I’m Grieving the Lake Mead from My Childhood

A Las Vegas native grapples with the declining water levels and recent news regarding Lake Mead

Growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada, the closest thing I had to a beach vacation was a trip to Lake Mead. My dad, mom, little sister and I walked along the sand collecting seashells and pebbles in a bucket during the mid-1990s. My dad taught me how to skip rocks across the sizable reservoir, which appeared like an endless pool of blue in my grade-school eyes. I splashed around in the lake, giggling with my younger sister while gazing at a dreamy magenta sunset. The only downside to visiting the man-made lake was the horde of mosquitoes hitching a ride home with us. The most recent headlines do not paint this wholesome picture from my adolescence; instead, the news footage is reminiscent of the beginnings of a horror film.

Image Courtesy of Melissa Gill

On August 16, USA Today reported that a fifth set of human remains were found at Lake Mead, as the historic drought grows more dire. The reports of dead bodies are ominous, but arguably not as ominous as the shrinking supply of water. Recently, I read, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case For Hope And Healing In A Divided World,” written by Christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. As I connect the dots between the drought and the climate crisis, it’s evident Nevada’s progressive water conservation system is only the beginning. Climate scientists warn us that we must take action to secure a livable future. The Colorado River serves as a water source for seven basin states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. This serious matter affects more than just my hometown, Las Vegas.

As the water level plummets, this negatively impacts Hoover Dam, a power source for Nevada, Arizona, and California. If Hoover Dam, one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the country, cannot continue generating energy, the West Coast grows a step closer to all the looming disasters that it entails. Lake Mead demonstrates that the negative consequences of climate change are not as far away as many might assume.

Hoover Dam 2013 / Image by Christiane Wilden from Pixabay

Regardless of anyone’s political stance on climate change, the human race shares a universal need for a healthy planet to inhabit. This isn’t a Democrat issue or a Republican issue, it is humanity’s issue. I knew global heating was a serious matter, but I did not think of it as an urgent threat until recently.

As a teenager raised in an apolitical household, climate change seemed like a trainwreck in the distance. I was about 16-years-old when Al Gore released the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” I remember adults joking about the ex-presidential candidate (at that time) acting “crazy” on Saturday Night Live and no one in my immediate family taking it seriously. I understood climate change was concerning, but it seemed like irreversible damage no one could fix. I didn’t think it would affect me, a high schooler living in the suburbs of a resort town situated in the middle of the desert. And I certainly did not think I had any power or influence to do anything about it. I was wrong.

In Katharine Hayhoe’s book, “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case For Hope And Healing,” she says perceiving climate change as a future problem and not a current problem is a matter of psychological distance; meaning the more distant an issue appears to be from someone, the more abstract and insignificant it becomes. Thankfully, the state I live in does care about conserving water and sustainability, which makes it an exemplary model for other states that need to reduce water waste. Despite Las Vegas’ indulgent reputation, it has become a leader in water conservation. This sounds surprising since Sin City is known for its infamous Bellagio fountains and consistent construction of new developments, but Nevada has taken considerable strides in saving water.

Southern Nevada has reduced its water consumption drastically, with the community using 24 billion gallons less of water in 2020 than in 2002, even though it gained over 780,000 more residents at that time. This is crucial considering that the Las Vegas Valley alone receives about 90% of its water from the Colorado River. Yet water levels at Lake Mead continue to decline, which means this is a good start, but it is only the beginning of necessary changes that must be made to preserve what resources remain.

As temperatures continue rising, Southern Nevada Water Authority states that “Nevada’s Clark County is projected to warm between 5 – 10 degrees by the end of the century.” In fact, a 2020 State of Science Report confirms that Colorado River Basin’s rising temperatures and decreasing water volumes are linked to climate change.

I stepped back to gain perspective on the enormity of the situation, and it seemed an impossible feat. After all, I am just a 32-year-old journalist living in Las Vegas. What could I do? It’s true that I can only do so much alone, especially when 90 companies world-wide are the major causes of climate change, including U.S. companies Chevron and Exxon Mobil. That doesn’t even include the U.S. military accounting for 5% carbon emission in the world. 

Even though this is a bleak realization, Las Vegas Valley Water District outlines a few ways the everyday person can make a difference. With every local news update warning of Lake Mead’s alarming water shortage and what seems like an unsettling pattern of unpleasant findings rising on the lakeside, I wanted to do something about it, but what? Then, I realized I could write about it.

Not everyone can afford an electric car or solar panel installation, but people can report any water waste they see around town and check their homes for any water leaks. Instead of watering a grassy lawn, people can opt for a more desert-friendly landscape to cut back on water usage.

Another way people can make a difference is by reducing food waste. According to the EPA, U.S. food waste amounts to 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. It can be as simple as not letting leftovers spoil in the fridge anymore. All these small changes add up, even if they don’t seem like a big deal. Our actions influence others, even if it is not obvious to us. At the very least, we can talk more about climate change in everyday conversation. Sometimes that is enough to spark inspiration in others to take action. 

Over two decades later, Lake Mead is not the same place I fell in love with as a child. More water restrictions are being implemented as the shrinking lake reveals eerie artifacts that belonged at the reservoir’s base. Dead bodies are washing up along the lakeshore where I collected seashells with my little sister. The declining water levels unveiled a haunting long-lost boat where I skipped rocks with my dad. The lake is becoming more like a graveyard and less like the magical basin of my childhood.

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