Over the years, we've been watching the water level at Lake Mead drop on our Hoover Dam Tours from Las Vegas. We get many people who ask: what happens if Hoover Dam shuts down?
If the Hoover Dam were to shut down, the immediate effects would likely include a loss of electricity generation and a decrease in water supply for irrigation, industry, and household use..
The long-term effects would depend on the reason for the shutdown and the availability of alternative sources of electricity and water. It could also lead to a decrease in tourism, not only to the dam itself but to all attractions in the area.
However, it is important to note that the Hoover Dam is a critical infrastructure, and shutting it down would be unlikely unless it's an emergency situation or for maintenance purposes.
For more information on how the Hoover Dam works and the effects of it potentially shutting down, keep reading.
How Do Water Levels Affect the Hoover Dam?
Water levels in the Lake Mead reservoir behind the Hoover Dam have a direct impact on the dam's ability to operate.
The dam's hydroelectric power generation relies on a sufficient water head, or difference in water level, to drive the turbines that generate electricity. As the water level in the lake drops, the dam wouldn't be able to generate as much electricity.
A drop in water level can also affect the water supply in the surrounding areas, as the dam is one of the main sources of water for the lower Colorado River basin. This will affect industries, as well as the day-to-day lives of people living in the area.
Low water levels in Lake Mead will also affect the structural integrity of the dam. The weight of the water in the reservoir helps to balance the force of the water pushing against the dam. If the water level drops too low, the dam may be at an increased risk of damage.
As you can see, the water levels in Lake Mead are an important factor in ensuring that the Hoover Dam runs safely and efficiently.
Related Reading: Ultimate Hoover Dam Self-Guided Tour
At What Level Does Hoover Dam Stop Producing Power?
The water level at which the Hoover Dam stops producing power is 950 feet (290 meters) above sea level. It's called the "Inactive Pool" level.
For comparison, the maximum water level that the Hoover Dam can hold while still being operational is 1219.6 ft (372 m) above sea level.
The lower the water level in Lake Mead, the less water is available to flow through the dam's turbines. Thus, the less electricity the dam can generate. If the water level in the lake falls below that "Inactive Pool" level, the Hoover Dam cannot generate electricity.
It's worth noting that the Hoover Dam's power generation is also affected by other factors, such as the state of the dam's equipment and infrastructure. So, low water levels aren't the only potential reasons that the dam would stop producing power.
What Would Happen If Hoover Dam Shuts Down?
Earlier, we mentioned what the effects would be as the water levels at the Hoover Dam fall. Let's dig deeper into those, and talk about what would happen if the Hoover Dam shuts down entirely.
One of the Hoover Dam's main purposes is to store and supply water to the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California. These states are in the desert climate of the Southwest, so the water from the Hoover Dam (or rather its reservoir, Lake Mead) is vital.
The water stored in Lake Mead is supplied to farms, factories, business, and households. If the Hoover Dam shuts down, these groups will have to have their water restricted, starting with households.
The Hoover Dam isn't the sole source of water in the area, though. There are several dams in the lower Colorado River basin that are part of the same dam system and serve the same purpose. However, if the Hoover Dam shuts down, it will likely be because of the water levels in the Colorado River dropping, which will affect all dams in the system.
On average, the Hoover Dam generates enough hydroelectric power to serve roughly 1.3 million people. That's for the same three states that the dam supplies water to: Nevada, Arizona, and California.
If the Hoover Dam shuts down, one thing that won't happen is that people won't be left without electricity. Rather, with the loss of the Hoover Dam's clean hydroelectricity, the government would have to increase the usage of less clean energy sources, such as fossil fuels.
These plans would likely be in place before the Hoover Dam actually shuts down but there may still be temporary disruptions to the power grid.
The Hoover Dam has earned its place on many lists of America's top tourist attractions. It attracts visitors not only from across the country but from all over the world! If the dam were to shut down, it would be a huge loss in terms of tourism in the states of Nevada and Arizona.
Tying together all the points so far, the shutting down of the Hoover Dam would have a noticeable effect on multiple aspects of the economy. For example:
- The people employed at the Hoover Dam there would be left without a job.
- Farms will be restricted in how much crops they can grow and livestock they can raise..
- Factories may not have enough water to meet production needs.
- Lake Mead, with lower water levels, may not be as viable for fishing.
Those are just a few of the direct economical problems that would be caused. The disruption in water supply and power grid will directly or indirectly affect nearly all industries in the states that depend on the Hoover Dam.
What Is the Status of the Hoover Dam?
As of today, the Hoover Dam is operating just fine. It continues to generate electricity and provide water to the surrounding areas.
So far, in 2023, the water level of Lake Mead has been around 1,040 ft (317 m) above sea level. That sounds worryingly close to 950 ft, right?
The water levels in Lake Mead have fluctuated over the decades. However, as per the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's statistics, we can see that the levels have mostly been trending downwards since the year 2000. That was the most recent year that the lake had a water level over 1,200 ft.
Nonetheless, the dam continues to operate as per usual. The USBR has implemented measures such as releasing water from the dam's spillway to maintain the lake's water levels.
The Bottom Line
"What happens if Hoover Dam shuts down?" It's a difficult question to think about, especially for people living and working in areas that rely on the dam.
If the Hoover Dam shuts down, it will have a ripple effect in the states of Nevada, Arizona, and California. There will be less water to go around, power will have to come from less clean sources, and all industries will be impacted some way or another.
With worsening droughts, the future of the Hoover Dam is uncertain. Tours to Hoover Dam are still worth it, though it's hard to say that they will always be available. Right now, the dam is thankfully still fully operational and is a sight to behold.