enough fresh water to people across the western U.S. Nearly 3/4 of nine western states face some level of drought, with 35% of the area in "extreme" or "exceptional" drought conditions, according to NASA.
Water elevations at Hoover dam remain close to critical as well. As of July 18, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates that the water elevation at Hoover Dam was 1041.3 feet above sea level. At that time in 2000, around when the first photo was taken, it was 1199.97 feet above sea level.
Lake levels need to remain above 1,000 feet to continue operating the dam's hydropower turbines at normal levels.