Megadrought and Murder

Lake Mead near Las Vegas
Lake Mead near Las Vegas (source)

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, provides water to 20 million people in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. However, the lake level has been dropping because the region has been experiencing a megadrought over the last two decades.

During a megadrought, extreme dryness lasts for decades. Previous megadroughts have lasted as long as fifty years with only occasional bouts of rain. Scientists say that climate change further reduces the chances of wet years occurring. The government has declared a water shortage in the area and will limit the amount of water that farmers, and later, ordinary citizens can use.

The weather conditions have had other consequences. The lower lake level has revealed several dead bodies, and one discovered in early May was obviously a victim of murder. The person had been shot and put into a barrel that was then dumped in the lake, probably between the mid-1970s and the early 1980s.

Discoveries like this, near Las Vegas, have people speculating that these bodies are the victims of mafia violence. The city has been connected to organized crime as far back as its early development which is credited to the famous gangster Bugsy Siegel. The police have opened an investigation over the body in a barrel, but it could be difficult to solve given the amount of time that has passed.


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Worksheet with activities


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Useful Language

  • Megadrought (n) - an extended drought when there is little or no rain for decades
  • Reservoir (n) - a lake where water is stored before it goes to be used
  • Bout (n) - a short period of activity
  • Declare (v) - to announce something clearly or officially
  • Shortage (n) - when there is not enough of something
  • Consequence (n) - a result
  • Barrel (n) - a large round container with flat ends, made of wood or metal
  • Speculate (v) - to guess when you don’t have enough information to be sure
  • Mafia (n) - a criminal organization that originated in Sicily and became especially active in Italy and the US
  • Organized crime (n) - groups with a leadership and other organizational features that plan and commit crimes
  • Credit (v) - to give recognition to someone for doing something


Discuss the following questions with your partner(s).

  1. What do we use water for at home? What do farms and industry use water for?
  2. Where does your town get its water? Is there always enough water? Has your region experienced drought?
  3. Have you ever been to Las Vegas? What did you do there? If not, are you interested in going there? To do what?
  4. Bugsy Siegel was one of several famous gangsters in the United States in the first half of last century. Do you know any other famous gangsters from the United States or elsewhere?
  5. How would you react if you discovered a dead body?
  6. Is organized crime worse than crimes done by independent criminals? What are the differences?
  7. Do you enjoy gangster movies like Goodfellas? If so, why do you like them? If not, what don’t you like about them?
  8. Climate change can make droughts worse in one place but have different effects elsewhere. What are some other effects of climate change?
  9. Would you rather be hungry or thirsty? Which is worse?
  10. Is it a good thing that the dropping lake level has revealed bodies? Why or why not?