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How does a tunnel under Lake Mead look? Take a look

Denise Wong

How does a tunnel under Lake Mead look? Take a look

CREATED Jun. 14, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A major milestone has been reached in the quest to get more drinking water out of our shrinking source: Lake Mead. Crews have finished drilling 450 feet underground to create the connector tunnel that's going to link the two water intakes to a third one still being constructed. On Friday, they gave our Action News a tour underground.

We were able to see all the work that's been done over the past three years. Workers blasted and drilled their way through enough rock to fill the Luxor to create the connector tunnel.  

It's dark and murky down there and the tunnel runs half-a-mile long. The tunnel has a height of about 16 feet and it runs 14 feet wide. At more than $50 million, it wasn't cheap or easy to construct.

"Oh, it was incredibly challenging." says Rick Leever, project superintendent with the contractor Renda Pacific. "The rock was not kind, not forgiving. It's very fractured, very broken, very fractuous rock and so much water. All the setbacks that we had trying to dry off water were just incredibly slow, but we persevered."

The tunnel is critical to our community. Ninety percent of the drinking water we get in the Valley comes from Lake Mead. The whole point of the third intake that's being built is to protect our water supply, should the lake level drop dangerously low. And the connector tunnel will link that third and lowest intake to the two intakes we already use.

Workers still need to put the finishing touches on the tunnel, but with that just about done, Southern Nevada Water Authority engineers can now concentrate on finishing that third intake that's still being constructed by Vegas Tunnel Constructors.

"It's been so much of a thrill and a privilege to be involved in such a major project like this that's going to serve our community," says Marcus Jensen, director of engineering for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "But when it's done, we'll certainly be satisfied with what's been accomplished."

A project that's been more than just a challenge, but deadly. About a year ago, a worker with Vegas Tunnel Constructors died while working on that third intake. SNWA estimates it will be about a year or two before that third intake is finished being built and they're ready to flood the facility so that the water can flow to the treatment plants and our community.