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Crisis on the Colorado River: Here's why Minnesotans should care

The Colorado River supplies water to millions of people in the U.S. and Mexico, but as water levels drop, there's a lot at stake for those out west and in Minnesota.

Chris Hrapsky

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Published: 9:28 PM CST November 16, 2022
Updated: 9:56 PM CST November 17, 2022

In Las Vegas, Nevada, excess is everywhere. But just 15 miles east of the Strip, the most valuable resource of them all is getting critically low.

For 50 years, Bob and Vita Hawkins have been launching their boat into Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir. In five decades they've never seen the water levels as low as they are now.

“If you get into an area where you are beside a sheer cliff, when you look up, you say ‘Wow! That's a lot of water missing,’” said Bob.

Anywhere you go on or near the water, you can't escape the visual. What’s known as the "bathtub ring" vividly shows where water levels used to be, and how far they've dropped – about 160 feet in 20 years.

For Bob, it’s a painful reminder of what the lake used to be.

“It hurts my feelings. I was counting on this being the No. 1 attraction of my life when I got to be this age,” he said.

Credit: KARE 11
Bob Hawkins boating on Lake Mead

While the view from the water is powerful, the satellite view from above, over time, is alarming.

At one point there were seven boat launches going into Lake Mead. Today, six of them are officially closed because the water is too low. At the remaining boat launch on the north end of the lake, it takes more than a mile to get to the shoreline.

Credit: KARE 11
Lake Mead boat launch

On foot, it took 29 minutes of hiking through the old lake-bottom-turned-parched-desert to reach the water's edge.

So, what happened to Lake Mead?

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