High good, low bad: Mead in July 2012

There may be less water in the Colorado than in bumper years past but there's a fine new park near Laughlin to watch the water flow by. Plus bits and bobs about California corruption and a Colorado River watershed-wide supply study nearing completion.

High good, low bad: Mead in April 2012

In April 2012, Lake Mead fell for the second consecutive month, marking an end to the spoils of the 2010/11 water year and leaving the largest storage reservoir in the West roughly 49 feet from the point where Arizona and Nevada will face shortages.

High good, low bad: Mead in 2011

When the federal Bureau of Reclamation recorded the closing elevation of Lake Mead to be almost 1,133 feet at midnight, December 31, the 2011 rise in the largest storage reservoir on the Colorado River was more than 46 feet, the first annual gain since 2005 and the largest since 1957 — so big that the decanting of last year’s snowpack has been causing a series of earthquakes in the Arizona desert. As Mead hits 56% full, and the other major storage reservoir on the Colorado, Lake Powell, sits at 66%, the bad news is that snowpack building up this year around the Colorado’s headwaters in the Rockies is significantly down, as is Northern Californian snowpack in the Sierra. Locally, rainfall is also below normal. By way of explaining the artwork, the Reclamation graphic above contrasts projected flow and demand in a river supplying roughly a third of Southern

High good, low bad: Mead in April 2011

Mural, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Photo: Emily Green

Last week at a meeting of the Southern California Water DialogueReclamation had good news and bad news. The good news was that as tallies keep coming in from a record water year on the Colorado River, the looming prospect of shortage declarations for the “Lower Basin” has receded. (By last night, the closing April elevation of Lake Mead was 1,095.77 feet, more than 13 feet higher than November 2010, when the largest reservoir in the American West was within 7 feet of shortages being declared.)

The bad news was that Mead, which serves Nevada, California, Arizona and Mexico, is still less than half full. As this graphic shows, when a dry trend began on the river in 1999, Mead was 95% full. While we’ve had a wet blip in 2011, if this generally dry trend persists for

High good, low bad: Mead in March 2011

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

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