Climate change throws wrench in outdoor summer plans

School is out and summer is in full swing. That means it’s time for some fun in the sun – and maybe cool off in the nearest lake, river, ocean or pool.

But not if climate change has anything to do with it. Lake Mead, the popular reservoir for boating and swimming at the Hoover Dam, is being drained by a brutal drought. Meanwhile, 750 miles to the north, devastating flash floods are destroying roads and hiking trails in Yellowstone National Park.

The water tables have turned

The crown jewel of the US national park system, Yellowstone receives 4 million annual visitors, but no one has set foot in the park’s 2.2 million acres since last week. An unprecedented five inches of rain starting June 12 and another five inches of snowmelt toppled structures, tore paved roads off the ground and forced around 100 travelers to be airlifted to safety. Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said he believes the park, established in 1872, was never forced to close completely due to flooding.

If only that water could flow to the southwest, where drought has drained Lake Mead to just 28% of its water capacity. Scientists say it’s the region’s worst drought in 1,000 years – and every foot of lost water level correlates with 20 feet of newly exposed shoreline. Both parks face economic fallout:

  • While full repairs could take up to 2 years, Yellowstone will begin allowing limited access to its southern loop on June 22, the National Park Service (NPS) announced Saturday. In surrounding “gateway” towns like Cooke City and Gardiner, Montana — where Yellowstone tourism supports about 7,000 jobs and generates about $642 million for the local economy, according to a 2019 NPS report — several major hotels have already laid off staff or temporarily closed, by a Washington Post report.
  • There is a four-hour wait time to use the one remaining open boat launch at Lake Mead, as the others do not extend far enough to reach the back waterline. Parts of California, Arizona and Nevada draw water from the reservoir and last week the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees water resource management, recommended emergency cuts during of a hearing in the Senate.

Not much better: Meanwhile, a summer trip to Europe brings its own ecological dangers. Monthly heat records were broken in Switzerland, Germany, Spain and France, with some areas reaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend and raising serious concerns about wildfires. Be careful there.

Teresa H. Sadler