LAS VEGAS — Water officials say a dry month in the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah mountains that drain snowmelt into the Colorado River could mean less water arriving later this year at the reservoir serving Las Vegas.
Federal snow surveyor Randy Julander that after an unusually warm March, much of the range he covers in Nevada, Utah and California already resembles conditions usually seen in May. That has federal water forecasters slashing river level projections.
"March was simply not kind to us," Julander told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Friday report (http://bit.ly/IkHWX4 ).
In places where snow should still be accumulating, there is barren ground and the threat of wildfires, Julander said. And this late in the season, there is little hope of improvement.
"When you put snow on warm, bare land, it just melts. It doesn't accumulate," he said.
Even before March, forecasters were predicting below-average runoff this year in the Colorado River basin serving the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. Now, officials say they expect 2012 to be the second-driest year the river has seen since drought began in 2000.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rose Davis in Boulder City says 2011 was so wet in mountain areas of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that Lake Mead probably won't feel an immediate impact from this year's sorry snowpack.
"We don't have an emergency," Davis said. "It's disappointing, but it's not devastating."
The Las Vegas area draws 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.
A Bureau of Reclamation forecast released Tuesday projects a drop of about 17 feet in the surface of the reservoir during the upcoming year. A similar projection last month predicted a 15-foot water-level drop by next April.
That would keep the lake level above 1,075 feet above sea level — a trigger point for what would be an unprecedented federal shortage declaration that would force Nevada and Arizona to reduce the amount of water they draw from the river.
Nevada currently draws 300,000 acre feet of water a year to serve the nearly 2 million people and 40 million tourists a year in and around Las Vegas.
Water officials in southern Nevada are making plans for a pipeline to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from four valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties along the Nevada-Utah border and pipe it south to Las Vegas. But the project will take several years and billions of dollars to complete.
Officials say an acre-foot of water is about enough to serve two Las Vegas households per year.
On Friday, the Lake Mead water level was just over 1,127 feet above sea level.
Information from: Las Vegas Review-Journal, http://www.lvrj.com
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