The Hoover Dam bypass bridge, officially named the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tilman Memorial Bridge (after the late Nevada governor and the late Arizona soldier and football player) finally opened to vehicle traffic last week, and to people traffic a on an attached walkway a couple of days later. The walkway does provide a great view of the dam, but isn’t for those with a fear of heights – you are almost 900 feet above the Colorado River! I can’t help but think this structure will be a big attraction for BASE jumpers, bungee cord jumpers and people committing suicide – at this point there really aren’t any obstructions to such pursuits.
We have been watching the construction of this massive bridge for years – it wasn’t uncommon to see workers hanging high above the river on cables doing what appeared to be very dangerous work. The need for this bridge became more acute after 9/11 when truck traffic between Arizona and Nevada was no longer allowed to use the narrow two lane road across the top of the bridge, thus forcing them to take a longer route between the two states. Even without truck traffic, getting across the dam could often take hours because of the flood of tourist who came to see the dam – this bridge was to bypass all that mess.
You might notice the large bath tub ring around the lake behind the dam – Lake Mead. This is a whole different story. About a week ago, Lake Mead hit an all-time low thanks to an ongoing drought. The last time the water level was this low was in 1937 as the lake was actually being created. Since 1999, the lake level has dropped 130 feet! If it drops another 8 feet, emergency measures kick in reducing Nevada’s water supply by 6%. This is significant, as Southern Nevada draws 90% of its water supply from this lake according to a recent article in the Las Vegas Review. If the lake drops another 33 feet, it will begin to drop below some of the intake tubes.
Ironically, after hitting this all time low a week ago, the Las Vegas area has received about an inch and a half of rain. But if things don’t change, it is anticipated that new record lows will be set again by next May with the arrival of hot, dry weather.