High good, low bad: Mead in July 2011

Posted on | August 1, 2011 | 6 Comments

Why, you might wonder, would anyone in their right mind use a map highlighting the Mississippi River system for a monthly post about the elevation of the largest reservoir on the Colorado River?  The reason is a renewed offer on the table from Las Vegas water manager Pat Mulroy. Divert the Mississippi and its tributaries to feed upper basin Colorado River users, give Vegas the water therefore left in the Colorado River system and she’ll leave the Great Basin aquifer alone. “The instate project wouldn’t be needed because at that point what you’ve done is securitize the Colorado River,” she tells a reporter for “Vegas, Inc.” 

This transcontinental flood control scheme isn’t new. Pat’s been braving ribald mockery over it for at least three years now. The “give me more Colorado River water or the Great Basin desert gets it” line isn’t new either — that’s been a gambit since she applied for virtually all of the legally available groundwater around Great Basin National Park in 1989. What’s so much fun about this latest incarnation is the way it combines the drama of a hostage crisis with a seemingly lofty call to dream again in terms of Depression Era-style public works.

But saving the Great Basin desert from Vegas needn’t involve crossing the Continental Divide. Another way to achieve the same end might be for Vegas to strike a deal with the cash-strapped Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

Before laughing, and in normal times, the idea of a hog like California parting with water to help Nevada would be laughable, consider that LA and other Southern Californian cities served by Met are down on their uppers, skint, broke. Or as the Tom Cruise character’s normally shy girlfriend was reduced to shouting in the movie Jerry McGuire, “Broke, broke, broke!” The LADWP is so hard up for funds, it’s got a cart and pony show making the rounds trying to get voters to approve a rate increase to fix leaking water mains. They might as well be asking Tea Party imbeciles to tax billionaires. So California could use some Nevadan greenbacks. Nevada could definitely use some Californian water pooled up in Lake Mead.

Given that the maximum amount of water that the Nevada “instate project” — the pipeline running to the Great Basin National Park — would  likely be allotted after hearings finish late this year is 200,000 acre feet per year, this idea’s not so crazy. The pipeline’s projected $2bn plus cost could repair a lot of aging water mains and pay for a lot of outdoor water conservation programs across So Cal. Why not strike a trade? 

Oh, yes, Mead. The big drink on the Colorado River system closed July 31st, 2011 at 1,107.10 feet, almost five feet higher than the June closing thanks to a record Colorado snowpack. Click here for federal Bureau of Reclamation Mead elevations. That Mead is still less than half full should have us a lot more worried than we are, but the picture up and down the river is no longer utterly terrifying. Click here for a weekly report showing that the Colorado River system is 66% full this year as opposed to 58% last year.


6 Responses to “High good, low bad: Mead in July 2011”

  1. Steve Rypka
    August 1st, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

    Excellent commentary Emily! SNWA is over the top, committed to providing the developers in Southern Nevada with everything they need for more unsustainable, unwanted growth. Las Vegas should be setting a global example of learning to live within it’s means. That would be something worthwhile.

  2. Drought? But it’s flooding on the Mississippi! : jfleck at inkstain
    August 1st, 2011 @ 8:20 pm

    […] mean, if Pat Mulroy thinks it’s worth trying, who am I to call the idea batshit crazy? (h/t Emily Green) […]

  3. delbert grady
    August 1st, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

    Good article. Even proposing bringing in water from the Mississippi or Columbia basins is nothing short of posturing.

    Will the conversation in the next year be, “We looked into importing water from other basins but it wasn’t feasible. However a local pipeline is within our means and should be considered.” ???

    When you have the hard sell, you also have to show that you looked at the alternate solution.

    The other ‘plus’ (other than Mead rising) is the bad housing market currently in Las Vegas. There isn’t much new development (build-out) when the local economy has tanked.


  4. Grace
    August 2nd, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

    Has anyone done the calculation to determine how much energy it would take to lift the water over the continental divide at the points they are considering? Points close to water supply and water storage areas?

    Has anyone done the physics!?!

  5. Twitted by highcountrynews
    August 3rd, 2011 @ 8:40 am

    […] This post was Twitted by highcountrynews […]

  6. Charlie
    August 3rd, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    all this so people in LA and Vegas could have lawns.

    If people just gave up on their lawns we’d have enough water for everyone, for decades.

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