Lake Mead watch: As the #ColoradoRiver dries up, will tourism? — High Country News

US Flag at Hoover Dam as the Olympic Torch passed over the dam in 1996
US Flag at Hoover Dam as the Olympic Torch passed over the dam in 1996

From The High Country News (Sarah Tory):

The Bureau of Reclamation reported June 30 that water levels have fallen to 1074.9 feet, 154 feet below capacity and 141 feet below its last peak in 1998.

Most public fears about Lake Mead’s decline center on the potential cutbacks in water deliveries — how much water is being released from the reservoir. But for Gripentog and other nearby business owners, there’s another set of concerns: As Mead dries up, so do the tourists they depend on.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the 6th most visited National Park unit in the country, attracting almost 7 million visitors each year and $260 million in local spending — and making Lake Mead the most valuable water recreation area in the entire Colorado River Basin, thanks to the crowds that come from Las Vegas. More than 3,000 jobs and 125 small businesses depend on that economy.

According to a recent report by graduate students at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of California, Santa Barbara, if water levels continue to fall, visitors to Lake Mead could drop by half and at 1,000 feet, the total economic loss could reach $280 million. Recreational visitors to the reservoir have been decreasing since 1996, a trend that matches declining water levels — though the study found that other factors, such as the economy and negative media coverage, could be adding to more recent declines.

From Utah Public Radio (Eliza Welsh):

Nuestro Rio, is a group of concerned Latinos in the Southwest which advocates for the preservation of the Colorado River. Director of the group, Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, says the record low levels are indicative of the over-allocation of the Colorado River.

“It’s sort of like a check engine light. It’s a clear marker telling us that we need to make some really tough choices about 2016 and figure out what we’re going to be doing to address the Colorado River water shortage,” Patterson said. “It’s the first time this type of level has hit and it’s just a clear illustration of the over-allocation of the Colorado River.”

Another concerned group is Protect the Flows, a coalition of businesses that promote new water policies and technologies. Co-director Craig Mackey says receding water levels in the two major reservoirs on the system- lakes Powell and Mead- reflect the imbalance in supply versus demand.

“We have to come together as Basin states. We have to come together as citizens of the Basin, and we have to come together as local government, state government, federal government, and water managers,” Mackey said. “We need those people in a room acting collaboratively on conservation, on innovation, new technologies and on investments.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

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