Hoover Dam Opens Spillways July 1983 – PHOTOS

Oh, to hear those words again: “Lake Mead, overflowing with floodwaters from the Colorado River, is nearly at capacity…”

On this day in 1983, Review-Journal readers were treated to front-page news (with a large photo!) about the lake nearing capacity. In fact, the lake was so full that the Hoover Dam spillways opened weeks earlier on July 3, creating a spectacle for tourists. This was the first time the spillways had been opened since 1941. The dam opened in 1936.

The Bureau of Reclamation said the lake reached its highest elevation of 1,225.85 feet on July 24, 1983.

Since then, the reservoir has slowly declined, thanks to climate change and a 22-year mega-drought.

The depth of the lake was 1,040.99 feet (above sea level) on Wednesday, or about 27% of its capacity. A year ago it was at a depth of 1,067.89 feet.

Dam Parties

In this 1983 article, the RJ said “the swollen lake engulfed beaches and submerged roads and boat ramps.” The opening of the spillways was triggered by “unprecedented snowfall” in the Rocky Mountains.

And when the spillways opened, visitors flocked to the dam to see the rare sight.

“The force of the water flowing through the spillways generates heavy spray that causes some tourists to pull umbrellas out of car trunks,” wrote journalist Jeanne M. Hall. “And dam security guards report all-night parties as young people, whose favorite beaches have been swallowed up by the lake, use the spillways as a site to party.”

“We’re getting all the bums off the beach,” Hoover Dam police chief LA Jacobsen told the RJ. “We had a wet t-shirt contest here one night with about 15 young ladies.”

A California tourist told the RJ that seeing the dam’s spillways in action was a “once in a lifetime” experience. “I can go to Vegas anytime,” he said.

More than 8 million people visited Lake Mead in 2020, making the park one of the National Park Service’s busiest sites.

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, supplies water to some 40 million people in seven states, tribal lands and northern Mexico.

— Chris Lawrence contributed to this report.