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June 2, 2015

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Lake Mead’s water level rises 30 feet after wet winter

Image

Sam Morris / Sun file photo

Discoloration around the banks of Lake Mead shows how much the water level has declined over the years.

Lake Mead Losing Water

An old fishing pier, not used for nearly 15 years, is now far from the water's edge at Lake Mead. Launch slideshow »

Map of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

601 Nevada Way, Boulder City

Lost and found

A salvage party dismantles a house in St. Thomas, Nevada in 1942. St. Thomas, which was abandoned to the rising waters of Lake Mead in 1938, has resurfaced due to fluctuating lake levels several times over the decades. Launch slideshow »

A wet winter in the Rocky Mountains has translated into more water in Lake Mead, pushing the lake’s elevation to its highest point since 2009.

The lake’s surface level has risen nearly 30 feet to 1,110 feet after hitting a low in November. Projections have the lake rising another 40 feet over the next year, helping stave off a potential water shortage.

This year’s surge is being attributed to “substantial snowpack” in the Rocky Mountains, which led to more water running into Lake Powell, which lies on the Arizona-Utah border upstream of Lake Mead.

According to Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rose Davis, excess water from Lake Powell is being sent to Lake Mead under conditions established in the Colorado River Compact.

Lake Mead’s elevation had plunged nearly 100 feet over the past decade, as a lingering drought choked the Colorado River. The lake came within six feet of dropping below the point that would have caused a water shortage. Further drops would have triggered limits on water use in the valley, but the recent increase has pushed the date of a possible shortage back to at least 2014, Davis said.

“It’s too early to say the drought is over, but we’ve had a great year,” Davis said.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area park planner Jim Holland said boaters and beachgoers will be affected.

As the water level receded, muddy shorelines that had once been underwater have been exposed. Holland said the rise will mean a more comfortable, less muddy day at the beach for visitors.

But the increased elevation isn’t enough to reopen any of the four boat launch ramps closed in the past decade, Holland said.

The ramp at Overton Beach on the northern part of the lake would be the first to reopen, he said, but park officials are waiting to see if the water level will stabilize or continue rising before investing the money to restart a water treatment plant that was mothballed as part of the closure.

“We need some guarantee of what the lake level is going to be,” he said. “We can’t spend that money to open it up and then have to close it shortly after.”

And boaters will have to deal with new terrain, as parts of the lake are newly submerged. Holland advises boaters be cautious, warning that rock outcroppings once exposed could be covered by just a few feet of water.

“Be careful near the shore,” he said. “It’s very difficult for us to stay ahead of hazards that are being created by rapidly changing elevations … The lake’s very different from the last time you visited.”

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