I’ve been thinking for days about how to write this post. To say the least, it was shocking and terrifying to get to Lake Mead and see the water levels. Living in the west, we know that there has been an extended drought, and we know how many people rely on the Colorado River basin for their water, but seeing the “bathtub ring” 150 feet above the water level is a serious gut check.
The place we are staying, Echo Bay, used to be a thriving destination for boaters and tourists, but as the water has receded, the people have left. The marina ended up stranded on dry land. The hotel and restaurant still stand about 3/4 of a mile from the shore, boarded up and crumbling. A new road leads to a boat ramp on a peninsula that used to be completely submerged. The old boat ramp ends in a sandy field. This place which once drew people, and even inspired the creator of the biggest online marketplace to name his website eBay, is now a modern ghost town. Created by a dam, destroyed by drought and demand for water. The same picture is reflected all around the lake. Even the marinas that are still open have had to extend their boat launch ramps and move their slips further and further into the lake to stay afloat.
Yesterday we travelled to the end of the lake to visit the Hoover Dam, probably the place where the water level is most evident, with the intake towers standing so far above the surface. We read that if the water level were to drop 30 more feet, the dam would no longer be able to generate power, and if it dropped 80 feet, water would no longer be able to pass back into the Colorado River. We came home wondering if things were really as bad as they seem, and spent some time trying to figure out if our assumption about water use and population growth was accurate. We did uncover an interesting report that showed that although usage is still outpacing supply, there is not a direct correlation to population growth in the southwest. In fact, despite increases in population, many water districts have decreased their water usage every year over the past decade. So some hope is there that at some point, despite growth, demand could decrease.
Today we went to the other end of the lake to see a different kind of ghost town, one that emerged after sitting on the bottom of the lake for decades. The Town of St Thomas was flooded in the 1930s as Lake Mead filled. Walking around the tree stumps and building foundations, we found ourselves talking and wondering at length about how so many dams ended up on the Colorado River, and how people built the southwest simply trusting that there would always be enough water. It was pretty humbling to stand among the ruins of that old town and look around at a huge valley that used to be underwater and realize that it probably looks just like it did when people lived there. Maybe we aren’t so good at outsmarting nature after all?
Anyway, I don’t mean for this to be a totally somber post, but it surely has been an eye opener for us. It does seem timely that we are here as new legislation is moving forward in the form of a drought contingency plan for the Colorado River states.
Echo Bay boat ramp to nowhere
And just so you know we haven’t been moping around the whole time, here’s a smiling selfie from our hike through the old railroad tunnels that brought building supplies to the dam.