By Jaweed Kaleem and Thomas Curwen | 11 July 2021
LOS ANGELES TIMES — Eric Richins looked out from his pontoon boat to the shallows on the lake’s western edge. He squinted and paused as if he had come upon a foreign shore. For the first time in a career navigating the waters of the American West, he didn’t know where he was.
“I could have sworn I was here just six weeks ago catching smallmouth and bigmouth bass,” said the 35-year-old fisherman who runs tours on this 247-square-mile basin where the Colorado River meets the Hoover Dam to form the nation’s largest reservoir.
He pointed ahead to what looked like dozens of tiny steps made from successive layers of dried mud now covered in tall grass and weeds — the effect of rapidly creeping vegetation over a shoreline that has been dropping by nearly a foot a week.
“Now it looks like a lawn. I knew the drought was bad. I didn’t realize it was this bad,” he said. “This place is unrecognizable.”
Lake Mead, a lifeline for 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland in California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico, made history when it was engineered 85 years ago, capturing trillions of gallons of river water and ushering in the growth of the modern West.
But after years of an unrelenting drought that has quickly accelerated amid record temperatures and lower snowpack melt, the lake is set to mark another, more dire turning point. Next month, the federal government expects to declare its first-ever shortage on the lake, triggering cuts to water delivered to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico on Jan. 1. If the lake, currently at 1,068 feet, drops 28 more feet by next year, the spigot of water to California will start to tighten in 2023. […]