Hoover Dam was on my “to-visit” list for many years. So, last Sunday (March 13th, 2016), Niels and I arrived at Las Vegas airport and drove 20-30 min to see it.
I’ve been to almost all Top 20 highest dams in Bulgaria, but have never seen a reservoir so empty (Hoover Dam’s reservoir is Lake Mead). Looking at spillways which most probably won’t be in use for the next years, even decades, is a sad view.
The Bureau of Reclamation Records supplies us with monthly data on the water levels of Lake Mead at Hoover Dam (click here). I converted the data to meters above sea level (1 foot = 0.3048 m), calculated annual averages based on the monthly data (mean of Jan-Dec), and plotted it (see Fig.1). Turns out the last max high level was in 1998, while the lowest on record was in 2015 (that’s if we exclude the initial few years after the dam became operational, up to 1940s).
I was curious about the March water levels, but the data for March 2016 hasn’t arrived yet, so I looked at February instead. Fig.2 shows that February 2016 is the lowest on record (again, not counting the first few years when the lake was being filled). Mind the different x- and y-axis scales on Fig.1 and Fig.2. Doesn’t look very optimistic…
Here’s also a cool animation that NASA Earth Observatory made out of Landsat images. It shows the changes in Lake Mead and Las Vegas from 2000 to 2015.
To continue with my impressions from Hoover Dam… This concrete arch-gravity dam is one of the prettiest and most touristic dams I’ve ever visited. Long time ago, when visiting another arch-gravity dam, the Kardzhali Dam (Bulgaria), I was almost arrested for taking pictures of the dam. Apparently, it was a national security issue… trespassing and almost a terrorism act (?). The guards took us (my parents and I) to a room to sign some documents, give passport numbers, and write explanations. At that time I was learning how to design dams in uni, so my interest was purely scientific (or engineering). As I recall, we were supposed to delete the pictures I took. So, I was amazed how different Hoover Dam is. I think I saw a guard close to one of the water towers (intakes), but it didn’t feel anything like Kardzhali Dam. Here (at Hoover Dam) tourists are welcome, there are organised group visits of both the power plant and the dam, plenty of parking place (10$) and everyone takes pictures.
Other shocking experience for me was the landscape. There are no deserts in Bulgaria, no arid climate, so seeing Lake Mead surrounded by red rocks, almost no vegetation except for some cacti and shrubs (no trees!), was surreal to me. There were warning signs to bring water, to keep hydrated, and to bear in mind that the desert is a dangerous place. It was 24 C degrees, in March, but I don’t want to imagine what it’s like in the summer.
Here are the pictures I took from this visit… hopefully next time the water level will be higher, and maybe (if it is not too much to ask, I would really want to see the spillways working).
Hoover Dam & Lake Mead related links:
- Drought Lowers Lake Mead (Nov. 2003)
- Lake Mead Before and After the Epic Drought (Jul. 2014)
- Western drought brings Lake Mead to lowest level since it was built (Sept. 2014)
- Losses in Lake Mead (Aug. 2015)
- Climate Challenge: What was the water level in Lake Mead at the end of July? (Aug. 2015)
- Hoover Dam: The Boulder Canyon Project (click)
- 7 Things You Might Not Know About the Hoover Dam (click)