Drought forces Las Vegas to reach deeper for water

  • Workers extend the water intake pipe at Lake Mead

    Courtesy Southern Nevada Water Authority


Remember shoving your straw deeper into a pop bottle to slurp out those elusive last drops? Faced with the fifth year of drought, the Southern Nevada Water Authority plans to do something similar in Lake Mead, which supplies drinking water to Las Vegas and surrounding areas. Water officials are hurrying to extend an intake pipe another 50 feet into the shrinking reservoir.

Lake Mead has dropped to about 58 percent of its capacity — the lowest it's been since 1969. The Water Authority's intakes now pull in the warmer, less pure water near the top of the reservoir, rather than the clean, cold water down deep. Although the treated water still meets health standards, it's more expensive to produce because warmer water contains more organic matter. During disinfection, these organic particles react with chlorine to form trihalomethanes, which can cause miscarriages, liver problems and cancer.

The extension project will cost about $5 million, and should be completed by June. In addition to building a longer straw, the Water Authority issued severe watering restrictions for Las Vegas, starting Jan. 1.

Recovery to normal water levels may take many years, notes J.C. Davis, Water Authority spokesman. Even if the Colorado River Basin gets 150 percent of its average snowpack this year, he says, "it means only that we might not lose more ground next year."

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