Water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two of the nation's largest reservoirs, have sunk to levels not seen since the 1930s, threatening not only tourism along their shores but also water supplies for a several western states and parts of Mexico.
Lake Powell, created by the 1960s-built Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead, impounded by the 1930s-era Hoover Dam, are both on the Colorado River. The system supplies water to areas from Denver to Tucson in seven states; 70% is used for agricultural irrigation. The two dams also rely on water flow to produce electric power.
The continuing drought of the past few years has reduced water levels in Lake Powell to 51% of capacity, and of Lake Mead to 39%. Aside from the downstream effects, the drop has devastated businesses along the shores that support watersports and houseboats; in many cases the launch points for watercraft are now steep cliffs away from the water.
For the tourism and sports businesses, plans are underway to modify access points or build new ones, but for the long-term users of the water, the picture is different: It's simply not possible to increase how much water is available from the sky. Instead, efforts are focused on finding more efficient ways to use the water for crops, and eliminating unnecessary uses, including extensive urban lawn-watering.
Image: Hoover Dam and Lake Mead; the white cliffs above the dam had been covered by water before the drought.