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Rosen asks park service to reopen Lake Mead boat launch ramps

Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen wants to know how the National Park Service plans to reopen boating launch ramps at Lake Mead that have closed as the reservoir’s levels have declined amid severe drought conditions.

The park service announced in May that it closed Echo Bay boat ramp due to low water levels, leaving Hemenway Harbor as the sole launch ramp available in the national recreation area that typically sees about 7.5 million visitors annually.

Citing recreation access issues as well as the impact on small businesses that rely on tourism at the reservoir, Rosen sent a letter to National Park Service Director Chuck Sams asking him to provide details about what the agency is doing to reopen the closed ramps. If there are no plans, Rosen asked for Sams to provide the agency’s reasoning. The senator requested that agency respond no later than Aug. 12.

“The prolonged closure of these boat ramps through prime fishing season leaves many recreationists cut off from access to the lake at the time of highest demand,” Rosen wrote. “In addition, local outdoor recreation small businesses and nearby communities are experiencing significant economic losses because they depend on fishing and boating tourism from around the region for their livelihoods.”

The closing of boat ramps at Lake Mead has become yet another visible sign the impact of the two-decade drought that has gripped the Colorado River.

Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, has fallen by roughly 173 feet since the current drought began in 2000 and currently sits at 27 percent capacity, according to data from the Bureau of Reclamation.

The seven states that receive water from the Colorado River are currently working to develop plans to reduce water use by as much as 4 million acre-feet, roughly one-third of the river’s recent annual flows. The Bureau of Reclamation gave the states until Aug. 15 to propose such cuts, and strongly hinted that the federal government could unilaterally mandate such cuts if the states can’t come to an agreement.

The park service did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. The park service has in the past worked to extend some of those now-closed launch ramps, but worsening conditions on the lake have made those extension increasingly difficult, according to the agency’s website.

“Declining water levels due to climate change and 20 years of ongoing drought have reshaped the park’s shorelines,” the park service’s website says. “As Lake Mead continues to recede, extending launch ramps becomes more difficult and more expensive due to the topography and projected decline in water levels.”

Rosen said in the letter that she is focused on addressing the drought conditions, and that she appreciates the work the agency has done in the past to accommodate the lower lake levels.

“I urge (the park service) to find a speedy resolution to resulting boat launch ramp closures and restore equitable access to outdoor recreation opportunities at Lake Mead National Recreation Area,” Rosen wrote.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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