Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., has shrunk to a record low amid a punishing drought and the demands of 40 million people in seven states drying up the Colorado River.
Megadrought in the western U.S. is exacerbated by climate change. The wildfire season has lengthened, blazes have gotten hotter, scorching temperatures have broken records, and lakes are shrinking.
Receding waters at Lake Mead National Recreation Area have revealed the skeletal remains of two people, countless dried fish, and what has become a graveyard of forgotten and stranded vessels.
Houseboats, sailboats, and motorboats were lined up on the beach, creating a surreal scene in an otherwise stark desert landscape. The buoy that once marked the no-sailing zone lies in the dirt, with not a drop of water to be seen anywhere. Even a sunken World War II vessel that once explored the lake has surfaced from the receding waters.
The mighty Colorado River, which separates Nevada from Arizona, once flowed beneath the walls of Black Canyon until the Hoover Dam was built in 1935 for irrigation, flood control, and hydropower.
The reservoir is now below 30% capacity. Its water level has dropped 170 feet since reaching its highest watermark in 1983, and a bright white line of mineral deposits looms over the brown walls of the canyon, towering over passing motorboats as tall as a 15-story building.
Most boat ramps were closed, and the harbor docks moved to deeper waters. A marker was marking the water level in 2002 stands above the road, which drops to a boat slip in the distance.
Falling water levels affect cities that depend on a future water source and boaters who must navigate shallow waters and avoid islands and sandbars that lurk beneath the surface before surfacing.
Craig Miller was cruising on his houseboat last month when his engine cut out, and he washed ashore. Within days, the knee-deep water where his boat rested was gone.
“It’s amazing how quickly the water went down,” Miller said. “I was closed off.
He bought pumps and tried to dredge the sand around the boat to make a channel into the water, but he couldn’t stay ahead. The shallow water tow, estimated initially at $4,000, climbed to $20,000 after being dropped off.