Human demand and climate change is putting such pressure on Lake Mead that there’s a 50 percent chance it could go dry by 2021. There’s also a 50 percent chance that the reservoir could drop so low that the Hoover Dam may not be able to produce hydroelectric power by 2017.
That’s according to a study published by Tim Barnett and David Pierce of the University of California at San Diego in the journal Water Resources Research.
The study says such an event would have huge repercussions in the Southwest, including the water and power supply for an estimated 12-36 million people, specifically those in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The researchers analyzed annual flow averages of the Colorado River—which feeds Lake Mead—for the past 100 years, as well as climate predictions, evaporation rates, and past and future demand.
Other studies have estimated that the Colorado River will face water reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 30 to 50 years.