One measure of how hard the Western drought has been on boaters and marina owners in the West can be found at Lake Mead in Nevada, where crews recently began the process of moving a marina farther out into the lake.
The lake, which is part of the Colorado River system, feeds into the Hoover Dam. Gail Kaiser, whose family has owned the marina since the 1950s, told the New York Times that she has seen the lake at its fullest, in the early 1980s, and has watched it diminish during a drought that has continued for most of the last 15 years.
The longtime home of the marina has mostly dried up, forcing a move several years ago to a site 12 miles away.
“We’ve seen some extreme highs and some extreme lows,” Kaiser told the newspaper, “and this is the lowest that I remember.”
Today, moving the marina’s boat slips, shop and offices farther out into the lake will cost more than $100,000, and the effort requires several weeks of preparation.
When it is full, the reservoir, a few dozen miles from the Las Vegas Strip, reaches an elevation of more than 1,220 feet. But last week, Lake Mead broke records, falling to about 1,079 feet, lows not seen since the lake was created in the 1930s. At the moment, the lake is at only 38 percent of its capacity, and officials warn that the water level will continue to fall throughout the summer, with projections showing an estimated elevation of 1,073 feet by September.
“This is a pretty severe, lengthy drought, and it’s taking its toll,” Rose Davis, a spokeswoman for the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, told the Times.
The Colorado River system directs water to states throughout the region and into Mexico, but years of drought have raised concerns about its sustainability. Projections show the lake returning to 1,080 feet by the start of next year, but if the water does not rise above 1,075 feet by January, officials will be forced to reduce the amount of the water delivered to Arizona and Nevada.
And researchers fear that the drought conditions could linger for years, sharply reducing the snowpack in the north that replenishes the river.
“The Southwest sits in a kind of bull's-eye continued warming,” said Thomas C. Piechota, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We’ve seen this warming over the last 20 years.”