Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Lake Mead hits a new low, but the drought has a silver lining -- tourism

[LATimes] Bruce Nelson was just a baby when Lake Mead was at its mightiest.
That was 1983 — ancient history to the 32-year-old whose family has run marinas here for three generations — when the lake gushed over Hoover Dam like a desert Niagara Falls.
But that was then. Now, the West remains mired in a lingering drought that has sapped the lake level to its lowest point since Mead was created in the 1930s.
The drop has threatened water supplies for the entire Southwest, prompting officials to consider rationing. In September, the third and deepest intake pipe into the lake will be opened to ensure that Las Vegas-area consumers have water no matter how far Mead falls.
But Nelson says those already penning Lake Mead's obituary are a bit premature.
Tourism here is rebounding and the drought has brought an odd bonus: As waters recede, the lake has given up long-submerged secrets — a ghost town and B-29 bomber among them, history slowly revealed with the gentle care of an archaeologist's brush.
On a recent Friday, Nelson shuts off the engine of his Yamaha pleasure boat and floats in the aqua-green waters just off the dam wall. On either side of him, the rock face soars toward impossibly blue summer skies. Nelson's family opened their first marina here in 1957, and he grew up on this lake. His childhood playground now supports his livelihood.
"It's just so unfair to say this lake is disappearing," he says. "The lake is what it is. Do we prefer more water? Sure. But even with less water, this is still one big, big lake."
Nelson has stopped in a place called Black Canyon, though its walls now bear the black-white contrast of a piano keyboard.
The chalk-colored stone closest to the waterline, covered with residue from the retreating waters, is a measuring stick of just how far the lake level has fallen — from 1,226 feet to 1,075 feet in just 17 years, with most of that in the last few years. Read More