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2021 HIMCM
Problem B: Tackling the Drought
Background
Lake Mead, a Colorado River reservoir on the Nevada-Arizona border, is the largest water
reservoir in the United States (Figure 1). In the summer of 2021, Lake Mead registered its
lowest level on record since its initial filling in the 1930s. Drought, fueled by climate change,
along with increasing demand for water by the 25 million people Lake Mead serves, has
shrunk this reservoir to approximately 36 percent of its full capacity. On August 16, 2021, the
Bureau of Reclamation announced the first-ever water shortage declaration on the Colorado
River[1]. Initially, this Tier 1 water shortage declaration results in reduced water deliveries to
the states of Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico with agricultural communities being the first
to feel the cuts.
Figure 1: Lake Mead Overview (National Park Service[2])
As droughts around the world have been increasing, researchers continue to develop means to
recycle water more efficiently and effectively. One method is to recycle wastewater that flows
out of our sinks, toilets, and showers. You may think this is impossible (and perhaps
disgusting), but this technology already exists and is improving. Under most current
circumstances, this wastewater goes through several treatment processes prior to being
released into local waterways. Figure 2 shows examples of water sources and use applications.
A treatment facility uses various techniques to meet fit-for-purpose specifications. These
specifications are the requirements necessary to bring water in from a particular source, treat it
to get it to the quality level needed for a particular purpose, and then make it available for that
purpose. Some purposes include agricultural irrigation, domestic water supply (to include
drinking water), industrial and commercial use, and recharging groundwater.
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Figure 2. Examples of water sources and use application for
recycled water (Environmental Protection Agency[3])
Requirements
Your team decides to use Lake Mead to investigate and learn more about drought impact on
water reservoirs, and to consider the recycling of wastewater as a solution to water shortages.
As you begin your investigation, we provide the following information:
 The level of Lake Mead is measured by elevation of the water surface in feet above
mean sea level.
 The area of Lake Mead is measured in acres.
 The volume of water in Lake Mead is measured in acre-feet.
Table 1 shows the relationship of elevation, area, and volume of Lake Mead as calculated by
the Bureau of Reclamation in 2010[4].
Elevation (feet) Area of Lake (acres) Volume of Lake (acre-feet)
1229.0 159,866 29,686,054
1219.6 152,828 28,229,730
1050.0 73,615 10,217,399
895.0 30,084 2,576,395
Table 1. Area and Volume of Lake Mead by Elevation Level
1. Lake Mead Volume. The amount of water in Lake Mead is a function of inflow, outflow,
and loss. The Colorado River provides over 96% of the inflow with additional water coming
from three other tributaries, as well as direct precipitation on the lake surface. Outflow occurs
through releasing water (for example, through a dam) and consumption directly from the lake.
Loss occurs through evaporation.
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a. Identify and describe factors that impact inflow, outflow, and loss in Lake Mead. Discuss
the relationship of these factors and their relative influences on the volume and water level
of Lake Mead.
b. Lake Mead has a very irregular shape and varying depths throughout. Consider how you
would verify the elevation, area, and volume relationships shown in Table 1. Describe what
information and data you would need and discuss how you would use mathematics to
calculate these measures. Note: You are NOT required to obtain these data or calculate the
measures.
2. Lake Mead Water Level. The two problem data files provide information about Lake Mead
water levels given by elevation in feet above mean sea level.
a. Consider the data provided. Briefly discuss overall patterns in the historical data for Lake
Mead water levels. Define your criteria for drought periods and identify the beginnings and
ends of periods of drought. Comment on how the most recent drought period compares to
earlier ones.
b. Develop two models for the water level in Lake Mead as a function of the year. Use each
model to predict the water level in Lake Mead in the years 2025, 2030, and 2050. Compare
and evaluate your two models and their predictions.
 Model 1: Consider data from only the most recent drought period and assume the
most recent drought period’s pattern continues.
 Model 2: Use water level data from 2005 - 2020 and assume this period’s pattern
continues.
3. Based on your models and water level predictions in Part 2, address the impact on future
water usage demands and consider if the recycling of wastewater could make up all or a part of
any future shortfalls.
a. Identify and describe the factors you would include in a plan to recycle wastewater.
Consider the decisions local leaders would need to make and the priorities they might set
that would impact your plan.
b. Describe your plan and how you would measure the impact of implementing your plan.

4. Write a one-page non-technical news article reporting the key takeaways and
recommendations from your investigation.
Your PDF solution of no more than 25 total pages should include:
 One-page Summary Sheet.
 Table of Contents.
 Your complete solution.
 One-page Article.
 References list.
Note: The HiMCM Contest now has a 25-page limit. All aspects of your submission count toward the 25-
page limit (Summary Sheet, Table of Contents, Reference List, and any Appendices).
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Attachments
Attachment A: 2021_HiMCM_LakeMead_MonthlyElevationData.xlsx
Elevation of water at Lake Mead (in feet above sea level) at the end of each month by year
from 1935 to 2021. Bureau of Reclamation data found at
https://www.usbr.gov/lc/riverops.html.
Attachment B: 2021_HiMCM_LakeMead_LowHighElevationData.xlsx
The highest and lowest water elevation at Lake Mead (in feet above sea level) by year.
Bureau of Reclamation data found at https://www.usbr.gov/lc/riverops.html.
Glossary
Bureau of Reclamation: a government agency that manages, develops, and protects water
and related resources in the seventeen western states of the Unites States.
Elevation: a measure of height indicated by the number of feet above mean sea level.
Fit For Purpose Specifications: a description of construction design that indicates the
facility (in this case a particular type of water treatment facility) meets the requirements for
its specific intended use.
Inflow: the water entering a body of water.
Mean Sea Level: an average level of the surface of the sea used as a reference or base level
to measure height or depth on Earth.
Outflow: the water leaving a body of water.
Wastewater: the polluted form of water that comes from homes, businesses, industrial
processes, or rainwater runoff. Wastewater includes water from household uses such as
showering, dishwashing, laundry and, of course, flushing the toilet.
References
[1] Bureau of Reclamation. “Reclamation Announces 2022 Operating Conditions for Lake Powell
and Lake Mead.” August 16, 2021. Found at: https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/#/newsrelease/3950.

[2] National Park Service. “Overview of Lake Mead.” Updated September 2, 2020. Found at
https://www.nps.gov/lake/learn/nature/overview-of-lake-mead.htm.
[3] United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Basic Information about Water Reuse.”
Updated June 4, 2021. Found at https://www.epa.gov/waterreuse/basic-information-about-waterreuse.

[4] National Park Service. “Storage Capacity of Lake Mead.” Updated August 5, 2019. Found at
https://www.nps.gov/lake/learn/nature/storage-capacity-of-lake-mead.htm.

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