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Falling Shoreline at Nevada’s Lake Mead Reveals Human Remains Amidst Environmental Crisis

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: May 13, 2022
A sunken boat rests on a now-dry section of drought-stricken Lake Mead on May 10, 2022 in Nevada, U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reported that Lake Mead, North America's largest reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937 after the construction of the Hoover Dam. (Image: Mario Tama via Getty Images)

The receding shoreline of Nevada’s Lake Mead has led to the discoveries of two sets of human remains from at least 30 years ago. 

For over a decade, water levels have been plummeting in Lake Mead — the biggest artificial reservoir in Clark County, located just 30 miles east of Las Vegas. The lake is also the largest of its kind in the United States.

MORE ON CLIMATE CRISIS’ AROUND THE WORLD:

Nevada police: Bodies were dumped 30-40 years ago

On May 1, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police (LVMPD) reported that a metal barrel holding a corpse had been washed up on the lake’s shore, cracking open the mystery of the nation’s largest reservoir, and what else may be hidden in its watery depths. 

The clothes and footwear found on the decomposed body in the barrel suggested that the person died “sometime in the mid ’70s to early ’80s,” LVMPD representatives said in a statement released on May 3. 

“We believe this is a homicide as a result of a gunshot wound,” said Homicide Lt. Ray Spencer, adding that the victim’s identity is currently unknown, but that such information “will be released by the Clark County Coroner’s Office when it becomes available,” and urged anyone with information to come forward and speak with Las Vegas authorities.

The second set of remains were found by two sisters who were paddle-boarding on the lake, ABC News first reported. The pair said they saw what looked like a human jawbone with attached teeth laying on an exposed sandbar. 

Even more bodies are likely to come to light, Lt. Spencer said, as water levels continue to shrink in the drought-stricken area, underscoring the concerning effects of climate change. Spencer added that 40 years ago, the current shoreline would have been under 100 feet of water.

Climate concerns

This isn’t the first time an environmental crisis — which has seen temperatures rise, water levels drop, have resulted in persistent droughts and wildfires across different areas of the nation.

Lake Mead provides water for more than 40 million people across seven states and into northern Mexico. The reservoir is formed by the Hoover Dam and fed by the Colorado River. At maximum capacity, it holds 9.3 trillion gallons of water, according to NASA Earth Observatory (NEO). 

However, the last time the reservoir was anywhere near full capacity was in 1999, with water levels dropping steadily ever since. Warming temperatures fueled by climate change have worsened drought conditions, resulting in what may be the region’s worst dry spell in more than 1,000 years, NEO reported.

In August 2020, Lake Mead’s waters reached only about 35 percent percent of its capacity compared to 10 years ago. On May 9 of this year, Lake Mead’s water level measured about 1,052 feet above sea level — roughly 162 feet lower than in 2000, and the lowest level on record since the 1930s, CNN reported. 

Uncovered bodies likely tied to the Las Vegas mob

Police said the person who was found in the barrel was likely to have been shot around the time when the mob organization was dying out in Sin City.

“The late ’70s, early ’80s, was sort of the start of the end really of the mobs in Las Vegas,” Geoff Schumacher, vice president of the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, said, concurring with Las Vegas’ police findings. 

Schumacher recalled a few instances when barrels featured prominently in mob stories, including the killing of mobster Johnny Roselli, who testified before Congress in 1976 about a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Roselli’s body was found in a fuel drum floating in a bay near Miami, Florida a few weeks later. 

“This is just top of mind for a lot of people here,” Schumacher said. “It’s really a story that has captured people’s imagination about, you know, what else might be lurking in the depths of Lake Mead.”