AFP, published on Sunday, July 03, 2022 at 08:52
Since Adam Dailey started sailing on Lake Mead fifteen years ago, the shoreline has receded several hundred meters under the effect of the chronic drought that hits the western United States.
The launching points that covered the shores of this lake near Las Vegas have been abandoned one by one, failing to reach the surface, and only a ramp is now practicable for boaters who wish to launch their boat. ‘water.
“Now everyone is fighting to use a single ramp and see how we can get away with it,” Adam Dailey told AFP.
“It’s quite sad what is happening. But we still come to try to enjoy it as much as we can.”
Lake Mead, artificially created by the Cyclopean construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, is on paper the largest water reservoir in the United States. But it hasn’t reached full capacity since 1983.
This does not prevent the 640 km2 lake from supplying water to tens of millions of people and countless farms throughout the southwest of the country.
But its reserves are dwindling at a terrifying rate and the reservoir is now only at 25% capacity.
The National Parks Agency, which manages tourist access to Lake Mead, has spent more than $40 million since 2010 to keep boaters able to navigate it.
Every time the lake level drops by 120cm, it costs an additional two to three million to adapt the boat launch, a process “increasingly difficult and expensive”.
“The drop in water levels due to climate change and 20 years of continuous drought have reshaped the shores of the park”, summarizes the agency on its website.
– Strata –
To illustrate the phenomenon, since 2001 the National Parks Agency has placed signs indicating the location of the lake shore at different times. At the end of June, the water is already located about 300 paces below the sign marking the level of 2021.
The concentric layers left by the water on the steep banks vividly illustrate the extent of the drought that has prevailed since the floods of 1983.
“We used to race waterskis here,” Jaxkxon Zacher told AFP. “And that island over there, there was only the tip that emerged 25 years ago.”
The lower the water, the more the islands and other rocky reefs appear, creating so many dangers for boats. “Every day there is someone who tears off their propeller because the week before, there was no rock but now it is thirty or sixty centimeters lower”, launches Jason Davis, who markets boats on the lake.
“There are fitted out boats that run aground, people who rip open their hulls”.
The price of some boats reaches several hundred thousand dollars, so a navigation error can be expensive.
– A new job? –
Some can no longer bear the vagaries of navigation on the lake and the long queues to put their boat in the water, and have set their sights on more welcoming waters.
This is the case of some rivers located downstream of the Hoover Dam, such as Willow Beach, in neighboring Arizona, where kayakers spray themselves under a blazing sun.
There, a small marina allowed Steve McMasters to moor his boat. “On weekends, the wait time to get your boat out of the water (at Lake Mead) can reach four or five hours,” he explains.
“I spent four months on the waiting list to get my place” at Willow Beach, “I was lucky,” adds the yachtsman.
Climatologists explain that there have already been droughts lasting more than twenty years in the American West. But the phenomenon, now combined with rising temperatures largely caused by human activities, is indeed transforming the region.
Higher temperatures mean less precipitation, and snow at higher elevations tends to melt earlier in the season and faster.
The Colorado River is therefore deprived of the stable and steady supply of water it has enjoyed for centuries.
On a climatic scale, Lake Mead is only a newborn, but for humans it is disappearing at an alarming rate.
For Jason Davis, the boat dealer, many more people should come and see for themselves the extent of the damage.
“Until you see that, you can’t take the measure of it. You don’t think about it until it’s too late,” he says.
What if the lake level continues to drop? “I’ll have to find another job.”