High good, low bad: Mead in March 2011

Posted on | March 31, 2011 | 1 Comment

Click on the map to be taken to the US Drought Monitor.

Smart people object to the term “drought” being applied to the water supply of the Western US. Dryness is not necessarily drought in a dry place, they say, no matter how rashly you might overdevelop that place.

So, this being the week of April Fools, these strict interpreters might agree with California that, after heavy winter precipitation, the Golden State is no longer in a drought. To drought skeptics, it never was. It’s simply full of fools who view the state’s massive system of reservoirs much like a drunk assesses a whisky bottle.

To us drunks, however, the world looks very different here in California. The drought is on when we don’t get what we want, and it’s over when we do. It has nothing to do with the health of the waterways that we siphon, the over-drafted aquifers that we tap when state and federal reservoirs shrink, or the squeaking desperation from less well-allocated states east of the Sierra rain shadow.

In an admirable and probably futile attempt to get through to us, the Wall Street Journal today published a piece cautioning that Lake Mead, the main storage reservoir on the Colorado River and source of all the water for Imperial Valley farmers and roughly a third of that serving Southern California’s cities, is still hovering at crisis levels.

So how, you might ask, can the drought be over? Check with reservoir operators and, indeed, Lake Mead is 43% full, it’s elevation hovering roundabout 1,096 feet. Upstream, the second largest storage reservoir on the Colorado, Lake Powell, is 53% full. But the drought is over in California because, while we depend heavily on the Colorado’s out-of-state water, we only count instate snowpack and reservoirs when calculating drought.

Click here for a full history of Lake Mead elevations from the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Hat tip to the water wonk’s must read blog, Aquafornia, for listing the WSJ piece high up its daily scroll.


One Response to “High good, low bad: Mead in March 2011”

  1. David Zetland
    April 1st, 2011 @ 3:55 am

    Drought. It’s a State of Mind.

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