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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.


Your first answer was a sophisticated way of saying nothing last forever, I do agree with that. I dont recall saying that I thought it would.
i split my last post in two section...two seperate thoughts. i have tried twice this is my third attemped to post that thought, is it that my opinion does not agree with their opinion so they refuse to post mine? or do I not understand how this works?

Nothing not even the earth that you stand on will remain all will be gone. That is biblical and science seems to agree. (yeah I know science and the bible agreeing what a stretch) not arguing that we should not rape the earth but there must be a balance.
The issue was draining lake mead and the impact that would have. If lake mead is drained and Las vegas gets its water from underground wells, this would have a huge impact on the aquifer from a ecologic stand point. the well would not be keep up with the demand no water = no economy, people cant work to feed there families they leave, Dave gets his wish and is all alone in vegas.

I do not live under the delusion that this economy will last forever. would like to see it out last me. you are retired. You have raised your kids, bought and paid for there needs. There is a lot of us out here that still have that to accomplish.

to tahoma; I do not recall saying that I believed our civilization would last for ever. it is not going to. read ray's first reponse he said it....nothing last forever. just look at history, there is nothing you can do to stop it either, just a matter of time. You can, on the other hand, speed it up or slow it down. The issue being draining of lake mead not cedars of Lebanon. Draining lake mead would speed up the destuction of our economy here in vegas and I would like to finish raising my family without having to pull BK and leaving do to an economic situation caused by no water. it may happen on its own....may have already happend, but lets not speed it up by removing its water supply. As for the good old USA, it is not going to last forever either, but I am in the hopes that the stars and stripes out last me for many years to come. Balance that is the key

Anonymous, I don't recall saying that I do not "enjoy" the amenities of modern life, and what I suggest is not "throwing in the towel" or hiding out in a cave. We, and that includes me, have all been conditioned to believe that we somehow are entitled to a lifestyle based on a level of consumption that is patently unsustainable. Indeed, this conditioning is so pervasive and ingrained that to suggest it is either destructive or self defeating elicits strong emotional response from those who cannot conceive of living any other way. It is like suggesting that the Bible's reference to "dominion" actually should be interpreted as stewardship rather than a master-slave relationship. Acknowledging our complicity in what some scientists are calling the Seventh Great Extinction is the first step critical step toward living up to our stewardship responsibilities. That responsibility includes leaving an earth that can provide a nurturing environment for children yet unborn. That is my choice. You must make your own.

So....tahoma, ray bane, do we just put on a pair of leather skin speedos and live like let say tarzan and jane just giving up because it has happened in the past. Sitting around waiting for the doom and gloom is not my Idea of a good time. kind of enjoying my life (fishing, boating, driving not walking, running water indoor plumbing to name a few things) and if you don't like those things and want the world to go back to the stone age, I have one thing to first.

And if you get into the biblical thing Tahoma you should be aware that according to the bible all that we see will be destroyed soon enough anyway so enjoy it while it lasts.

What then should we do; shall we do are best and enjoy what has been given us, (enjoying does not mean abusing, abusing is not the answer and niether throwing in the towel) or curl up in the fetal position and wait to die. the choice is yours.

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.

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 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

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 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.

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