The drought in the West is hurting Nevada’s Lake Mead in the most obvious sense—it’s shrinking fast. But that problem comes with an upside: Tourism is up as the water recedes and reveals what lies beneath, reports CBS News. The big draw is the ghost town of St. Thomas, which was submerged after the government bought the land in the 1930s to build the Hoover Dam. The town has been gradually resurfacing over the last decade, so much so that national parks officials plan to put up informational placards for hikers who can now access it on foot, reports the Los Angeles Times. Another popular site requires going under water, just not as far as before: Divers are flocking to the wreckage of a B-29 that crashed in 1948.
The severe droughts affecting the western United States are approaching apocalyptic proportions as the water level of Lake Mead – America’s largest capacity reservoir – has reached the lowest point in its history.
Lake Mead, which was formed when the Hoover Dam was built, supplies water to around 40 million people and is also a crucial agricultural resource in the region. Humans, livestock and crops in Arizona, California, Nevada and even northern Mexico depend on water from Lake Mead (and the Colorado River which feeds it) for power, drinking water and irrigation.
Major metropolitan areas including Las Vegas and Phoenix also rely heavily on Lake Mead water.
Lake Mead sunk to a record low Tuesday night by falling below the point that would trigger a water-supply shortage if the reservoir wasn’t expected to recover by January.
Water managers expect the lake’s elevation level to rebound enough to ward off a 2016 shortage thanks to a wetter-than-expected spring. But in the long run, as a Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman said, “we still need a lot more water.”
The reservoir stores water for parts of Arizona, other Western states and Mexico, all of which have endured a 15-year drought with no end in sight.
Once-teeming Lake Mead marinas are idle as a 14-year drought steadily drops water levels to historic lows. Officials from nearby Las Vegas are pushing conservation but also are drilling a new pipeline to keep drawing water from the lake.
Hundreds of miles away, farmers who receive water from the lake behind Hoover Dam are preparing for the worst.
The receding shoreline at one of the main reservoirs in the vast Colorado River water system is raising concerns about the future of a network serving a perennially parched region home to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.
Marina operators, water managers and farmers who for decades have chased every drop of water across the booming Southwest and part of Mexico are closely tracking the reservoir water level already at its lowest point since it was first filled in the 1930s.
Even for a regular like Allen Keeten, who has been visiting here since the late 1970s, the retreating shoreline of Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam is a shock to witness.
“I hate to see it,” the 58-year-old truck driver from Kenesaw, Neb., says, peering over the side of the massive concrete dam on the Colorado River. “Nowadays you’ve got to be careful when you are out on a boat because of all the exposed ground.”
Like a giant measuring stick in the desert, the dropping water level of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, provides a vivid representation of the drought that is gripping the Southwest and much of the West.
Lake Mead, the valley’s primary source of drinking water, continues to shrink under the crippling drought. This week the water level at Lake Mead is expected to hit its lowest level since 1937.
Despite the rain and the flash floods from Mount Charleston, no amount of runoff is enough to replenish Lake Mead.
One doesn’t have to look very closely to see the white rings around Lake Mead, which show where the water level used to be.
“We’re very concerned about the continued drought of course; we’re in the fourteenth year of drought,” said Jayne Harkins with the Colorado River Commission.