Storage Capacity of Lake Mead

 
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There are varying storage capacity elevations for water levels at Lake Mead. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) measures the reservoir’s storage and operational capacities at the following elevations:

 
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Lake Mead Operational Levels

 
Description Elevation
Top of Dam - Maximum designed water-surface elevation 1,229.0
Full Pool - Operational Capacity 1,219.6
SNWA Intake No. 1 - Dam intake towers' upper gates 1,050.0
Inactive Pool - Minimum elevation for power generation 950.0
Dead Pool - Lowest water outlet, Dam intake towers' lower gates 895.0
Dead Storage - No water can be released downstream of Hoover Dam 894.9

When BOR releases weekly and monthly hydrology data, they are reporting on what is commonly known as “live storage capacity,” which ranges in elevations from 895 feet to 1,219.6 feet. Water elevations ranging from 1,219.6 feet up to 1,229.0 feet is referred to as “full pool” and represents the Dam’s exclusive flood control space, as the Colorado River naturally fluctuates over time.

Water elevation of 950.0 feet, or 8% of live capacity, is the minimum level of water needed to generate power at Hoover Dam. Water elevations between 950.0 feet to 895.0 feet is considered “inactive pool” because water can be released from the dam downstream but does not generate hydropower. Water capacity at 895.0 feet elevation is considered “dead pool,” which is when downstream releases from Hoover Dam are no longer possible.
 

Measuring the Capacity of Lake Mead


In 1935, BOR and the Soil Conservation Service mapped the nearly formed Lake Mead’s topography in order to calculate the reservoir’s storage capacity. This study resulted in an estimated capacity of over 31 million acre-feet of water at an elevation of 1,221.4 feet.

Since 1935, sedimentation build up and shifts due to river flow over time has decreased the capacity of the reservoir.

A number of subsequent studies have been conducted to determine its current storage capacity and to support long-term planning and modeling for the lake’s operational and economic future.Subsequent ground surface measurements include bathymetric studies conducted from 1948 to 1949, 1963 to 1964, and in 2001.

In late 2009, BOR acquired LiDAR (combination of Light and Radar) data for elevations of emerging shorelines at and below 1,230 feet elevation, which were published in 2011.

The most recent sedimentation study indicated that the capacity of Lake Mead increased between 1964 and 2001 because the soil at the bottom of the lake had compacted over time. BOR is currently working on an updated bathymetry study at Lake Mohave at the southern end of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.


Area and Capacity of Lake Mead (2010)

 
Location Elevation (Feet) Area of Lake (Acres) Total Capacity of Lake
(Acre-feet)
Capacity of Lake (Acre-feet)1
Maximum designed water-surface elevation 1229.0 162,916 30,167,000 27,620,000
Crest of drum gates on spillway (raised) 1221.4 158,488 28,946,000 26,399,000
Operational capacity 1219.6 157,466 28,667,000 26,120,000
Permanent crest of spillway sill 1205.4 148,853 26,483,000 23,936,000
Intake tower, upper gates 1050.0 72,208 10,230,000 7,683,000
Inactive Pool 950.0 42,869 4,553,000 2,006,000
Intake tower, lower cylinder gate entrance liners 895.0 30,270 2,547,000 0

From U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (2011)
1Reclamation reports live capacity and percent of live capacity in all public documentation.
 
Storage Capacity of Lake Mead Overview elevations from 895 to 1229 feet

Bureau of Reclamation

Link to Map Segment 2 Map Segment 3 Map Segment 1
 
Lake Mead capacity overview segment 1 2022
 
Lake Mead capacity overview segment 2, 2022

Bureau of Reclamation

 
 
Lake Mead capacity overview segment 2, 2022

Bureau of Reclamation

 
A chart with a title and text that reads, "Lake Mead Elevation, 1935-2022." The graph compares Years vs. End of Year Elevation (feet). The graph's line indicates a varition of elevations.
Bureau of Reclamation end of year water elevation levels (in feet) for Lake Mead from 1935 to 2022 as indicated by the blue line.

Graph/NPS

 
Elevation level projections 24-month study BOR
Bureau of Reclamation projections of the water elevation levels for Lake Mead through July 2024 (red line). Historic lake levels from August 2021 to June 2022 are shown on the left side of the graph via the black line. (These projections came from the August 2022 study.)

Bureau of Reclamation

 

References & Resources

 

Mapping the Floor of Lake Mead (Nevada and Arizona): Preliminary Discussion and GIS Data Release U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 03-320, 2003 https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2003/of03-320/

Mapping Lake Mead Carl B. Brown, Geophysical Review, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 385-405, July 1941

Bureau of Reclamation , Lower Colorado Regional Office GIS Group, The 2001 Lake Mead Bathymetry Study. September 2003

Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Regional Office, Lake Mead Area and Capacity Tables. September 2011

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Lower Colorado River Operations http://www.usbr.gov/lc/riverops.html

Lara, J. M. and Sanders, J. I. The 1963-64 Lake Mead Survey. Bureau of Reclamation, Sedimentation and River Hydraulics Group. Denver, Colorado. Bureau of Reclamation REC-OCE-70-21

 

Last updated: November 17, 2022

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