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The 7 Craziest Things Found at the Bottom of Lake Mead

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The drop in Lake Mead has drawn national attention. The lake plays a vital role in supplying water to the surrounding states. Lake Mead is located 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Las Vegas, on the Arizona-Nevada border in the Southwest. It is one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. From the point of view of water capacity, it is the largest reservoir in the country. But what's at the bottom of Lake Mead?

Hoover Dam forms a lake in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Three minor tributaries, including the Virgin, Mud, and Las Vegas rivers, also feed the lake.

It has a maximum capacity of 1,220 feet (372 meters) and can hold as much as 9.3 trillion gallons of water. The 25 million people in Arizona, California, Nevada and parts of Mexico all have vast water supplies. It is also used for agricultural purposes.


US Commissioner Elwood Mead oversaw the development and execution of the Boulder Canyon project. This project resulted in dams and lakes. From 1924 to 1936, the Bureau of Reclamation had the honor of naming the lake.

In 1936, the National Park Service established and managed the Boulder Dam Recreation Area, now known as Lake Mead. In 1947, it was known as Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

About 90 percent of Lake Mead's water comes from snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains. The water flows through Lake Powell, Glen Canyon, and the Grand Canyon before entering the Colorado River. The remaining 10% is provided by local precipitation and groundwater.

Some 40 million people have access to water and electricity thanks to the Colorado River Basin. That includes residents of Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as roughly 5 million acres of farmland. Additionally, laws like the 1922 Colorado River Compact allowed for the distribution of river water to the states, tribal lands, and Mexico.

Not only is it an essential water source, but Lake Mead is also a popular boating destination and recreation area. However, five of the six boat ramps/sewers are currently closed. According to the park service, the park's shoreline has been altered due to the drop in water levels. Climate change and a 20-year drought are to blame.

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Lake Mead lacks water

7 Craziest Things Found at the Bottom of Lake Mead 1
In July 2022, a record low elevation of 1,040 feet was recorded, and Lake Mead was only 27% full.

©iStock.com/Sean Pavone

The first signs of Lake Mead impoundment appeared in late 1934. It took nearly three years to reach a height of 1,044 feet in April 1937. The height of the reservoir peaked at 1,225 feet in July 1983.

Water levels are at their lowest point since April 1937, falling for 22 years. In July 2022, an all-time low elevation of 1,040 feet and 27% of Lake Mead's capacity was recorded. Since the lake was built in the 1930s, the water level has never been lower than it was then.

Currently, Lake Mead is only operating at 30% of its maximum capacity. On February 23, 2023, the water level in Lake Mead was 1,047.38 feet. This is up from the number recorded in July 2022. This is due to winter rains and freezing weather affecting several parts of the United States.

Although Lake Mead has recharged slightly since its low point, the Bureau of Reclamation predicts water levels will drop again in the spring.

Lake Mead could hit an all-time low in 2023, according to a study released by the agency. It predicted the water level could reach 1,024.47 feet. Lake Mead is approaching the point where it can no longer produce hydroelectric power at current rates of water consumption.

If the water level drops too low (less than 895 feet above sea level), the lake becomes a "dead pool." By then, water will not be able to pass through the dam.

Reduced supply to states

Despite the decline in flow, the pressure on the river has not decreased. Over the past 20 years, the Upper Basin states have consumed half their quotas — about 3.7 million acre-feet per year — and plan to use more.

The lower basin states currently utilize the full 7.5 million acre-feet available to them.

Most years, the river rarely reaches the Gulf of California, where it historically empties into the Pacific Ocean in Mexico.

When Lake Mead reached its predetermined level in 2007, basin states implemented a series of cuts. Arizona, the most recent state to gain access to the river, will receive the first water reductions under the terms of the agreement when the lake falls below 1,075 feet above sea level. After that, Mexico and other states will need to consume less water as water levels drop further.

States developed "Drought Contingency Plans" in 2019. It is clear that states may need to take tougher measures, requiring more production cuts during each high-risk period. The plan calls for all water users to reduce water use by 1.375 million acre-feet under a worst-case scenario.

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In August 2021, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that the river will be short of water for the first time ever. The lake is 35% full and has an elevation of 1,068 feet.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the water level of the reservoir will need to be significantly reduced to maintain continued operation of the reservoir. For example, the Hoover Dam on Lake Mead will not generate electricity if the elevation is below 950 feet.

America's Largest Reservoir and Its Mysterious Discovery

Since 2000, Lake Mead's water level has dropped about 170 feet due to a prolonged drought. As a result, the lake bed became more exposed and its shoreline receded considerably.

Named the first National Recreation Area in 1964, Lake Mead has built a solid reputation as a scenic tourist destination. According to some residents and frequent visitors, the lake is much different now than it used to be. But despite its water problems, Lake Mead is still one of the best places to practice all kinds of water sports.

Interestingly, the climate crisis is attracting a new generation of tourists, a new wave of tourists to go treasure hunting and see the latest discoveries found at the lake. As water levels dropped to unprecedented lows between May and October, various discoveries emerged. As a result, long-buried mysteries and other puzzling discoveries have been unraveled at America's largest reservoir.

1.) Human remains

human remains
Two sisters were surfboarding in Cavill Bay when they came across the body of Thomas Erndt, 42, who is believed to have drowned 21 years ago.

© GAS-Photo/Shutterstock.com

In May 2022, a boating couple discovered human remains in a barrel near Hemenway Harbour. Following an investigation, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department revealed that the body belonged to a shooting victim from the 1970s to early 1980s.

The following week, the sisters were surfboarding in the Cavill Bay area when they came across what they first thought were bones from bighorn sheep. They are actually the remains of Thomas Erndt, 42, who is believed to have drowned 21 years ago.

In July, a family picnicking found some partial skeletons covered in dirt on the shore.

More discoveries followed in the months that followed, including at least two sets of partial bones on the Boulder Beach side of the park.

2.) Ships from World War II

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Low water levels have revealed Lake Mead's many fascinating treasures.

© CrackerClips Stock Media/Shutterstock.com

One of the relics revealed by the drop in Lake Mead is the Higgins ship wrecked during World War II. Shipwrecks near the popular pier in Hemenway Harbor continue to draw curious visitors to the park.

Its ribbed body protrudes from the water's surface like the fossilized bones of a fish. The longboat's engine had been taken out and partly dismantled. The body is rusted and dotted with tiny shells and underwater flora.

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The rest of the U-boat, with its defensive armor still under protection, was hidden in the murky waters and thick silt. The boat was originally used to transport U.S. troops from ships to open beaches.

Park authorities don't know how or when the boat got there, but fascinated visitors continued to explore the shallow waters.

3.) Lake Mead B-29

Something went wrong with the B-29 Superfortress during a test flight near Lake Mead, causing the crew to jump into the water.

© Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com

After a B-29 Superfortress crashed in 1948, it was submerged hundreds of feet below the lake's surface. Unfortunately, something went wrong during a test flight of the B-29 Superfortress near Lake Mead, causing the crew to fall into the water. Amazingly, all five crew members made it out alive.

The location of the plane was discovered in 2003, 55 years after the incident. The plane was visible for the first time since the accident as water levels in the lake dropped. However, it's still irretrievable, and viewing it requires scuba equipment.

4.) St. Thomas

Morman settlement
The old Mormon frontier settlement at Overton Bay on Lake Mead was once underwater.

© michaelcrawley/Shutterstock.com

Anyone up for a short hike can explore this historic site. The old Mormon frontier settlement at Overton Bay on Lake Mead was once underwater. However, it has recently resurfaced.

Small towns on the banks of the Moody and Virgin Rivers developed into favorite rest areas for westbound travelers. However, the construction of the Hoover Dam and the evolution of big government made it ineffective.

5.) Cement plant

A clarification pond can now be seen on the island in front of Hemenway Harbour.

© Sopotnicki/Shutterstock.com

All the sand and gravel needed to build the Hoover Dam in the early 1930s came from aggregate cement plants. The plant is now underwater, and it remains an excellent site for freshwater diving in the Boulder Basin. Divers can see four aggregate piles, concrete tunnels, conveyor belt ruins, railway tracks, stairwells, steel tower foundations and more.

A clarification pond can now be seen on the island in front of Hemenway Harbour.

6.) Wall of the Hoover Dam

hoover dam
Due to low water levels, the intake towers of the Hoover Dam are exposed.

© i.am.anshuljain/Shutterstock.com

The massive Hoover Dam sits directly above the Ivory Ring and is used to store water from the reservoir. The dam's large turbines provide enough hydroelectric power for nearly 1.3 million people a year. Today, they tower over the lake.

As of June 2022, the intake towers that power the Hoover Dam's generators are almost completely exposed.

7.) Navy PBY Catalina Airship

PBY Catalina
On October 24, 1949, a PBY Catalina floater flipped over and burst into flames as it slowly sank to the bottom of Lake Mead.

© Martin Spurny/Shutterstock.com

The NPS reported that the wreckage of a Navy PBY Catalina seaplane was submerged in the waters of Lake Mead. On October 24, 1949, the plane flipped over and burst into flames as it slowly sank to the bottom of Lake Mead as the pilot attempted a water landing in Boulder Basin. Of the five people on board, only one survived.

Many other previously submerged boats are now hiding under tree branches or perching on sandy beaches formed by receding waters. Most of the control panels are covered in thick mud and marine vegetation. Some don't seem to have been affected by years of soaking, as their glossy paint glistens in the sun.

Roundup of the 7 Craziest Things Found at the Bottom of Lake Mead

# find item
1 human remains
2 WWII era ship
3 Lake Mead B-29
4 St. Thomas
5 cement factory
6 wall of the hoover dam
7 Navy PBY Catalina Seaplane


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