As Lake Mead Levels Drop, The West Braces For Bigger Drought ImpactThe historic four-year drought in California has been grabbing the headlines lately, but there’s a much bigger problem facing the West: the now 14-year drought gripping the Colorado River basin. One of the most stunning places to see its impact is at the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, near Las Vegas. At about 40 percent of capacity, it’s the lowest it’s been since it was built in the 1930s. “Just to see the rings around it, it’s just … kind of scary, you know,” says Darlene Paige, a visitor from New York. She’s standing at a vista point above the Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of Lake Mead. That “ring” is the infamous bathtub ring around the rim of the reservoir. The levels have dropped 140 feet over the past 15 years, exposing a white stain on the gravelly brown mountains above the water. The level is forecast to fall an additional 10 feet by this summer. The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, where the Colorado and much of the Southwest gets most of its water, is again at less than half of normal this year. “There are a lot of people, entities and critters that rely on this Colorado River water,” says Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Farther down the mountain, on a walkway next to the Hoover Dam, Davis points out the 10-story-high towers that used to be mostly underwater. The lake’s levels are nearing a critical trigger where the Bureau of Reclamation will start rationing water deliveries to Nevada, Arizona and parts of California. MORE