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A fisherman went missing in 1998. Now his remains at Lake Mead have been identified

A bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the banks of Lake Mead on Aug. 19, 2022. The lake's water levels continue to fall, leading to a grim pattern for local authorities: the discovery of human remains.
Justin Sullivan
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A bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the banks of Lake Mead on Aug. 19, 2022. The lake's water levels continue to fall, leading to a grim pattern for local authorities: the discovery of human remains.

Human remains discovered at Lake Mead have been identified as belonging to a 52-year-old Las Vegas man who disappeared over two decades ago, according to the Clark County coroner's office.

Claude Russell Pensinger went missing while fishing on the Nevada side of the reservoir on July 14, 1998, the office said. His remains were just one of several sets discovered at Lake Meadas its water levels drop due to prolonged drought.

Last May, boaters discovered a male body with a gunshot wound inside a barrel, which authorities are still investigating as a homicide.

Days later, a pair of paddleboarding sisters found a second set of remains on a nearby sandbar. The coroner's office identified the remains as belonging to Thomas Erndt, 42, whose drowning was reported on Aug. 2, 2002.

Another set of skeletal remains, discovered by contractors doing work near the marina, also belong to a drowning victim: Donald P. Smith, a 39-year-old North Las Vegas man who died in April 1974.

Pieces of Pensinger's skeleton were uncovered on three different dates across the shoreline of Boulder Beach last summer. The county coroner said it hadn't determined the cause and manner of his death.

Pensinger's boat was found "running in circles" in the water, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, citing its own archive.

When it's at full capacity, Lake Mead is the largest human-made reservoir in the U.S., capable of supplying drinking water to more than 40 million people in the region.

But a decades-long drought has slowly depleted the lake, dropping water levels to their lowest pointsince April 1937 — when the reservoir was being filled for the first time following the construction of the Hoover Dam.

The diminishing supplies prompted federal and state officials to sign a $200 million conservation deal in 2021, but experts at the time described it as a Band-Aid measure, a way to buy time as officials search for more permanent solutions in the face of climate change.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.