LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — While Lake Mead’s surface sits almost 8 feet higher than this time last year, the park service is preparing for the next critical drop in water levels thanks to millions of federal disaster dollars.
Lake Mead’s water level dropped to a historic low of 1,040.71 feet, or almost 14 feet lower than its current level, last summer. Members of the Gripentog Family, who purchased and have since operated the Las Vegas Boat Harbor in 1957, call the past two summers some of the most brutal for water and business.
Betty Gripentog, 92, has seen 65 summer seasons operating the harbor and said it led to a dip in business too as most launches were closed.
“The publicity was so bad that people thought there wasn’t any place to boat,” Betty said on the harbor’s deck Monday morning, reminiscing the past two summers. “People did not want to wait in line for three hours to launch a boat or get their boat out.”
Her son, Bob Gripentog, who is now the harbor’s co-owner, said when the water’s down, customers don’t always stick around.
“We have to move anchors, move things, and our costs are much greater at that time,” Bob said while holding onto his mother’s wheelchair Monday morning. “If people can’t launch their boats, they can’t use the lake.”
Looking ahead to this summer, they expect better business as levels rise, potentially up to 25 feet more by the end of it, according to Lake Mead Recreation Area Acting Superintendent Mike Gauthier. However, the official also notes that the rising levels could reverse back to what once was.
Now, thanks to a $32 million award of disaster supplemental funding, work can be done to prepare for that next reversal of water. The U.S. Economic Development Administration describes these kinds of funds as assistance to “a wide variety of activities related to disaster recovery, including economic recovery strategic planning grants, and public works construction assistance.”
Democratic Nevada Senator Jackie Rosen announced the award during a tour of the Hemenway Harbor launch Monday morning. She said she helped secure the $32 million after repeated letters to the National Park Service as Lake Mead reached its lowest recorded water level in late July 2022.
While the funds are intended to maintain a variety of Lake Mead Recreation Area facilities – like camping areas, water collection systems, and utility systems – Gauthier said a large focus will be on designing and preparing the launch ramps for the next water deficit.
“As the water goes down, there’s actually cliffs below. So, you can’t really continue to build launch ramps. So, then you have to ask the question, ‘Do you build a road to a new place? And maybe design a ramp there that will work better at lower elevation?’” Gauthier said on the harbor’s deck Monday morning.
This discovery involves geologic and engineering studies, he said, that the recreation area can now afford to ensure they invest “in the right spot.” But, the extension of the ramps themselves may be years away.
“When it drops, that’s when you can actually start building stuff because you can’t really build stuff when the water’s up. So, we want to be prepared, and that’s what we’re going to use some of that money for,” Gauthier said.
The acting superintendent also said public comment will be provided to the public once these studies and designs are prepared. He adds that the recreation area additionally has $17 million in SNPLMA (Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act) funding and another $5 million in Great American Outdoors Act funding.