Watch CBS News

NASA satellite images reveal Lake Mead's dramatic water loss since 2000

The Colorado River in crisis
The Colorado River in crisis 01:38

Satellite images released by NASA on Wednesday show Lake Mead's dramatic changes between 2000 and 2022, as its water level has reached its lowest point in more than 85 years, and the Southwestern U.S. battles a punishing drought. 

The images of Lake Mead – taken by Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 – illustrate how the largest reservoir in the United States has been losing water, a trend that its seen for the last 22 years. The following pictures show how Lake Mead, which straddles Nevada and Arizona, is substantially less full on July 3, 2022, compared to July 6, 2000.

Satellite image shows Lake Mead on July 6, 2000.  NASA Earth Observatory

In the second image, parts of the lakeshore that were formerly underwater when the reservoir was filled closer to capacity, are now in view. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead was only 27% full as of July 18.

Satellite image shows Lake Mead on July 3, 2022. NASA Earth Observatory

When full, Lake Mead can reach an elevation of 1,220 feet and hold 9.3 million gallons of water, NASA said. But the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam last reached full capacity in the summers of 1983 and 1999, according to NASA. 

Lake Mead is currently 1,041 feet above sea level. The water elevation was about 1,200 feet around the time of the first satellite image in July 2000, NASA said. 

Lake Mead provides water to 40 million people in seven states, but a megadrought exacerbated by climate change is causing it to shrivel up. It has reached its lowest water level since 1937, according to Bureau of Reclamation. The Hoover Dam was completed just two years before that. 

Earlier this summer, receding waters of the Lake Mead National Recreation area revealed skeletal remains of two people, countless desiccated fish and a graveyard of forgotten and stranded boats. According to the National Park Service, five of six boating ramps or launches are now closed. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.