Lake Mead rangers recover third set of human remains as West drought crushes Nevada reservoir


A third set of human remains was recovered from Lake Mead on Monday, thanks to a drought that has pushed the water level at the largest reservoir in the United States to an unprecedented low.

National Park Service rangers responded to a report of human remains discovered around 4:30 p.m. at Swim Beach at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the agency said in a news release. The medical examiner’s office in Clark County, Nev., is expected to determine the cause of death, according to the Park Service. No details have been publicly released regarding the identity of the victim or when the person might have died.

“Park rangers are on scene and have set a perimeter to recover the remains,” the agency said.

It’s at least the third time human remains have been recovered from Lake Mead in recent months, following two discoveries less than a week apart in May.

The water levels at Lake Mead are the lowest they’ve been since the reservoir near Las Vegas was filled for the first time in April 1937 as Hoover Dam, then called Boulder Dam, harnessed the Colorado River, according to NASA. Satellite images released by NASA last week show how the reservoir on the Nevada-Arizona border, which is now 27 percent full, is nearly unrecognizable, compared with how it looked in the past two decades.

The reservoir is at top capacity when water levels reach 1,229 feet above sea level, but it is considered full at 1,219.6 feet, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The reservoir last hit that top capacity in 1999, according to NASA.

As of Tuesday, Lake Mead was about 1,040 feet above sea level.

In the West, the summer’s hot and dry weather has fueled drought and fire in all parts of the region. The effects of climate change were apparent last week as a stretch of the Rio Grande near Albuquerque that supplies farmers with water and habitat for an array of aquatic life is drying up.

“In the last 1,200 years, we haven’t seen a period as dry as right now,” Ann Willis, a researcher at the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California at Davis, told The Washington Post last month. “We’re really hitting new lows in terms of how extreme the conditions are.”

These maps illustrate the seriousness of the Western drought

The drought has affected the fifth-most visited park in the country in more ways than one. The lake supplies electricity to 350,000 homes, and is also a significant source of irrigation and drinking water to about 25 million people across the Southwest.

‘Where there’s bodies, there’s treasure’: A hunt as Lake Mead shrinks

While Lake Mead National Recreation Area touts on its website how it “offers Joshua trees, slot canyons and night skies illuminated by the Milky Way,” the park has also had to contend with challenges such as previously sunken boats now exposed in the low water levels.

But the multiple discoveries of human remains at the park has captured headlines in recent months.

On May 1, the remains of a person who died an estimated 40 years ago were discovered in a corroding barrel. Lt. Ray Spencer, of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said at the time that investigators think the person was a murder victim who died of a gunshot wound. Authorities believe the person was killed in the late 1970s or early 1980s, based on clothing and footwear found with the body, according to a statement provided to The Post in May.

Receding waters of Lake Mead uncover a body. Police expect to find more.

Spencer told CBS affiliate KLAS-TV in May that there would probably be more such discoveries.

“There is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains,” he said.

Spencer was right. Six days later, human skeletal remains were discovered at Callville Bay at the park, according to the Park Service.

Authorities have not released any additional details regarding the identities of the victims.

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