High good, low bad: Mead in October 2011

Posted on | November 1, 2011 | 2 Comments

While we set out to scare each other last night, Lake Mead was all about reassurance. The largest storage reservoir on the Colorado River continued to rise as a result of last winter’s generous snowpack. Allowing for some tweaking by federal river keepers, Mead closed at midnight on Halloween 2011 at 1,120.00 feet.

This is almost 37 feet higher than the previous October closing.


Sort of. The glass is no longer half empty, but 52% full! Yes, that’s good news. Here’s the bad. Around the states served by the river, the predicted return of La Nina-driven weather patterns this winter promises a second year of drought for New Mexico and Arizona. While Southern California dodged the bullet last year, La Nina may hit us as well this year.

We’re too broke and too dysfunctional to think it matters. While losing focus on conservation programs, we’re fighting. Good old San Diego is suing the regional wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District of California. It’s also locked in a mind-bogglingly complicated lawsuit over the Salton Sea with Imperial Valley. Meanwhile, Metropolitan is still suing federal agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, claiming that massive withdrawals of water from the tributaries to the San Francisco Bay have nothing to do with collapsing fresh water fish populations. It’s pollution from all those dirty Sacramentans! To bolster its case, Metropolitan is strumming the jobs theme. A September report estimates that construction of the peripheral canal / funnel / tunnel / suckage device from the Delta would create roughly 130,000 jobs, though it’s a safe bet those temporary jobs will not be the perennial sort offered by healthy fisheries.

Pausing for a deep draw on the crack pipe, a wish: If only Met had been equally worried about the jobs created, then destroyed when it created, then all but destroyed its conservation program and was claiming to any reporter gullible enough to trust  them that the days of its big capital construction projects were over. 

Nevada! While gratefully eyeing rising reservoir levels in Mead, Las Vegas water managers dwelled on falling elevations when making their case in September before the State Engineer in Carson City to tap the Great Basin Carbonate Aquifer for what they style as a back-up supply to their standing allotment from the Colorado River. They argue with impressively straight faces that the pristine cold desert around the Great Basin National Park owes its life blood to Steve Wynn and all that glitters.

Before anyone in California tsks tsks those money-grubbing Nevadans, here in money-grubbing California, Cadiz Inc, the company run by Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa confidant Keith Brackpool is moving steadily seeking clearance to drain the groundwater around the Mojave National Preserve, and has a panel of renta-experts swearing the desert has water to spare. It’s such a ridiculous proposition that even the Metropolitan board voted it down the first time. Who knows if we have the character left to know a tragic mistake when we see it now that the recession is bizarrely serving as a carte blanche for the greediest among us to finally get their ways.

Understanding why the Cadiz project is wrong, why driving freshwater fish to extinction is wrong, why turning a once vast mountain lake into a dustbowl is wrong, and why conservation is right, is hard. As a first step, we all must grasp that water does not originate in the tap. It comes from places hundreds of miles from us in many directions — the Sacramento and San Joaquin Bay Delta, Owens Lake (now dry lake) and the Colorado River. To help us grasp this and appreciate the urgency of conservation, integrated management of our siphons as called for by UCLA geographer Glen MacDonald is needed. Without pan-Western, pan-watershed planning, we will continue making bad decisions, suing one another and wrecking not just lakes, rivers and the ocean, but also deserts. In other words, if we don’t choose conservation, then we’d better hope that salmon soon walk.



2 Responses to “High good, low bad: Mead in October 2011”

  1. Jessica Hall
    November 1st, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    You hit a home run with this synopsis and conclusion, Emily.

  2. Scott Dickensheets
    November 2nd, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

    Terrific piece.

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