Vegas water intake now visible at drought-stricken Lake Mead

A massive drought-starved reservoir on the Colorado River has become so depleted that Las Vegas now is pumping water from deeper within Lake Mead where other states downstream don't have access.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority announced this week that its Low Lake Level Pumping Station is operational, and released photos of the uppermost intake visible at 1,050 feet (320 meters) above sea level at the lake behind Hoover Dam.

“While this emphasizes the seriousness of the drought conditions, we have been preparing for this for more than a decade,” said Bronson Mack, water authority spokesman.

The low-level intake allows Las Vegas “to maintain access to its primary water supply in Lake Mead, even if water levels continue to decline due to ongoing drought and climate change conditions,” he said.

“We don’t have enough water supplies right now to meet normal demand. The water is not there,” Metropolitan Water District of Southern California spokesperson Rebecca Kimitch said this week.

The surface level of another massive Colorado River reservoir, Lake Powell, dipped below a critical threshold in March.

A mid-level pipeline also can draw water from 1,000 feet (304.8 meters).

The authority maintains that the Las Vegas water supply is not immediately threatened. It points to water conservation efforts that it says since 2002 have cut regional consumption of Colorado River water by 26% while the area population has increased 49%.