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September 17, 2014

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Emergency Lake Mead intake project gets green light

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Kyle B. Hansen

Visitors to Lake Mead National Recreation Area enjoy the water and sunshine on the lake.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority board authorized an emergency $12 million construction project Thursday meant to keep a key part of the valley’s water infrastructure operating even as levels at Lake Mead continue to drop.

Recent projections forecast a continued decline at Lake Mead, threatening to knock offline the first and oldest intake straw if elevation levels drop 42 more feet. The intake is one of two currently operating to tap the reservoir that provides 90 percent of the region’s water supply.

SNWA officials fast-tracked the emergency project to extend the operational life of the first intake earlier this month and construction is expected to begin immediately after the board unanimously approved the contract at their Thursday meeting. The project will be paid for out of existing capital funds.

The still under construction third intake straw is meant to keep water flowing into the valley even if the oldest intake is knocked offline permanently at 1,050 feet of elevation, but the oft-delayed $817 million project may not be finished by the time the lake reaches a critical level.

Officials say the first intake and its pumping station could stop functioning anywhere below 1,065 feet, an elevation that could be approached within the next two years as a recent reduction in the downstream discharge from Lake Powell accelerates the decline at Lake Mead, which currently sits at 1,107 feet of elevation.

The project approved Tuesday will construct a tunnel connecting the first pumping station to the second and third intake infrastructure, ensuring its continued operation down to an elevation of 1,050 feet.

The project will be done by contractor Renda Pacific, which is already working on a $52 million tunnel connecting the second and third intakes, and is scheduled to be finished by May.

Because the first intake must be shut down during construction, officials accelerated the project’s timeline to finish it during the winter months when the lesser demand for water can be handled by the single remaining intake.

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