Low Lake Mead water level tough on small town
OVERTON, Nevada (CN) — With the water level on Lake Mead dropping each year, an unincorporated community near the lake has seen its tourism dollars dry up as well.
“That grocery parking lot on the weekends used to be full of boats and trailers. Now it’s nothing. It’s nothing,” said Mark Hopkins, 48, one of the owners of the Ace Hardware in Overton.
The sixth-generation Moapa Valley resident said his community is “highly impacted by the lack of tourists and lack of the people utilizing the lake.”
At his hardware store, Hopkins has adjusted the fishing section, stocking gear targeted at trout fisherman headed northeast to Utah rather than gear for Lake Mead fisherman.
“I don’t know if it’s as much climate as it is political in my view. I get upset about it. They’ve done a lot of things out here that really restricted things in multiple ways,” said Hopkins.
He mentioned the shuttered Reid Gardner Generating Station, a 557-megawatt coal-fired plant on nearly 500 acres nearby. It was co-owned by NV Energy and the California Department of Water Resources. The demolition of the plant was completed in 2019.
The power plant sat adjacent to the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians reservation, and concern over detrimental effects on residents doomed it.
“Every year it’s something new that we have to worry about that’s going to affect life in the Moapa Valley,” said Hopkins, who has owned the hardware store for 21 years.
“I am a concerned businessman. I’m definitely concerned what our valley’s going to look like in the next 10 years.”
One of the community’s current tourist draws includes off-highway vehicle recreation. There are vast areas for people to recreate with OHVs near the rural town of 4,500 residents 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Hopkins said he thinks they will start shutting down access for the OHVs. “They” are government entities, including the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.
In a statement, the bureau said it has seen increases in the local population and recreation-based activities have amplified the need for improved recreation management at Logandale Trails, which is within a few miles of Overton.
Preserving the trails along with protecting plants, wildlife and native art are part of the agency’s effort to designate Logandale Trails as a Special Recreation Management Area.
The plan will provide site-specific management that will enhance recreation opportunities within Logandale Trails and reduce conflicts between recreation users, other resource uses, and biological and cultural resources, according to the bureau.
There will be some closures, such as unauthorized trails into Valley of Fire State Park, but the 15,300-acre trail area will remain. A final decision on the plan has not been made.
About 25 miles from Overton, the Echo Bay boat launch has been closed all winter. Hopkins said he has heard talks of it reopening but said he's skeptical. To open the launch ramps, the National Park Service would have to make them longer to meet the receding water.
“Lake Mead is currently at 28% of capacity due to a 23-year-long drought and overuse. Climate change will further exacerbate the imbalance between supply and demand on the Colorado River. Currently, users need to cut by 2 to 4 million acre-feet per year to stabilize major reservoirs, including Lake Mead,” said Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager for resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
The Bureau of Reclamation, as part of a supplemental environmental impact statement, asked Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California to come up with a consensus plan to save the 2 to 4 million acre-feet. One acre-foot equals 326,000 gallons, enough to cover an acre of land, about the size of a football field, one foot deep.
The bureau manages lake levels at the nation’s two largest reservoirs fed by the Colorado River so Glen Canyon Dam — Lake Powell in northern Arizona — and Hoover Dam, which creates Lake Mead in southern Nevada, can continue to produce hydroelectric power and ensure water deliveries to 40 million people and provide irrigation water to a $5 billion farming industry.
Six of the seven states in the Colorado River basin signed off on a consensus-based modeling alternative aimed at cutting water usage. California was a lone wolf. It decided to come up with its own plan, which would result in less water cuts for California. Its officials said California’s rights to Colorado River water supersede other states. A pact from 1922 affirms their position. If no consensus is agreed upon, the Bureau of Land Management will make the ultimate decision.
“If it doesn’t come voluntarily, as a consensus alternative, we’re going to be prepared to take action. We have to,” said David Palumbo, deputy commissioner of operations for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, during the Colorado River Water User Association’s annual conference in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace in December.
The future of Lake Mead
Will Lake Mead ever fill up again?
“There is no crystal ball telling us if, or when, Lake Mead will fill again,” said Pellegrino. “We continue to work with the other states trying to bridge the gaps between proposals that bring a more sustainable future for the river.”
The tourist dollars started drying up around Overton in about 2008, when the National Park Service, which runs Lake Mead National Recreation Area, sent certified letters to residents of Overton Beach, about 12 miles from the town of Overton, that they had to relocate their residences in 30 days. It had a marina, store, camping and permanent RV residents.
“The Overton Beach Marina had just been remodeled not that long before they decided to shut it down,” said Realtor Lori Houston. “It was a wonderful facility for people to park their RVs."
The road remains closed, although one can take a bike ride on it. The facilities are abandoned.
Numerous messages left for the National Park Service in Boulder City, Nevada, went unreturned. The same result occurred with attempts to reach the service's headquarters in Washington.
“We used to be full for spring break. Every restaurant, all the hotels were full. It was a big deal,” said Houston. “We all fought when they closed down Overton Beach Marina. We all fought when they shut down Echo Bay. They didn’t ever tell us when they were closing the ramp last year. They just closed it, said it wasn’t safe. Just shut it down.”
A two-story hotel with a restaurant sits rotting at Echo Bay. The 54-room facility was built in 1962 and shuttered in 2010 because of the rapidly declining water level. It included a bar and convention room. The company that ran the hotel canceled reservations and closed up shop.
The park service attempted to get another concessionaire to take over. Not a single application was submitted.
During its heyday, the hotel was a legendary party spot and the water was steps away from the patio. Now it’s between 250 and 300 yards away. Gone is the 365-slip marina, fuel dock and boat rental. The facility also had a runway for private planes.
With the boat launch ramps closed there, the only visible activity on a day around noon this month was a man in a dark green government pickup driving around the empty parking lot and a man wearing a bright-colored construction safety vest measuring the lot with a surveyor’s wheel.
Vernon Robison, 55, the editor/publisher of the Mesa Valley Progress newspaper, echoed what Houston had to say regarding Overton Beach.
“The park service just decided it was going to close Overton Beach when the marina left because of the water situation. They just decided to give up on that whole area and closed it. They gave about a month’s notice to get out,” said Robison.
Tough on Overton
Has the Overton area gotten the shaft?
“Yes, I think that would be a good way of saying it. Although it has sort of become accepted now. We’re talking many years since they closed Overton Beach. At that point when they closed that down the boat traffic reduced quite a bit coming through Overton,” said Robison, who has run the newspaper started by his uncle in 1987 for 19 years.
“There was a time when we had boats line up coming through Overton, stopping at the stores and restaurants and everything else to get supplies and go out there. And that’s almost nothing now.”
Since the community of Overton is unincorporated, Clark County commissioners have the say on town management.
“I think we’re pretty well-represented on the municipal level,” Robison said. "But as far as the park service, forget about it. We are off the radar 100%.”
Judy Metz, former owner of Sugar’s Home Plate restaurant, said she was busy all year. The snowbirds would populate town in the winter, and when it got warm, they would pack up and the boaters would take their place. Then the snowbirds would flock back when it started getting cooler.
“I never had to worry about slow times,” said Metz, who at 77 remains busy working for Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick as well as the local fire department.
“It’s been a struggle for a lot of small businesses in our town to keep going,” said Cally Wade, 38, a Moapa Valley High graduate who grew up in Overton. Wade stays busy homeschooling her children while running two local farmer’s markets, working for a construction company and farming.
Robison, the newspaper publisher, has an idea for the park service.
“If they stopped managing it like it’s some kind of national park treasure, and instead managed it like a manmade lake for recreation purposes, then I think they’d do a lot better. We wouldn’t have all that stuff in disrepair that it’s in. Even with low water,” Robison said.