he drought on the Colorado River has reshaped the huge reservoir so dramatically in the past 11 years that it bears little resemblance to the lake captured in snapshots just a few years ago. Water levels have dropped 133 feet. Islands have emerged and grown. Rocky outcroppings push through the surface, creating watery obstacle courses whose paths shift almost daily.
Five boat-launching sites and three marinas have closed since 2001 as the water recedes. The National Park Service has poured over a quarter-mile of concrete to maintain one boat ramp. Marina operators repeatedly nudge boat docks farther into the lake; about 200 boat slips were towed 40 miles across the lake to a new location after the old site dried up.
Chasing the water, which is at its lowest level since the lake was first being filled 73 years ago, has cost the Park Service and the operators millions of dollars to rebuild or add infrastructure to compensate for the changing shoreline.
Lake Mead was full in late 1998, when it sat at elevation 1,215.95 feet above sea level. About a year later, drought struck. Inflow from the Colorado River began to fall, and the lake began to shrink. The reservoir now sits at 1,082.56 feet above sea level, less than 8 feet from triggering water-delivery rationing.
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