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The Lake Mead Crisis: How Low Levels Impact Water Quality

Posted on September 12, 2018 by oozle

Although it is known for being an oasis in Southern Nevada’s desert, Lake Mead is much more than a great place to kayak or go sport fishing. 25 million people depend on it for their water supply, making the lake a vital resource. When water levels are low, those in nearby Las Vegas are sure to feel the consequences.

If you’ve been to Lake Mead recently you’ve probably noticed the white, rocky high-water mark around the edge of the lake—often referred to as the “bathtub ring”. It’s a clear sign of natural, drought-caused erosion, but the height of the ring has been expanding. This means that the water levels have been decreasing at a rapid rate over the last decade, especially within the last five years. You can see this for yourself with this Lake Mead Water Level tracker.Graph of Lake Mead water levels

When the lake’s water levels are low, the water quality is compromised as well. This is a critical concern as the health of those who rely on the water and the state of the local environment can be put at risk. Here are several ways that Lake Mead’s low water levels can impact water quality for those residing in or visiting the Las Vegas area.

Well Water is Brought into the Lake

towers at Lake Mead, Nevada

Everybody knows that summers in Las Vegas can be incredibly hot—in July, the average daily maximum temperature is between 102 and 107 degrees. Not surprisingly, that means that more water is being consumed during that part of the year. Unfortunately, Lake Mead isn’t at a capacity that could naturally provide for its 25 million dependents.

From June to September, well water is pumped into Lake Mead to solve that issue. This doesn’t affect the health of the water, but it does alter the clarity of residents’ tap water—making it take on a cloudy appearance. It’s still clean, and what may look like dirty water is really air trapped in the water due to the cold groundwater from the wells coming into contact with the warmer lakewater.

When it comes to water, quality isn’t just about how healthy it is. It’s about appearance as well. If you were handed a glass of cloudy water, you probably wouldn’t want to drink it as it might remind you of backwash. Thankfully, purification and filtration systems can help prevent such cloudiness from making its way through your faucets.

Low Water Levels Lead to Algae Growth

According to the National Park Service, “algae populations tend to increase due to warmer water and higher concentrations of nutrients available at the water surface”. Not only does algae give water a foul odor, but it can be toxic too—making people sick or even resulting in fatal outcomes.

However, the water utility companies treat the water drawn from the lake and regularly test for algae particles and other such contaminants. They also go through a tedious process to treat the water.

Straight from Lake Mead, they’ll put the water through an ozone chamber where microscopic organisms and biological materials are broken up. They then add sodium hypochlorite, a disinfectant salt, and a coagulant before sending it through a filtration process. At many treatment plants this may include having the water filtered through anthracite coal and sand.

After these necessary steps have been taken, you might feel safe drinking water straight from the tap. Yet, it’s important to note that if the water levels continue to decline and the algae increases, that treatment process will only get more expensive and the contaminants could become harder to contain.

What Can You Do About It?

You might not be able to resolve Lake Mead’s water quality issue all on your own, but you can still do your part to protect the watershed. After all, 10 percent of our water comes directly from wells that draw directly from the groundwater. Even though the other 90 percent comes from the lake, our drinking water is still mixed with groundwater for a third of the year. Here are some things to keep in mind for the sake of the watershed:

  • If you take your dog to the lake, pick up their waste.
  • If you garden, use alternatives to pesticide.
  • When choosing fertilizer for your yard, make sure phosphorous isn’t one of the ingredients.
  • If you need to dispose of toxic chemicals, take them to a hazardous waste center instead of pouring them down the drain.

Don’t you wish that everyone would be conscious enough to do these things? If that could happen, our drinking water would be so much better!

What ProServ Can Do for You

At ProServ, we understand the gravity of our local water quality situation and will do what we can to make sure that the quality of your tap water is in optimal condition. Water treatment plants may be meticulous about keeping our water clean, but their processes still don’t remove all of the impurities. If you’re not satisfied with the water coming through your faucet, you might benefit from having a water softener and filtration system installed in your home. To learn more about our installation services, call us at 702-656-4500.

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