Reports on the quake seemed to only make the local papers around Las Vegas, and were treated as irreverent by the mainstream media. However, a new development has caused this story to take a puzzling turn.
In the 36 hours that have passed since the earth quake and aftershocks, Lake Mead has had a dramatic drop in its already low water levels.
As reported by Kimber Laux And Cassandra Taloma of the Las Vegas Journal: A 4.8 magnitude earthquake shook Las Vegas and surrounding areas Friday morning, forcing loose a rubber casing on a bridge and leading state officials to close Spaghetti Bowl interchanges for several hours.
After the Nevada Department of Transportation inspected bridges for possible structural damage, they deemed the roads safe for travel and reopened them just before 5 p.m.
Traffic had backed up for miles during the closures, which came at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.
The quake, which hit at 11:47 a.m., was centered about 23 miles south-southwest of Caliente, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The magnitude was originally reported as 5.4, but the official number was lowered twice Friday.
The ramp from southbound U.S. Highway 95 to southbound Interstate 15 was closed about 12:20 p.m. Friday, officials said.
“The joint damage was pre-existing. The tremblor simply dislodged the protective rubber encasing the bridge seam making it look much worse than it was in reality” and prompting an immediate shutdown of the ramps, NDOT engineer Mary Martini said in a news release about 3:45 p.m.
Since then, official water level data gathered at Lake Mead shows an incredible eight foot plunge in water levels following the earthquake.
Another issue that could be provoking this sort of reaction from the Earth is the aquifer depletion processes which have been used for more than a century — the pumping out of groundwater faster than precipitation can seep back underground to replenish the amount removed.
As a result, land in more than a dozen spots has buckled and subsided.
It’s one of 40 cases of groundwater pumping detailed in a recent U.S. Geological Survey report that shows how people are draining the nation’s aquifers, often at accelerating rates.
Between 1900 and 2008, the United States has lost enough underground water to fill Lake Erie twice. That volume has jumped by 25 percent since 2000.
As the West continues to grow, with ever more people and industries vying for the same shrinking resources, the days of water policies that treat aquifers as infinite resources seem numbered.
“At some point, the problems are going to be more and more frequent in more and more places — and people may not notice until it’s really severe,” says Leonard Konikow, the USGS hydrologist who assembled the data.
The average drop in the last ten years is one inch, so this is a troubling outlier.
The sudden water drop could be because ot an equipment malfunction or broken censors, and we will be following up during the next week to see if levels normalize.
This is crucial since, as we noted previously, if the water level drops below 1,075 feet elevation by January 1, 2016, it will trigger a federal water emergency. And water rationing.
Las Vegas Review Journal reported that forecasters expect the level to drop to 1,073 feet by June, before Lake Powell would begin to release more water.
Assuming “average or better snow accumulations in the mountains that feed the Colorado River – something that’s happened only three times in the past 15 years,” the water level on January 1 is expected to be barely above the stated federal shortage level.
Even with these somewhat rosy assumptions of “average or better than average snow accumulations,” the water level would set new lows next April. But if the next winter is anything like the last few, all bets are off.
If the level drops below 1,050 feet, one of the two intake pipes for the Las Vegas Valley, which gets 90% of its water that way, will run dry.
Update: Moments ago the Lake Mead National Recreation Area officially denied that the online reading was accurate blaming the water level collapse on inaccurate water levels as of this morning.
Double seasonally-adjusted water levels?