A third set of human remains has been found at Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Nevada, as the reservoir’s water levels have receded to historic lows amid exceptional drought and increased water demand, officials said.
The human remains were discovered by a visitor to Swim Beach in Lake Mead National Recreation Area at around 4:30 p.m. local time on July 25, the National Park Service said in a statement.
Park rangers responded to the scene and set up a perimeter around the area to investigate and recover the remains. The Clark County medical Examiner was contacted to determine the cause of death, officials said.
This was at least the third body found in the country’s largest reservoir since May as the water level has receded to record low levels.
The first body, discovered on May 1, was found decomposing in a barrel on a newly exposed stretch of shoreline. Authorities said the remains likely belonged to a murder victim who died from a gunshot wound more than 40 years ago, based on clothing and shoes found inside the barrel. Las Vegas police are investigating the death as a homicide.
The second body was found days later on May 7 at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, roughly 9 miles from the first body. The Clark County Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner had no updates on that case, CNN reported last week.
The grisly discoveries were made as Lake Mead’s water levels have fallen to 1,040 feet, which officials warn is close to the reservoir’s “dead-pool” level.
Lake Mead is a man-made lake formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. The water level has been declining for decades as a result of extreme drought in the western United States and increased water demand. The reservoir supplies water to at least 40 million people across 7 states and northern Mexico, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Water moving through the Hoover Dam also supplies electricity to hundreds of thousands of people living in the area. But as the decades-long drought continues, there may not be enough water running through the dam’s turbines to generate power for those households.
The lake has now fallen to just 27% of its capacity, its lowest level since being filled in 1937. Experts say the lake will reach dead-pool level if it falls to 895 feet, at which point water will no longer flow past the dam.
Satellite photos released by NASA earlier this month comparing Lake Mead in 2000 to the lake in 2021 show a dramatic reduction in water levels since in the past two decades.
This year, for the first time, water levels at Lake Mead have reached so-called “trigger elevations” that will result in Arizona and Nevada seeing cuts to their water supply as part of a 2007 agreement between the two states and California, according to Reuters.
The drought has left a white “bathtub ring” of mineral deposits on rocks along the sides of the lake marking where water levels once stood.
Experts forecast the lake will reach a 1,047.8 ft. level at the end of next year, which will trigger further cuts in the water supply to Western states, and potentially lead to more discoveries along newly exposed shorelines.