A barrel containing human remains was discovered in Nevada’s Lake Mead over the weekend as a historic drought grips the West.
Las Vegas Metro Police fear they will find more bodies, officials told a local news station.
The receding waters at Lake Mead, the country’s largest artificial reservoir, have dropped to historic lows. The levels are so shallow that a barrel containing skeletal remains was found Sunday immersed in mud, reports KLAS-TV in Las Vegas.
Based on personal items found in the barrel, police think it has been at the bottom of the lake since the 1980s.
Lt. Ray Spencer with the Las Vegas Metro Police told the news station the person was probably killed four decades ago and was found around 3 p.m. Sunday by boaters. He did not give further details about the person’s identity or how the remains ended up in a barrel at the bottom of Lake Mead.
“It’s going to take an extensive amount of work,” Spencer said of trying to identify the person. “I would say there is a very good chance as the water level drops that we are going to find additional human remains.”
The lake — a lifeline for 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland in California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico — has been tipping toward crisis amid record temperatures and lower snowpack melt. The lake’s growing “bathtub ring,” formed by mineral deposits, marks the rocky desert slopes more than 150 feet above the retreating shoreline.
“I think anybody can understand there are probably more bodies that have been dumped in Lake Mead, it’s just a matter of, are we able to recover those?” Spencer said.
The water level has receded hundreds of feet over the years, Spencer told The Times; 40 years ago, the current shoreline would have been under 100 feet of water.
“Most of the body was fully intact, and we have recovered the entire body,” Spencer said. “We’re going to reach out to some experts regarding the corrosion on the barrel and the rate of growth of aquatic life on the surface of the barrel to narrow down a timeline.”
Shawna Hollister and her husband were docking their boat at Hemenway Harbor, on the lake’s southwestern coast, when they spotted the barrel and the body.
“I was shocked; I didn’t believe it,” Hollister said. “You could clearly tell it was a body.”
The legs were separate from the rest of the body, Hollister said, and it was clear that the person was wearing a shirt.
A photo of the skeleton in a partially exposed barrel was shared with the news station. An official with the Clark County Coroner’s Office said the department could not comment on the investigation. Police said they would reach out to outside experts, including at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to help identify the remains.
Last month, water levels at Lake Mead dropped so low that an original water valve not seen since 1971 was exposed. The Southern Nevada Water Authority told CNN that the valve could no longer draw water because of the low water levels.
“The Colorado River Basin is experiencing the worst drought in recorded history,” the water agency said in a statement posted to its website. “Since 2000, snowfall and runoff into the basin have been well below normal. These conditions have resulted in significant water level declines at major system reservoirs, including Lake Mead and Lake Powell.”
The worsening megadrought is causing water districts to restrict usage. In California, roughly 6 million people will need to curb their water use by 35%. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California says this will equal about 80 gallons per day per person.
“The ballpark figure we’re looking at is getting to the consumption of about 80 gallons per person per day,” said Adel Hagekhalil, the district’s general manager. “We’re trying to preserve everything we can.”