May 31, 2023

The human remains discovered last summer in Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreational Area have been identified as those of a Las Vegas man who had been missing for nearly 25 years, authorities said.

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

Park visitors near the shoreline of the Boulder Beach swimming area near 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 belong 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 remain undetermined.

The remains were just the latest to be identified since water levels at Lake Mead dropped to dangerously low levels last year due to climate change and prolonged drought.

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

Skeletal remains discovered in October in the lakeside Callville Bay area 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 found in 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 remain undetermined. His daughter, Tina Bushman, who was 14 at the time, told The New York Times last year that he jumped off his boat to swim and never came back.

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

About 40 miles east of Las Vegas, Lake Mead is the largest artificial reservoir in the United States and was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. About 25 million people in seven states, including some of the nation’s largest agricultural valleys, rely on the lake as a critical source of water.

Since 2000, the lake’s water level has dropped about 50 feet due to “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, leading to mandatory reductions in water supplies that primarily affected Arizona farmers at the time.

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

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

The lake’s latest measurements, taken in March, showed the water level at 300 metres, more than 4.5 meters lower than the same time last year and more than 11 meters lower than in 2021.