Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir, has shrunk to a record low amid a punishing drought and the demands of 40 million people in seven states which are draining the Colorado River dry.
The megadrought in the U.S. West has been worsened by climate change. Wildfire season has grown longer, blazes have become more intense and scorching temperatures have broken records — and as a result, lakes are shriveling.
Receding waters of Lake Mead National Recreation Area have revealed the skeletal remains of two people along with countless desiccated fish and what has become a graveyard of forgotten and stranded watercraft.
Houseboats, sailboats and motorboats have been beached, creating a surreal scene in an otherwise rugged desert landscape. A buoy that once marked a no-boat-zone sits in the dirt, with not a drop of water anywhere in view. Even a sunken World War II-era craft that once surveyed the lake has emerged from the ebbing waters.
The mighty Colorado River that divides Nevada from Arizona once flowed beneath the walls of Black Canyon until the Hoover Dam was erected in 1935 for irrigation, flood control and hydropower.
The reservoir is now below 30 percent of capacity. Its level has dropped 170 feet since reaching a high-water mark in 1983, leaving a bright white line of mineral deposits on the brown canyon walls that loom over passing motor boats as high as a 15-story building.
The shrinking water levels have consequences not only for the cities that depend on the future source of water, but also for boaters who have to navigate shallow waters and avoid islands and sandbars that lurk below the surface before emerging.