Water levels in Lake Mead, Nevada reach historic low

STORY: A massive reservoir stricken by drought in the Colorado River Basin is rapidly drying up.

It means tens of millions of people across several U.S. states could face limits on their water.

A shortage for Nevada, California, Arizona, and even across the border in Mexico.

Nevada says its taking action to ensure its supply.

Patti Aaron is with the Bureau of Reclamation.

“We're in our 23rd year of drought in the Colorado River Basin. Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead have been declining rapidly during the course of this drought, and Lake Mead is now at its lowest level since it filled."

“About 75% of the water goes to irrigation for agriculture. That supplies about 60% of the food for the nation that's grown in the United States."

The lake is filled from the Colorado River as snow melts from the mountains.

In 1999, it was at 97% capacity.

Now it sits at only 30% full.

“We depend on the snowpack and in circumstances like this, where we have many years of drought, the soils are extremely dry. So even if we get a good snowpack, when it melts off, it's going to go into the soils and not runoff into the river. So we need at least four years of consecutive good snowpack to start to recover.”

Water authorities responsible for Nevada's Las Vegas region have had to activate a $1.5 billion insurance policy, including building a new low-level pumping station.

Colby Pellegrino is with the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

"These facilities took almost two decades of planning, design and construction, so we had to have a lot of foresight into developing them. But they're a giant insurance policy for the community against the current drought."

One unexpected consequence of falling water levels: human remains are being found in newly exposed mud.

Earlier this month, police found a barrel containing the decomposed body of an unidentified man.

Historians speculate he had been shot in the 70s or 80s - and linked it to the Las Vegas mafia.

They also said more bodies will likely be similarly found if trends continue.

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