Meet Ben Smith, one of the many researchers that works daily to learn more about lakes Lakes Mead and Mohave and the species that live there. Ben is a biological technician with the National Park Service and he collaborates with a team of researchers from agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Nevada Division of Wildlife among others.
Q: What brought you to Lake Mead?
A: I came to work at Lake Mead initially working almost exclusively with quagga mussels. I had decided to involve myself in managing aquatic invasive species primarily because I wanted to help preserve native species. My thought was that if I could work to manage invasive species, I would be doing the most good that I could for native species.
Q: What do you do specifically for Lake Mead?
A: I manage currently known invasive species, and I also survey for newly establishing invasive species that could affect either visitors or the aquatic ecology of the lakes. I examine the lakes for general water quality characteristics as well as water quality issues that could potentially affect visitor's health and safety, like harmful algal blooms, and abnormal concentrations of bacteria and pathogens.
Q: We often think of the lake as a learning lab, a place where we study a variety of things, sometimes we learn something we had not expected to learn. What have you learned?
A: The habitat is profoundly altered from the natural state, which complicates management. The lakes are a vital water source and are an area of great recreational value. Lake Mead is also relatively young, with the construction of the dam ending only 80 years ago; since then, the lake has been changing over time. Add in the recent effects of climate change and long-term drought – and we are seeing some rapid changes in water quality attributes. It's a complicated system with many learning opportunities available for anyone who is interested enough to look.
Q: Why is it important?
A: Most obviously because it helps to keep people safe, but more broadly it improves our abilities and knowledge to manage aquatic resources in a time where large scale and dramatic changes or disturbances are becoming more commonplace.
Q: What do you think is the most interesting thing about what you do or about the work you are involved in?
A: The most interesting aspect of what I do is the opportunity to find something new or different almost any day that I am in the field, whether it’s a new ecological process, or a new species for the lake altogether.
Q: What can we, as a community or society, learn from it?
A: The best thing to take away from what we do here is the knowledge that there are people out there making new discoveries every day and they don’t have to be in a distant and unexplored place to do so.