As the largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Mead - created in the 1930s by construction of the Hoover Dam - is an engineering marvel, crucial to the water supply of 25 million people across the American Southwest.
Which is why experts and locals are alarmed that this Spring it has sunk to record low levels, underscoring the gravity of the extreme drought that has plagued the region.
“This is like a different world.”
Pat Mulroy is the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“This landscape screams problems to me. I mean, just look at the bathtub rings. To me that is an enormous wake-up call.”
As of 11 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Lake Mead’s surface fell below the previous record low set on July 1, 2016. It has fallen 140 feet since 2000 - nearly the height of the Statue of Liberty from torch to base.
Formed from the damming of the Colorado River, about 30 miles east of Las Vegas, the reservoir supplies water to such major cities as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas - and to farmers like Dan Thelander, now forced to abandon crops.
“If we don’t have irrigation water, we can’t farm.”
The drought that has plunged Lake Mead has gripped California, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Basin states of Nevada, Oregon and Utah, plus Arizona, New Mexico and even part of the Northern Plains – with officials across the West enacting emergency measures.
In Utah, the governor literally asked people to pray for rain.
“We need some divine intervention.”
Back at Lake Mead, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which overseas water resource management, will likely declare for the first time ever a Level 1 shortage condition - the lake’s most extreme. That would cut water supplies to several surrounding states, including Arizona – which could be depleted by an amount equal to a year's supply of water for nearly 1 million households, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
But Pat Mulroy says drastic times call for drastic measures.
“We don’t change unless we absolutely have to. But when you look out at this lake, I think that moment of ‘it’s absolutely necessary’ has arrived.”