| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Chances are about even that Lake
Mead, the prime source of water for the desert city of Las
Vegas, will run dry in 13 years if usage is not cut back,
according to study released on Tuesday.
The finding is the latest warning about water woes
threatening the future of the fast-growing U.S. casino capital
and comes amid a sustained drought in the American West.
The study by two researchers at the Scripps Institution of
Oceanography at the University of California San Diego
calculates a 10 percent chance that Lake Mead will run dry in
six years and a 50 percent probability it will be gone by 2021
absent other changes.
"Our reaction was frankly one of being stunned," study
co-author Tim Barnett, a marine research physicist, said in an
interview. "We had not expected the problem to be so severe and
so up close to us in time."
Climate change -- both man-made and natural variation --
strong human demand and evaporation are all factors affecting
water in the lake. "The biggest change right now is taking more
water from the bucket than we are putting into it," Barnett
The uncertainty about when and if the lake will run dry
stems from the natural fluctuations of the Colorado River,
which feeds the lake, the researcher said. In recent months the
flow has been above average, he said, after years below
The West has suffered years of drought with the Colorado
supplying less water to Lake Mead, which serves Nevada,
California, Arizona and northern Mexico.
The lake created by Hoover Dam provides 90 percent of Las
Vegas' water and is less than half full, giving the edge of the
lake a bath tub ring visible even far away by air.
Scott Huntley, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water
Authority, said his agency overseeing the Las Vegas area's
water was also concerned about reliance on Lake Mead as the
major source for Las Vegas and officials were seeking alternate
"While we wholeheartedly support the authors' call for
greater urban water conservation, it is important to also
remember that agriculture uses four-fifths of the Colorado
River's flows, so meaningful solutions cannot be borne solely
by urban users," he said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)