High good, low bad: Mead in May 2011

Lake Mead’s rise by two feet in May presages a total rise of 32 feet by the end of February, 2012, reported the Las Vegas Review-Journal several weeks ago. Last night at midnight, the elevation of the largest storage reservoir in the US was 1,097.89, leaving another 30 feet due for release from Lake Powell upstream. The federal Bureau of Reclamation graphic, left, shows how much water sits in reserve as snowpack in the upper Colorado region.

As the snow melts and the water makes its way through the dam system upstream, the 2010-11 water year on the Colorado will push Lake Mead steadily upward from the 1,075 elevation, at which point shortages would have been declared for Arizona and Nevada. For California to be hit by shortages, the reservoir would have to drop further because of an antique priority rights system governing the river.

While Las Vegas celebrated

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

Pass the buffalo

The president intimated Tuesday that the Department of Interior may be in for some cuts, however  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar followed up yesterday with a shadow state of the union address for staff. Click here for the text. Included in the oratory is a pledge to “increase available water supply for agricultural, municipal, industrial, and environmental uses in the western United States by 490,000 acre feet through Reclamation’s conservation-related programs.”  Also on the promise list is increasing capacity for renewable energy on public lands, while at the same time ensuring complete environmental review. How the latter can be assured without the environmental reviews being a sham is unclear. Via the Great Basin Water Network.

High good, low bad: Mead in December 2010

Early Western roulette wheel. Source: Wikipedia

The good news in the last hour of 2010 was that Lake Mead was 4.36 feet higher than the closing elevation for November. The bad news is that a winter bump is not unusual and, at ten feet lower than the closing December elevation for 2009 and at 40% capacity, the main storage reservoir on the Colorado River is 11.3 feet above a level that will trigger cuts for Arizona and Nevada.

Nerves are bad enough in the Grand Canyon State that the Arizona Republic reported this week that water managers are considering leaving part of their 2011 Colorado River allocation in Mead to forestall mandatory cuts. Larry Dozier, deputy general manager of the Central Arizona Project, told the Republic: “If we leave a little water this year, we won’t take the bigger hit the next year. Then we can take another spin on

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