The remains of a person killed in the 1980s were found in a metal barrel in Nevada on Sunday after water levels in drought-stricken Lake Mead plunged over the weekend. Water volumes in the reservoir have fallen dramatically due to climate change, and police say it’s likely that more bodies will be found in coming years as water levels decline.
The finding was confirmed by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), and it represents a complicated consequence of climate change for the region. LVMPD Lieutenant Raymond Spencer told the New York Times it’s unlikely that the body ever would’ve been found had the lake never receded. He told local broadcaster KLAS-TV that “there is a very good chance” that there are others like this one that will be discovered as Mead’s water levels continue to drop.
“The barrel was likely dropped hundreds of yards off the shore back then,” Spencer told CNN. “But that area is now considered the shoreline.”
A pair of boaters located the barrel at around 3 p.m. on Sunday by the shoreline of Lake Mead, the country’s largest man-made reservoir that sits some 20 miles east of Las Vegas. A photo of the barrel shared with KLAS-TV shows it covered in dry mud, partially submerged and covered in barnacles.
The lake serves as a reservoir to the Colorado River; it was created in 1936 with the construction of the Hoover Dam, designed to block the flow of the river to fill up during rainy years and supply water to Arizona, Nevada, and California during dry years.
Today, Mead provides drinking water for more than 25 million people and has capacity to hold the entire average annual flow of the river for two years. But in recent years, it’s become a cautionary tale for the impacts of climate change: It’s dropped 150 feet since 2000 as snowfall and runoff levels plunged below normal. Lake Mead hit record low levels in July of 2021—1,067.65 feet above sea level, the lowest since 1937—forcing the states that rely on it to cut their water use accordingly. Last week, these records were broken, as the lake dropped to 1,054 feet above sea level, low enough for an intake valve on the river to be exposed for the first time as parts of the southwest weather extreme drought conditions.
Police are currently working to learn the victim’s identity, and declined to share details about them—but said the person had clearly died as a result of a homicide. Items recovered inside the barrel indicate that the victim was killed in the 1980s, the Times reported, noting that investigators will “definitely not rule out” the possibility that the killing was mafia-related. Because the LVMPD’s DNA databases do not go back as far as the 1980s, the department will be starting from “square one” in their investigation, and plan to enlist the help of experts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
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