LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — For 22 years, a brutal drought has pummeled Lake Mead, crippling the bottom lines of those operating in the area. However, despite the bad publicity, marina operators say the region’s premiere spot for aquatic adventure is very much open for business.
Bob Gripentog says the lake has always been a metaphorical feast or famine. Gripentog’s family has operated the Lake Mead Marina since 1957, learning to roll with nature’s punches over six and a half decades. Some years the water rises, but for most of the last 22 years, it has fallen.
The massive reservoir is doing what it was created to do: act as a water bank during dry years. However, the driest period in 12 centuries has strenuously tested the lake’s limits.
“This year is definitely special compared to what it’s been since the early 60s,” Gripentog says.
Every time Lake Mead’s water level drops 40 feet, 1,000 feet of beach is exposed in front of the marina. 2022 so far has required the Gripentog family to move the entire operation farther into the lake eight times. Each move has come with a price tag of $100,000 to extend lines for power, water, sewer and fuel. Gripentog says the business has always been able to absorb the financial hit because boaters and other visitors would continue to spend money in the restaurants, stores and to launch their boats.
However, this year, he says things are different.
“Just the number of folks that come out to Lake Mead internationally-wise and visit us has gone down probably 50 percent,” says Gripentog.
Many believe the reason for the decline in visitors isn’t a secret.
Comparative satellite photos of the shrinking shoreline, bodies found in barrels, images of a formerly submerged World War II-era boat now high and dry and the perception that the lake is suddenly dangerous due to obstacles lurking just under the waves. All creating the false impression that Lake Mead is a dead pool, or that it had dwindled to a mud puddle.
Gripentog says that people forget how enormous Lake Mead is.
“People do get the idea there is no water here,” Gripentog explains. “But even at these levels, we have 500 miles of shoreline.”
Gripentog says that water depths in the basin reach 350 and 400 feet, adding that a visitor is more likely to find a dead body four-wheeling in the desert outside of Las Vegas than at Lake Mead. Attention, says Gripentog, must always be paid to avoiding submerged objects but he says the danger is no greater now than at any other time.
Some marinas such as Callville Bay have been forced to temporarily suspend boat launches, but marina services remain open to visitors, including to the 1,400 slips that house private watercraft. Those slips host kids feeding swarming fish from the dock and their parents who rent boats to cruise a few miles to check out Hoover Dam.
Boat owners typically aren’t subject to more than a 20-minute wait to get their craft into the water despite reports that the process could take up to four hours
For decades the overextension of the Colorado River, the most endangered river in the U.S., has raised questions about the future of the lake. However, Bob Gripentog wants to make it clear that Lake Mead is still the region’s premiere watery playground.
“We’re open for business,” Gripentog says. “Lake Mead is still here.”