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More Low Water Woes at Lake Mead – but This Isn't the Worst Drought on Record for the Lake

Launch ramp at Lake Mead.

It's a lot further to the water than it was a year ago at Lake Mead. Photo by pocheco via flickr.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is one of the most heavily-visited units in the National Park System, and its two lakes are a magnet for recreationists. Falling water levels are requiring some changes that will affect visitors to the area, but the current drought isn't the worst to impact the lake—yet.

Water levels at Lake Mead continue to drop due to the decade-long drought, and two marinas at Lake Mead will be closed temporarily to allow relocation of facilities. The NPS will keep launch ramps at these locations open with temporary extensions.

At Echo Bay, on the Nevada side of the lake, the Marina, fuel dock and marina store will be closed from April 23 through May 5. During those dates, small boat and houseboat rental will be by reservation only (no walk-ins), access to the marina will be by shuttle boat only and no overnight occupancy in the marina will be permitted. All land based services at Echo Bay (RV park, motel, restaurant, store, and fuel) will remain open.

Dates for a similar temporary closure at Temple Bar, on the lake's Arizona shore, are still being determined, but that work is likely to begin soon. You can get an update on current boat ramp and marina conditions on the park website. That site also has a variety of maps to help you plan your visit to the park—and to avoid areas where closures are in effect.

By July, the lake level is expected to be about 14 feet below last year’s lowest point, according to Bureau of Reclamation projections.

Andrew Muñoz, spokesman for Lake Mead National Recreation Area notes,

The major impact on our visitor's summer will be at the launch ramps. However, we have contingency plans in place for temporary extensions using metal pipe mats. Funding from entrance fees and the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act will be used to construct permanent ramp extensions.

The lower water levels have implications beyond relocation and use of the marinas. The park staff reminds visitors that boaters should be cautious as new navigational obstructions and reefs emerge. An area that was open water a year ago may now include hazards above—or just below—the surface.

The NPS also recommends that visitors who plan to stroll on the beach wear foot protection. Quagga mussels that previously lived underwater are now exposed along the shore, and their shells are sharp and can cut bare feet.

Falling water levels in the lake create a host of problems that extend far beyond the park.

Lake Mead stores Colorado River water for delivery to farms, homes and businesses in southern Nevada, Arizona, southern California and northern Mexico. About 96 percent of the water in Lake Mead is from melted snow that fell in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The water level in Lake Mead is lower than it has been in over 40 years. The water is going down because the Colorado River runoff over the last decade starting in 1998 has been far below normal.

For some perspective, a NASA website has some interesting aerial photos of Lake Mead, including one that allows you to quickly compare the lake levels in 2000 and 2003.

According to Bureau of Reclamation data, the elevation at Lake Mead early this week will be about 1102 feet, and is predicted to be about 1092 feet at the end of 2009. Things have been worse: in December 1964 it was 1088.14 feet above sea level, and in March 1956 the average monthly level was 1083.57. Lake Mead storage is currently about 46 percent of capacity.

Statistical buffs can find the average monthly level for Lake Mead since 1935 on a Bureau of Reclamation website.

Levels in the big lake have seen some dramatic fluctuations during the past 70 years, and those who rely on the impoundment for their water are counting on history repeating itself with another swing back to a wet cycle. There's plenty of debate among both experts and pundits about when that might happen.

There's a lot more at stake than just the location of the marinas.


More Low Water Woes at Lake Mead

Lake Mead employees have been instructed to say "reduced water reservoir" instead of "low water" level. Come on, use the newspeak!


Thanks for sharing that!

I suppose it would be also possible to tout the "expanded shoreline availability" that goes along with the "reduced water reservoir."

just dont go to the new shore line you may sink in 40 year old silt up to your waist

I think it's kinda cool the lake is going dry, It is like mother nature fighting back after a brutal and merciless attack, Also I don't think las vegas needs a lake it may also influence some of the unwanted californians and other unwanted new comers to las vegas to return to where they came from, After all cities like Barstow, Baker, Elko, Ely, Wells. Winnamucca do just fine without a lake... Looking forward to a dry basin.

Don't talk so dumb Dave, We all need water and an economy to survive, ever heard of Ghost towns. no water + no growth= Ghost town.
way to allow yourself to be brain washed. DA!!

I just heard from a reliable source that all the concessions at Echoe Bay Marina will be closed by the Park Service around September 1,2009. Is this a fact? Thanks, Jay Lavorne,Logandale,Nevada

With all due respect, Anonymous, growth is the underlying dynamic that ultimately undercuts sustainability. As is becoming increasingly evident, infinite growth in a finite world is impossible. Mother nature is reminding us that we test her limits at our own peril.

I'm with Dave and Ray on this one. Anonymous sounds like the one who's been brainwashed by the con men &
politicians selling limitless growth. Desert irrigating civilizations since before Babylon have historically collapsed due to salt accumulation in their soil and overgrazing of headwaters. Where are the biblical cedars of Lebanon, and just how are our own 'make the desert bloom' schemes going to end differently?

More is not sustainable, and "ultimately" may be sooner than we care to think, maybe even just around the economic corner.

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