Lake Havasu’s river bottom has been mapped for about a year now. What’s beneath the water has been keeping Dr. Doyle Wilson busy.
Wilson is the Lake Havasu City water resources coordinator, and he has been hard at work bringing to the surface what topography — or bathymetry — lies under Lake Havasu’s water.
Using millions of data points and his own expertise, Wilson’s goal is to create a map of the lake, both on the surface and underneath, that will be available to the public and provide a resource for fisherman, search and rescue teams, fish habitat placement and monitoring the water flow, among other things.
“We want to see how the bottom of the lake is shaped,” Wilson said. Is it hilly? Flat? Carved with underwater canyons? Those possibilities lie within tiny dots of data.
“When we go out and acquire data, it shows up as a bunch of dots, like a grid,” he said. Each of those approximately 1.36 million dots that have been collected correspond to an elevation measurement.
Elevation with respect to sea level is how the data is represented, as depth wouldn’t do any good. The level of the water in the lake fluctuates frequently, reaching about 450 feet above sea level at full capacity.
“Lake depth changes, but elevation simply stays put,” Wilson said.
“The lake to the north of the Island is completely done,” Wilson said. “Just south of it is mostly done, but the ‘canyon section’ of the lake, all the way down to the Parker Dam, is the problem.”
A computer program can handle a lot of the lake’s data, but what it can’t handle is steep slopes, according to Wilson. And with over 100 coves with plenty of slopes to spare, Wilson has to handle the data himself, point by point. He hand-corrects it all “to ensure the data is fairly well-represented.”
“We’re mapping a change of every two feet,” he said. “If we were doing every 10 feet, the project would have been done months ago… It’s not complicated. It’s just time-consuming.”
For Wilson, mapping a change of every ten feet wouldn’t allow producing the most detailed map possible, which is his hope to provide to the public.
“Just give me a few months,” he said, and the project should be completed. However, Wilson plans to retire at the end of August, so someone else will have to carry on the mission to map what lies below.