The megadrought plaguing the West has had a surprising side effect: uncovering dead bodies in Nevada’s Lake Mead.
The years-long severe drought, which scientists say is at least partly attributable to climate change, has caused the water level in Lake Mead to drop dramatically. In the past week, two different sets of human remains have been exposed as a result.
“On May 1, boaters found a barrel containing the body of a homicide victim in Lake Mead,” People magazine reported. “Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department detectives believe the victim was killed some time in the mid-1970s to early ’80s, based on the clothing and footwear the victim was found with.”
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department homicide Lt. Ray Spencer told local station KVVU, the local Fox affiliate, that the barrel would have been roughly 100 feet underwater and several hundred yards from shore when it was buried 40 years ago. “Had the water level not receded so far, we never make the discovery,” Spencer said.
On Saturday, two paddleboarders made another discovery: human bones in Lake Mead’s Callville Bay, according to KLAS, a local television news outlet. National Park Service rangers retrieved the skeletal remains, and the Clark County medical examiner will determine the cause of death.
Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States, was formed by the creation of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. It supplies water to 40 million Americans, and its western shore is less than 40 miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
In late April, Yahoo News reported that Lake Mead had dropped to 30% of its capacity, measuring 244 feet below its maximum elevation. Areas dependent on the Colorado River for water, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, have instituted restrictions on watering plants and lawns to manage their dwindling resources.
Drought and water scarcity is a growing problem because of climate change. As average temperatures rise, more water evaporates and precipitation becomes more unpredictable, causing both more intense and severe dry spells and heavier storms.
Due to Las Vegas’s notorious history of Mafia involvement, local experts believe more bodies will emerge if Lake Mead continues to dry up, though as yet there is no evidence of a connection between the human remains and organized crime.
“If the lake goes down much farther, it’s very possible we’re going to have some very interesting things surface,” Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, history professor, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “I would be willing to bet there are going to be a few more bodies.”
“There’s no telling what we’ll find in Lake Mead,” former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman told the AP. “It’s not a bad place to dump a body.”