Anthropological Role In Forensics
Severe drought lowers the level of the lake, affording social anthropologists opportunities to study indigenous dwellings that were previously submerged. Meanwhile, their forensic colleagues are routinely called in whenever relatively contemporary remains of people are revealed, to investigate scientifically who the deceased might have been in life, how they died, and how their bodies got to the lake. For example, the 20202022 North American drought caused a series of unexplained human remains to be revealed, prompting speculation about how many more will be discovered as the water level recedes. However, this is not the first time such mysteries have surfaced at Lake Mead:
- On or about June 16, 2011 a male body was discovered floating in Lake Mead near .
- On May 1, 2022, a body was found in a barrel which may have been stuck in mud since the late 1970s or early 1980s. The body found in a barrel at the bottom of Lake Mead is being tested for the DNA of a man that went missing 45 years ago.
- On May 7, 2022, the remains of Thomas Erndt were found. Thomas died of an apparent drowning in 2002, but his body was never found.
- By August 15, 2022, four more bodies had been found.
Nevada Uses Least Amount Of Water From Lake Mead
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Striking new images show just how much the drought has affected Lake Mead, spokesperson from Southern Nevada Water Authority breaks down which states use the most and the least.
This week, NASA released new satellite photos of water loss at Lake Mead from July 2000 to July 2022.
Satellite images from NASA show water loss at Lake Mead since 2000
State Climatologist and faculty member from the University of Reno, Steph McAfee, said she looks at Lake Mead elevation data every month, but even the satellite images were striking.
Its not new news and I was shocked to see that satellite imagery. Its one thing to know something and another thing to see it happen in front of you, McAfee said.
Spokesperson and Outreach Manager for SNWA, Bronson Mack, went in depth into water use data.
So when we see these images of Lake Mead over time and especially when their compared to Las Vegas growing during that same time period- well its a bit of a misnomer there, Mack said.
While the Las Vegas valley has grown, weve done so by using less water.
Since 2002, when this drought started, our community has reduced its consumption of water from Lake Mead by 26% and we did that at the same time that our community increased in population by more than 750,000 people, Mack said.
Currently the Las Vegas valley is the smallest user of water from the lake.
In the the Bureau of Reclamations water use report, it breaks down the exact numbers each entity consumed in 2021.
Las Vegas Water Supply
Las Vegas gets about ten percent of its water supply from groundwater sources. This means that one tenth of the citys water comes from natural sources underneath the surface of the earth. This proportion is so small, of course, because the Las Vegas valley is located in a desert, which is characteristically known for having extremely dry air and soil.
The majority of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead which is fed by the Colorado River. Las Vegas receives billions of gallons of water from the Colorado River, but it is not the only city that is serviced by the long and expansive river. In fact, Colorado River water supplies seven states and many western cities in this region of the country, meaning that its use as a resource is heavily governed and regulated.
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Is Arizona Facing A Water Shortage
In Arizona, 84% of the state is experiencing severe drought conditions and is preparing for its first ever Tier 1 water shortage cuts. That means Arizona will lose nearly 18% or 512,000 acre-feet of water it has been drawing from the Colorado River basin.
Is Lake Mead safe to swim?
There are many places to swim in the bright blue waters of Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Please be aware that there are no lifeguards in the park. Always wear a life jacket. Most fatalities at Lake Mead National Recreation Area could have been avoided if the person in the water was wearing a life jacket.
Hoover Dam Power Generation Is Down 25 Percent Due To Low Water Levels
The Hoover Dam, which forms the Lake Mead reservoir, produces about 2,000 megawatts of hydropower enough electricity for nearly 8 million Americans.
But with less water flowing through Hoover Dam, its capacity has been closer to 1,500 megawatts in recent weeks, a drop of roughly 25 percent.
The decline affects several states, including California, Arizona, and Nevada, all of which get their energy from the Hoover Dam.
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Where Does Las Vegas Get Its Water
Its estimated that Vegas gets up to 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, courtesy of the mighty Colorado River. It stretches from its snowmelt source in the Rocky Mountains and winds its way through seven US states including Nevada, before eventually arriving at its mouth in Mexicos Gulf of California.
Thats a lot of over-reliance on asource that serves around 20 million people across a number of states.Especially since, despite its population growth over the years, Nevadas shareof Lake Meads supply is historically much less than neighboring California andArizona.
From Colorado River, the waterreaches man-made Lake Mead via Lake Powell and is sucked through Las VegasValleys straws on a journey that carries the water thousands of milesthrough treatment facilities on a cyclical mission.
It returns to Lake Mead by way of theLas Vegas Wash, and finally enters the water system to get to Sin Citys taps.
When its flushed back into the sewersystem, it resumes its journey from treatment plant to wash to lake and backagain into homes and businesses.
Quite the adventure!
The Solution: Tank Mead To Save Powell
Lake Mead relies on inflow mostly, water released from the upstream Lake Powell.
Until recently, Lake Mead typically would get at least 8.23 million acre-feet of water annually from Lake Powell enough to cover the state of Maryland in more than a foot of water.
We began this year expecting to get a lower 7.48 million acre-feet release from Lake Powell. But the federal Bureau of Reclamation, for the first time, trimmed that mid-year to 7 million acre-feet because of how dangerously close Powell was to something called minimum power pool.
Thats the point where water is too low to flow through eight hydroelectric turbines and instead must flow through four smaller tubes at the base of the dam tiny tubes, in comparison, that were never designed to flow millions of acre-feet of water, especially over time.
If anything were to fail which bureau engineers are seriously worried about it would vastly decrease the amount of water that could flow to Mead.
And that would tank Mead in a heartbeat, because significantly more water already flows out of Lake Mead to users than flows into it from upstream.
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The Need For Greater Water Storage Capacity In California Is Not New
Thomas is a retired business owner and author. He lives in La Mesa.
Recently, historic record-low water volume in Lake Mead and Lake Powell has been headline news. While the trend of dropping water levels at two of the nations largest water reservoirs has been widely recognized for years , a discussion about what it truly means for those who rely on its source for water and electricity downstream is rarely heard.
We pipe oil across the country, so theres no reason why we cant pipe water.
Lake Meads water level continues to fall to historic lows, bringing the reservoir less than 150 feet away from dead pool so low that water cannot flow downstream from the dam. The loss of water entirely from this source would be catastrophic. Eliminating the hydroelectric power source that supplies 29 million people in the Southwest with a portion of their electricity would only compound the problem.
Such an event would have an enormous impact on San Diego County where half of the regions total water supply relies on the Colorado River. Other areas of the Southwest could also be severely affected. Regional agricultural use of water could be eliminated, impacting the nations food supply. Skyrocketing costs for urban users of what little water and power is still available could cause mass migrational population shifts. Real estate values could plummet. The dead pool of Lake Mead could transform parts of the Southwest into dead zones.
Will Lake Mead Reach Dead Pool
Lake Meads water level has dropped more than 170 feet since 1983, the year the Colorado River flooded Hoover Dams spillways. If the reservoir dips below 895 feet about 150 feet lower than where it is now Lake Mead would reach whats called dead-pool level. Dead pool is when water in a reservoir drops so low that it cant flow downstream from the dam. If Lake Mead were to reach dead pool a possibility that scientists say is several years away there would be dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on the reservoir for drinking water and irrigation.
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Who Uses The Most Water From Lake Mead
CaliforniaCalifornia, it gets the largest share. 4.4 million acre-feet of water is available to California. Arizona gets about 2.8 million acre-feet. The country of Mexico, 1.5 million and us right here in Southern Nevada we get 300,000 acre-feet, Mack said.
What Is The Colorado River System And Why Is It So Important
Both Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are integral components of the complex system that divides and allocates the Colorado River. The river stretches 1,400 miles from Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, and provides water to roughly 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico. It supports dozens of indigenous tribes and 11 national parks, and irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland.
A few hundred miles upstream, the Glen Canyon Dam created another critical reservoir called Lake Powell, which, together with Lake Mead, collects and stores a significant portion of the water sustaining the Colorado River system. Loss of power from Glen Canyon Dam during a season where energy consumption typically increases, like the summer, could destabilize the surrounding power grid, according to a report by the energy watchdog group NERC.
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The Looming Question: What Happens If Water Shortages Get Worse In The Future
One big reason these agreements are being rethought is that as the Southwest enters its 16th year of drought, these shrinking reservoirs are becoming harder to dismiss as a temporary blip.
The 1922 agreement that divvied up water from the Colorado River was forged during one of the wettest periods in the past millennia. At the time, people assumed droughts would occur, but they didn’t assume droughts would get off-the-charts terrible.
That’s increasingly looking like a bad bet. Scientists have uncovered evidence that decades-long “megadroughts” have occurred in the distant past, and could well occur again in the Southwest going forward. And even if that doomsday scenario doesn’t come to pass, climate models still expect droughts to get more frequent and severe in the American Southwest if global warming continues apace. There is very likely to be less water to share in the future.
Yet despite all this, Lake Mead’s users have been overdrawing water in recent years essentially assuming that there will be wet years in the future to provide surplus water and recharge the system.
Up until now, there’s always been plenty of water from the Colorado River to go around. It’s increasingly difficult to take that for granted.
The Las Vegas Wash And Reclaimed Water
One of the big ways that Sin City conserves water is through the Las Vegas wash. The wash is a 12-mile-long river that runs through the Vegas valley. Any excess water in the city that ends up in a storm drain , runs into the wash.
The water flows down the channel until it reaches a municipal water treatment plant which cleans the water and releases it back into the wash. Downstream from the treatment facility are the wetlands which naturally clean the water even further.
After the wetlands, this water ends up in Lake Las Vegas and eventually runs back into Lake Mead. In this way, the reclaimed water is returned to the reservoir. This helps to significantly reduce water usage in Las Vegas.
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What Lake Provides Las Vegas With 90% Of Its Water
Lake MeadThis photo taken on April 25 shows the top of Lake Mead drinking water Intake No. 1 above the surface level of the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam. The intake is the uppermost of three in the deep, drought-stricken lake that provides Las Vegas with 90% of its drinking water supply.
Colorado River Situation ‘very Serious’
Earlier this month, the Colorado River, which helps provide water for more than 40 million people, was rated the nation’s most endangered by conservation group American Rivers in its annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report.
Failure is simply not an option, given all that depends on a healthy, flowing Colorado River, said the organization’s president and CEO Tom Kiernan in announcing the report. On the Colorado River and nationwide, the climate crisis is a water crisis. Just, equitable solutions for rivers and clean water are both achievable and essential to our health, safety, and future.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority had prepared for lower water levels on Lake Mead by completing in 2015 a third intake valve capable of getting water, should levels fall below 1,000 feet. And more recently, in 2020, the authority also finished work on a low lake level pumping station, which can get water from the lake should its elevation drop to 875 feet.
The authority is also pushing conservation efforts including offering rebates to homeowners who replace grass with water-smart landscaping. “The situation on the river is very serious,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
As federal and state officials attempt to find short-term initiatives to manage decreased water resources, they also face the 2026 expiration of the current Colorado River management guidelines.
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Boats And Trash Among Other Discoveries
The receding waters also have exposed dozens of previously sunken boats, including a World War II-era landing craft. According to a from the National Parks Service :
The NPS suspects that this WWII surplus craft was put into service on the lake for various reasons and then partially salvaged before it sank in its current location. Whether it sank by accident or was purposely sunk to get rid of a vessel no longer of use is unclear.
The shrinking lake has also revealed many more ordinary human artifacts, such as beer cans, sunglasses, baby strollers, tackle boxes even handguns and ancient arrowheads as well as untold amounts of scattered trash.
Where Does Las Vegas Source Its Water
the Colorado RiverSouthern Nevada gets nearly 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River, which begins as snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains. The snowmelt travels through a series of tributaries into the river, which winds its way south for 1,450 miles and empties into the Gulf of California in Mexico.
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Low Water Reveals Bodies
People have been dumping stuff into Lake Mead for years, and with the dropping waters, some of those secrets are coming to the surface.
On May 1, 2022, a boater noticed a barrel stuck in the mud and made the grisly discovery of a body inside. Las Vegas police believe he was a murder victim who died from a gunshot wound. His killers may have dumped him in the lake in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Six days later, two sisters paddleboarding in the lake discovered another set of skeletal remains. Lt. Ray Spencer with the Las Vegas police told Las Vegas 8NewsNow:
I would say there is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains.
Turns out, he was right. On July 25, the National Parks Service reported that a bystander alerted park rangers to yet another set of human remains at Swim Beach in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The investigation is continuing.
#BREAKING: The body found in a barrel at Lake Mead may have been underwater for as long as four decades and more bodies are likely to appear as the lake recedes due to severe drought, Las Vegas Metro police tell the @8NewsNow I-Team. #8NN
The Lake Loses Around 6 Feet Of Water To Evaporation Each Year
And climate change is making that worse.
As temperatures warm, the snowmelt that supplies the river decreases and more water evaporates, especially during extreme heat waves like the West is experiencing this week.
Six feet of water is an average loss of 300 billion gallons per year on top of the water withdrawn for human use and power generation. About 40 percent of the annual evaporation occurs in June, July and August enough to supply water to 75,000 Las Vegas Valley homes for 12 months.
Excessive heat waves can easily account for more than 10 billion gallons of evaporated water this week alone. Thats enough water to fill 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
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