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    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Drought has Lake Mead at historic low

    Drought has Lake Mead at historic low

    Shaun McKinnon -
    Nov. 1, 2010 12:00 AM
    The Arizona Republic

    LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA - The advice given to boaters here these days - "If you haven't been to Lake Mead lately, you haven't been to Lake Mead" - sounds like a marketing slogan dreamed up to lure return business.

    Except in this case the advice is true.

    Low water levels at Lake Mead
    The drought on the Colorado River has reshaped the huge reservoir so dramatically in the past 11 years that it bears little resemblance to the lake captured in snapshots just a few years ago. Water levels have dropped 133 feet. Islands have emerged and grown. Rocky outcroppings push through the surface, creating watery obstacle courses whose paths shift almost daily.

    Five boat-launching sites and three marinas have closed since 2001 as the water recedes. The National Park Service has poured over a quarter-mile of concrete to maintain one boat ramp. Marina operators repeatedly nudge boat docks farther into the lake; about 200 boat slips were towed 40 miles across the lake to a new location after the old site dried up.

    Chasing the water, which is at its lowest level since the lake was first being filled 73 years ago, has cost the Park Service and the operators millions of dollars to rebuild or add infrastructure to compensate for the changing shoreline.

    The shrinking lake also has chased away business.

    The long-term costs could be harder to measure. Park officials and concession owners must fight against negative publicity caused by ever-worsening images of the lake and news stories about potential water rationing on the river and the loss of hydroelectricity from Hoover Dam.

    "The challenge here is that the water is going in one direction right now and that's out, away from the marina," said Rod Taylor, regional vice president for Scottsdale-based Forever Resorts, which operates three marinas at Lake Mead.

    "We have to keep re- engineering everything because we've never done it before," he said. "We just have to treat the drawdown as the norm and then hope for rain."

    High and dry

    Few places at Lake Mead tell the story of the drought better than Boulder Harbor, an inlet just a few miles upstream from Hoover Dam on the Nevada side of the reservoir.

    Once home to the commercial Lake Mead Marina, the harbor was a lively hub, its docks aglitter at night with strings of lights, its 750 boat slips filled with watercraft of every size.

    The first dock was moved downstream to Hemenway Harbor in 2007, as a shrinking Boulder Harbor grew more crowded. The rest of the marina moved in 2008. The Park Service added on to the concrete launch ramp as the water retreated, but by early this fall, too little water remained for even the smallest boats.

    Now, the harbor sits empty. Two fishing piers hang high in the air on a dike that was once un- der water. Birds wade through the few inches of water left at the muddy bottom, picking at bugs and weeds.

    "Boulder Harbor has been a premier recreation setting," said Jim Holland, chief planner for the Park Service at Lake Mead. "To see it like this, not operating at all, is a little emotional. This was once the heartbeat of the lake."

    The Park Service hopes to reopen a lengthened boat ramp at the harbor next year, but the marina won't return until the reservoir recovers.

    Lake Mead was full in late 1998, when it sat at elevation 1,215.95 feet above sea level. About a year later, drought struck. Inflow from the Colorado River began to fall, and the lake began to shrink. The reservoir now sits at 1,082.56 feet above sea level, less than 8 feet from triggering water-delivery rationing.

    The Park Service started closing amenities in 2001, when boat ramps on the upper reaches of the reservoir were exposed. The first marina was relocated a year later, and since then maintaining access has become a nearly full-time operation.

    "We tell people to treat every visit like it's their first," Holland said. "It's probably changed since the last time they were here."

    Chasing the water

    Reservoirs typically rise and fall over the course of a year as water flows in from the source and then out to water users. Lake Mead has been almost all fall and no rise since the start of the drought.

    For the Park Service and marina operators, that means stretching amenities foot by foot to keep the docks and the boats in the water.

    A drop of 10 vertical feet can expose up to 100 feet of shoreline. The reservoir lost 10 feet in elevation between September 2009 and September of this year.

    "Just a foot is huge to me," said Mark Schoffstall, general manager of Temple Bar Marina, on the Arizona side of the reservoir. "Right now, the cove is shrinking. If it goes down to 1,070 feet, we would lose one of our docks."

    The reservoir's signature bathtub ring - the mineral residue visible on once-submerged canyon walls - traces a line through Temple Bar, but the crew there measures water levels with what they call "Gilligan's boat," a rusting craft stuck high on the side of a hill.

    "We used to find it scuba diving," Schoffstall said.

    Temple Bar's amenities expanded in 2007 because of the drought. The Park Service closed the Overton Beach Marina on the reservoir's dwindling northern arm and moved the boat slips to Callville Bay and Temple Bar.

    Since then, Schoffstall and his staff have chased the water. His motel and lounge once sat within a short walk of the lakeshore; now both are a long, downhill hike. He's had to extend fuel lines, water lines, pumping stations and power lines, all on top of pushing the docks and slips farther out.

    The Park Service estimates that marina operators will spend $1.6 million in 2010 to keep up with changing water levels. The bill for the government is expected to top $6 million.

    "It means a lot of planning," Schoffstall said. "We have our divers going down to look for hazards, and then they're in the water when we do the moving."

    More than a dozen concrete anchors weighing 12,000 pounds each must be moved and secured. The longer fuel lines must be checked for any potential for leaks. Power boosters were added in the past year or so because the electrical lines were stretched too far. In all, Schoffstall has extended utilities 3,500 feet.

    That process is repeated at Callville Bay, Echo Bay and Hemenway Harbor, sites of the other remaining marinas.

    "You have continual moving and continual planning," said Kim Roundtree, general manager of Callville Bay Marina. "When the water levels were coming up, you did the same. It's part of the marina business. You just learn to grow and be creative."

    Matter of priorities

    The Park Service and the marina operators must adapt not only to drought but to the laws of the river - the rules and compacts that allow seven states to share the Colorado.

    A 2007 agreement among the states - Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming - has contributed in part to Lake Mead's current level. The agreement established procedures for managing Mead and its upstream sibling Lake Powell during a drought and, for now, those procedures require more water to remain in Powell.

    As long as water levels at Lake Powell do not drop after the coming winter, the Interior Department will likely release more water downstream into Lake Mead in 2011, keeping levels high enough to avoid rationing.

    But water customers remain the top priority on the river. Even the revenue-generating hydroelectric operations at Hoover Dam have sustained losses as reservoir levels drop. The dam's power-producing capacity is about 23 percent less than it was when the lake was full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    "Power generation is secondary to water demands downriver," said Pete DiDonato, facility manager at Hoover Dam. "Everything's predicated on water demand. Water is Number 1."

    The bureau has installed new equipment that allowed the dam to maintain some of its power capacity, but the dam's output shrinks for every foot the lake drops. Without new turbines, the capacity could drop to near zero if the lake falls to elevation 1,050 feet.

    Marina operators say their biggest challenge right now is perception, both from negative publicity every time the lake hits a new low and from the appearance of the boat docks, which now sit at the end of once-submerged lakeshore, hundreds of feet from other amenities.

    Although the marinas have noted a decline in business, the number of people using the park overall has remained steady and rose slightly from 2007 to 2009, when 7.9 million people visited. The numbers for 2010 are off compared with each of the three previous years, according to the Park Service, but have fluctuated month to month.

    The Park Service estimates that the lake contributes $500 million to $1 billion to the local economy, mostly in southern Nevada.

    The marina operators hope to draw lessons from their colleagues at Lake Powell, who suffered similar losses when that reservoir dropped to similarly low levels several years ago. It has since begun to recover some water, and visitors have returned.

    Forever Resorts is spending some of its marketing money just trying to offset the idea that Lake Mead isn't suitable for recreation.

    "People are still having a good time, and they come back once they see what we have," said Taylor, the resort company's regional executive. "Once we get people out on the boat on the lake, they don't care what the water level is." ... -down.html
    Last edited by JohnDoe2; 05-13-2018 at 09:20 PM.

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