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Low water levels aren’t keeping boaters off Lake Mead in Nevada.

Low water levels aren’t keeping boaters off Lake Mead in Nevada.

Despite reports to the contrary, boating is alive and well on Lake Mead, the country’s largest human-made reservoir, even though it’s at 30 percent capacity due to drought.

“Our business is full,” says Bruce Nelson, director of operations at Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina. “The low water has made our marina operations more valuable because people don’t want to deal with the launch ramps.”

It’s not that people wouldn’t prefer that the levels were high, but if the public believed what the media is reporting, the lake has dried out and you can walk from one shoreline to the other. The situation isn’t that dire, but low levels have also affected Lake Powell and Lake Tahoe, where boating is still popular.

Perhaps the biggest challenges have been faced by people who trailer their boats to the lakes.

Las Vegas Boat Harbor and Lake Mead Marina are floating facilities. They have anchors that hold the marina in place. “We pick up and move the anchors and winch the marina out in unison, and add or take away dock sections,” Nelson says.

He estimates that for every foot of lake elevation lost, about 25 to 30 feet of beach is exposed. Las Vegas Boat Harbor has about 400 feet more beach than it had at the start of 2022. Callville Bay marina in Overton, Nev., rents houseboats; that business is down 30 to 35 percent.

The reduced water levels have resulted in more crowding at public ramps because four have been closed. Hemenway Harbor is the only public ramp, and it’s been reduced to two lanes on pipe mat. The only other available launch area is off a dirt road near the South Cove launch ramp. Four-wheel drive is recommended.

Despite the challenges, the National Park Service says Lake Mead continues to see high visitation. In 2021, the park was the fifth-most-visited in the United States, with 7.6 million visitors.

At Lake Powell, last year’s drop in water levels resulted in a month-long stoppage of houseboat rentals because they couldn’t be launched. Additionally, the NPS, as of late May, closed access to launch ramps in Arizona and Utah at Wahweap Stateline and Auxiliary facilities and Bullfrog Marina. Glen Canyon public launch ramp was open in late June.

The August issue of Soundings Trade Only includes a more in-depth look about how marine businesses are dealing with the drought conditions in the West, and the outlook for the future.

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