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More human remains are found in receding reservoir near Las Vegas

Lake Mead has produced four separate discoveries of potentially decades-old remains since May as the waterline continues to recede amid drought.

Lake Mead, a federal park as well as the country's largest reservoir, has unveiled yet more secrets as human remains were discovered at Swim Beach on Saturday, officials said.

The find was reported in the late morning at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the National Park Service said in a statement. Park rangers cordoned off the area while Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department divers helped with recovery, it said.

It was the fourth time since May possibly decades-old remains have been reported at the lake located in Arizona and Nevada 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The discoveries include the following:

  • May 1: Remains were found in a barrel. A victim had suffered a gunshot wound and his or her demise might be dated to the 1970s or early '80s based on clothing, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said.
  • May 7: Remains were found in another barrel discovered along a shoreline, officials said.
  • July 25: Remains were reported at Swim Beach.

The Clark County Medical Examiner is responsible for determining identities, where possible, and cause of death.

A July 6 discovery of remains near the reservoir's Bolder Islands turned out to be the body of a woman who had gone missing after she fell off a jet ski June 30, authorities said.

Authorities and experts say the four discoveries of possibly much older remains could be the result of the lake's receding waterline, which has dropped its telltale white "bathtub ring," made of drying minerals, more than 170 feet since 1983. The reservoir is at about one-quarter of its capacity.

In May, the Southern Nevada Water Authority announced that one of its water supply intakes was exposed to the lake's descending surface and could no longer be used to draw liquid. The authority said it had long planned for the event, and had a deeper intake ready to take over.

Nearly continuous drought in major regions of the West and Southwest has plagued the Colorado River since at least the dawn of the millennium. Other symptoms have included the mighty Colorado's longtime failure to reach the Gulf of California until last year, when a binational agreement put water back in Mexico's delta.

The growing Southwest's dependence on the Colorado River — which feeds taps and helps grow food for an estimated 33 million people — has also played a role in the lake's shrinking presence. Last year the federal government announced mandatory water cuts for the seven states that use the Colorado.

In June, Lake Mead's surface elevation was measured at 1,044.03 feet, its lowest since the lake was filled in the 1930s. In July, that number was bested by a new low: 1040.92 feet.

Some observers have speculated that the lake could reveal some long-held secrets buried by mobsters who killed for power and money in Las Vegas in the decades following World War II.

Historian and Mob Museum Vice President Geoff Schumacher told NBC News affiliate KNSV of Las Vegas that it was unlikely the mob would dump bodies so close to town because it was averse the kind of publicity and law enforcement attention that might have created.

"The mob doesn’t want murder victims to be found in the city because creates bad publicity in a tourist town," he told the station in July.

However, Schumacher said in May a body in barrel is a different story.

"A barrel has a signature of a mob hit," he said. "Stuffing a body in a barrel. Sometimes they would dump it in the water."

Lake Mead was created by Hoover Dam, completed in 1935 and officially opened the next year. It held up the Colorado River's flow through Black Canyon and pushed water into four basins that can help it hold two years' worth of the river's flow.