Business owner fights to keep afloat as water disappears in Lake Mead

Water levels at America's largest reservoir continue to drop to alarming levels, forcing local officials into difficult decisions and business owners into taking unprecedented action.

Lake Mead in Nevada is generally an oasis in the desert, stretching 112 miles long, but the worsening drought is taking a toll, with water levels lower than at any other point in history.

Matthew Lachniet, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has studied the Earth's climate over thousands of years. He told AccuWeather's Bill Wadell that government, policy and business leaders should prepare for the likelihood of hotter summers, worsening droughts and a decrease in snow that falls in the Rockies, which means less water reaching the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead.

"There simply isn't enough to go around to meet our current obligations," he said.

This is a plight Gail Kaiser knows all too well. She manages the Las Vegas Boat Harbor, a family business her parents bought in 1957. There have been a lot of ups and downs over the years, but this year is unprecedented.

Over the 64 years that Kaiser's family has owned the business, they've witnessed water so high it ran over the spillways. Now, she says levels have reached the lowest levels "ever."

Gail Kaiser of the Las Vegas Boat Harbor, a local business run by her family for decades. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)

"Lake Mead is designed to be a fluctuating reservoir. That's why it's here. Thank God they were foreseeing enough to build that dam so we have water here now," Kaiser said.

Construction on the Hoover Dam, which formed the reservoir, started in 1931. The reservoir started impounding water back in 1935, providing sustenance to millions of families and businesses throughout the Southwest. When it's full, the reservoir can hold nine trillion gallons of water, which is a three-year supply for customers in Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. The last time that actually happened was in 1983.

(AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)

With more families looking to get outside while social distancing, business was booming at Las Vegas Boat Harbor during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Kaiser told AccuWeather that the tide has turned.

"Since they've been advertising that the lake is going dry, it's not been so good," Kaiser said.

As the water receded, Kaiser was forced to move the entire marina operation out 80 feet to keep up with the dropping water levels. And it may even have to move a second time later this summer, she said. Moving 200 anchors to secure the floating business when the weather gets windy is no easy feat.

"It's a lot of work for us and it will continue to be as the water goes down," Kaiser told AccuWeather. "We will have to build infrastructure. We haven't been down this far below. All of our water, power, sewer all has to be maintained to come down the hill and go back up the hill."

Las Vegas Boat Harbor. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)

She said her family has weathered some pretty serious storms and they'll do whatever it takes to keep the business afloat.

"It's still a big lake," she said, noting that there are spots that are more than 200-feet deep still. "The water going down is a challenge, but if you look at every day as a new adventure, it's still a great place to be."

Economic and policy analyst Jeremy Augero told AccuWeather that heat, drought and water have always been a challenge for southern Nevada and important decisions need to be made as the drought continues to dry up resources.

"I don't think the problem will ever be solved in the way we sort of think about a puzzle being solved," Augero said. But, as Augero points out, those who find a way will have to do so responsibly, in addition to effectively, with water conservation top of mind.

He sees a bright future for businesses and families if water conservation remains a top priority.

"We've seen such a remarkable amount of population growth with very limited increase in the amount of water with the actual consumptive use of water has gone down dramatically," Augero said. "I continue to believe that we're going to get better and better at that over time."

Reporting by Bill Wadell.

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