High good, low bad: Mead in June

Posted on | July 1, 2009 | 1 Comment

aster_colorado_delta

NASA image of the Colorado River Delta in the Gulf of California. Click on image for NASA history of the image and the region.

LAKE MEAD is the Colorado River reservoir holding key water supplies for California, Arizona, Nevada and the Republic of Mexico. The remnants of what was once a vast watershed concluding in the Gulf of California now depend on releases of water from Mead.

Yet will there be water to release? The level of the lake has dropped nearly 32 feet in the last six years. If it drops another 20, and the elevation is at or below 1,075 on January 1st,  Mexico, Arizona and Nevada will face punishing cuts in their allocations. Essential preserves for wildlife will be subject to ever more desperate schemes promoted by the driest states, including “non-water solutions” for fish habitat.* The Southern Nevada Water Authority has given the 1,075 elevation as the trigger for start of construction for a pipeline into the Great Basin, a vast groundwater pumping project to serve Las Vegas, which will turn the stunningly beautiful heartland into the West into a wasteland.

California farmers and urban consumers will be temporarily immune from the hell unleashed on Nevada, Arizona and Mexico by the 1,075 elevation. They are immune to cuts in Lake Mead allocations because of the historical seniority of their claims on the water and some artful lawyering in a long legal battle with Arizona.

Is it fair? No. Good management? Quite the opposite. Tragic? Beyond your wildest dreams. Legal? Yes.

The crisis is here now. The solution is some years away. America got to the Moon, launched the satellite that took the stunning picture (above) and elected its first black president before California has even begun to openly consider that it might have an unfair grasp on the Colorado River’s water (see Why the West hates Southern California). The only way to create the time for politics to catch up with nature is to conserve water. Now. Everyone can do it. It’s easy, it’s effective and it’s urgent. Beyond urgent.

              DATE                                           ELEVATION OF LAKE MEAD

June 30, 2009:                                          1,095.26

June 30, 2008:                                          1,104.98

June 30, 2007:                                          1,113.50

June 30, 2006:                                          1,128.26

June 30, 2005:                                          1,140.46

June 30, 2004:                                          1,126.93

For May elevations, click here. For April, here. For US Bureau of Reclamation records of Lake Mead elevations, click here. For the shortage sharing agreement between the Colorado River states, click here.

*See Center for Biological Diversity on the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program 

This post has been updated on June 2, 2009. A Las Vegas Eyewitness News link about struggling marina operators at Lake Mead posted 12 hours ago has been replaced by the NASA image and the text altered accordingly. The reason? TV has the boaters covered, and so do the scrambling, recreation-industry sponsored politicians discussed in the nightly news report. This blog is more interested in the long-term and environmental consequences of our water use patterns.


Comments

One Response to “High good, low bad: Mead in June”

  1. Susan Lynn
    July 2nd, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    A reminder that Las Vegas could save its lost 20,000 AF of Colorado River water by implementing more conservation very easily.
    They have refused to do so:
    Recently rejected a resolution to implement gray water reuse (although reuse promoted and the multi-million dollar Las Vegas Springs Preserve that SNWA heavily sponsored)
    Fired their water waste enforcers (not enough money)
    Have no indoor conservation required (doesn’t help return flow credits)

    Sounds like SNWA is excited that Lake Mead may hit a new low. Then they’ll be able to justify water pipelines that cost billions of dollars. SNWA would be its own economic stimulus package by asking for federal dollars to bail them out of a self-imposed “dire” situation. And the citizens of Las Vegas will, instead of conserving, see steep increases in their rates, fees and taxes. How fun can that be? SNWA signed the Colorado River Operating Agreement knowing full well they might reach that new low. It’s a strategy that is now inconveniencing Las Vegans and will inconvenience them even more in the future.
    SNWA has demonstrated a remarkable lack of good planning on behalf of their users over the years.

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