Remains Found at Lake Mead Are Identified as Missing Las Vegas Man

Human remains that were discovered last summer at the Lake Mead National Recreational Area in Nevada have been identified as those of a Las Vegas man who had been missing for nearly 25 years, the authorities said.

The man, Claude Russell Pensinger, was 52 when he disappeared on July, 14, 1998, the Clark County Coroner’s Office said in a statement on Thursday.

Park visitors near the shoreline of Boulder Beach swimming area at Lake Mead found skeletal remains over three days last summer, the coroner’s office said, noting that the three sets of remains were later found to have belonged to the same person.

“The identification was based on DNA analysis,” the coroner’s office said.

The cause and manner of Mr. Pensinger’s death remains undetermined.

The remains were just the latest to be identified since water levels at Lake Mead plunged to dangerously low levels last year, because of climate change and long-term drought.

It was not immediately clear if the receding water played a role in the discovery of Mr. Pensinger’s remains, as it had with similar discoveries since May 2022.

Skeletal remains that were discovered in October in the Callville Bay area at the lake have since been identified as those of Donald P. Smith of North Las Vegas. Mr. Smith was 39 at the time of his reported drowning in April 1974. His death was ruled an accidental drowning, the coroner’s office said.

More skeletal remains that were found at Callville Bay in May 2022 were later identified as those of Thomas Erndt of Las Vegas, the coroner’s office said.

Mr. Erndt was 42 when he disappeared in August 2002. The cause and manner of his death remains undetermined. His daughter, Tina Bushman, who was 14 at the time, told The New York Times last year that he jumped off his boat for a swim, and never came back.

Also in May 2022, another set of remains was found in a barrel at Hemenway Harbor at the lake. The remains belonged to a man who died from a gunshot wound, and his death was ruled a homicide. The man has not been identified.

Lake Mead, about 40 miles east of Las Vegas, is the largest man-made reservoir in the United States, having been formed by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. About 25 million people across seven states, including some of the country’s largest agricultural valleys, rely on the lake as a critical water source.

Since 2000, the lake’s water level has dropped by about 170 feet because of “drought and climate change,” according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

In 2021, the federal government declared a water shortage at the lake for the first time, prompting mandatory reductions in the water supply that mostly affected Arizona farmers at the time.

Satellite photos taken by NASA in 2000 and 2022 revealed the lake’s worsening drought-like conditions and so-called bathtub rings, remnants of salts and minerals left behind on the canyon walls by the receding water.

As of this week, the lake was at 29 percent capacity, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water and power in the West.

The latest measurements of the lake, taken in March, showed its water level at 1,046 feet, down more than 15 feet from the same time last year and more than 38 feet from 2021.

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