The drop of water from Lake Mead forces marinas to move a thousand feet to stay open

Behind the shop counter at Temple Bar Marina in Lake Mead is a photo from the 1980s, revealing that the building was once a waterfront property.

“They told me you could practically throw a rock from your hotel room and hit the water,” says Nathan Newingham, marina operations manager.

Now, the building sits on a hill so far from the coast that a van transports people back and forth from the marina to the shop when the boats dock.

“Did you see that parking lot while you were going up? It wasn’t a parking lot three months ago, ”Newingham says. He points to the sandy islands, explaining that they were underwater until a few months ago.

Over the past few decades, water levels at Lake Mead have steadily declined as much of the western United States is confronted with Colorado River overallocation and a multi-decade “mega drought.” And in recent years, those declines have been particularly precipitous as water managers have made unprecedented decisions to try to manage the water crisis facing the Colorado River Basin.

Since 1998, the lake has dropped more than 170 feet. In 2022 alone, the elevation of Lake Mead has already dropped 26 feet, from 1,067 feet in January to 1,041 feet by July.

And the Bureau of Reclamation projections indicate that the decline will continue. By September 2023, Lake Mead’s altitude could be less than 1,010 feet, 31 feet lower than it is now.

Move a marina

These declines have serious repercussions for marina owners, who have had to push their marinas further into the lake to keep their businesses afloat.

Newingham says that since he began work on the marina in mid-January of this year, they have had to move the marina 1,200 feet – about 100 feet at a time – to keep track of Lake Mead’s rapid decline.

“Whenever you go [further] outside, it’s a little more difficult, ”Newingham says.

Moving a marina is no easy feat, explains Kim Roundtree, general manager of Callville Bay Marina. Callville Bay is across Boulder Canyon from Temple Bar, but the two marinas are sister properties.

Whenever workers move Callville Bay Marina, 170 anchors weighing 12,000 pounds each must be moved. And with each shift, workers must also extend the power, water, sewer and fuel lines that provide services to the marina. Roundtree says it takes a crew of around 20 to make every move.

And since January, Roundtree says those moves have been happening nearly every week in Callville Bay in 60-foot increments. At this point, workers are constantly on the move or preparing to move the marina.

“It was just go, go, go, go,” he says. “We put a lot of our normal things on hold just to be able to get all our hands on the deck and get that marina out.”

He estimates the marina has had to move over 1,000 feet in the past year and plans to continue moving in the coming months.

“We are committed and determined to make it work,” says Roundtree. “So we can keep running our marina.”

‘We are still open’

At one point, the National Park Service maintained launch ramps in six locations around the lake. But currently, only the boat launch at Hemenway Harbor remains open and the park service has worked diligently to continue extending that ramp to maintain boat access.

The park service estimates it costs between $ 2 million and $ 3 million to maintain boat access to Lake Mead for every 4-foot decrease in the lake’s altitude. Since 2010, the park has spent over $ 40 million to ensure continuous access.

In Callville Bay, the original boat launch has been out of service for years; the last time Roundtree remembers it was used was in 2011.

A second “shallow water” boat launch opened in 2010 in Callville Bay, but closed on March 24 when the water level dropped below 1,062 feet. With permission from the park service, Roundtree retrofitted part of the boat’s launch into a parking lot.

The boat launch ramp in Temple Bar has been closed since July last year, when the water level reached 1,067 feet.

A Lake Mead spokesperson said in an email that recreation area staff continue to talk to community members and elected officials of the rapidly declining waterline and to raise ramp accessibility challenges.

The park service has released a low tide plan to potentially extend launch pads and marina operations in places like Callville Bay and Temple Bar to 950 feet, which could cost up to $ 32 million and could take the transfer of these structures to more suitable positions on the lake.

Meanwhile, Newingham and Roundtree agree that the boat ramp closures at Callville Bay and Temple Bar have dissuaded many people from visiting.

Roundtree says boat rentals, general store, and food and drink have suffered the biggest losses in revenue because casual weekend boaters have stopped visiting as many once.

“From [the main boat launch] it was closed, people thought, ‘Well, it’s all closed,’ ”Newingham says.

But Roundtree ensures that there are still plenty of opportunities to recreate on the lake. “Does it look like it was 20 years ago? No. But is there still plenty of water for boating? Absolutely.”

At maximum capacity, Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States by volume. Even now, at less than 27 percent of maximum capacity, once people leave the shallow coves along the coast, there are plenty of places where the water is still several hundred feet deep.

“We just need people to know we’re still open,” laughs Newingham. Temple Bar Marina will celebrate its 75th anniversary this August. She says that even though the launch is closed, the marina has plenty of rental boats available and encourages kayakers and others who want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life to visit.

“The sunrises are amazing,” he says. “It comes right over the Temple.”

Continuing to push

As water managers contemplate further cuts on the Colorado River, marina owners will continue to move at the mercy of Lake Mead’s declining water level. “I’m not throwing in the towel,” Roundtree says.

In the coming months, Callville Bay is planning a “long move” of two to three hundred feet at a time.

And Newingham says that in Temple Bar, he expects to have to move the marina another six or eight hundred feet into the lake by the end of 2023.

Both ports hope that, by moving far enough into the lake, they will reach a point of deeper and more stable water, where they will still be able to operate even if the lake level continues to decrease.

“Once we get through this difficult part, we’ll be pretty fit,” says Newingham. “Right now, it’s all about trying to get through 2023.”

Newingham says there has been talk of making the Temple Bar marina self-sufficient so that it no longer relies on service lines running from land. He also says they have considered building new buildings closer to the current shoreline in anticipation that Lake Mead may never fill up again.

And in Callville Bay, Roundtree says that while the last few years have been a challenge, none of the Lake Mead marinas are giving up.

“I have a goal to move forward,” Roundtree says. “Unless the park service stops me, I’ll go ahead.”

Colton Poore is a member of the 2022 mass media through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @coltonlpoore.

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