THE COLORADO RIVER IS 2013’s “MOST ENDANGERED RIVER” ARE WATER BANKS AND RATIONING, OUR FUTURE?
Has HELL frozen over? Not Likely, but in the first days of devastating global warming, before its done, it might seem that the world has turned upside down. Last year’s drought brought Lake Mead for the first time came within ten feet of the rationing line. The first cutbacks in delivery could occur this year, it is certain that Lake Mead is 40% it’s former self and will drop another three-to-four more feet this year.
What happens next year? “Maybe we’ll have a wet year”, seems to the extent of the plan, it’s a lot like me buying lottery tickets for my retirement, its proactive, optimistic but nothing to take to the bank.
I visited the New York Times, the editorial page of the Salt Lake Tribune, the Las Vegas Headlight-Sun, the Los Angeles Times and the Arizona Republic to see how each spun the story about Lake Mead facing shortages. Perhaps the best story I found was a gardening column for the LA Times, complaining that they were getting mixed signals whether or not they should put in lawns. The Vegas spin was more sobering when you realize Sin City gets 90 percent of its drinking water from Mead. Vegas has two large siphons attached to the lake and a third under construction, they are scared–by the end of the year one siphon may be above Mead’s water level and worthless. The new siphon runs through the bottom of the lake and will be able to literally suck Lake Mead dry. Nobody believes that will happen-but the new siphon is nearing completion in spite of setbacks. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has begun pursuing permits necessary to build a $3.5 billion, 300-mile pipeline to shuttle water from the mountains in northern Nevada, many question the plan.
Southern California believes every time a sprinkler is turned on, choices are being made between lawns and their fisheries and still-no one believes anything will change until the courts start ordering changes. Already California water companies are trying to linkup with snow melt from the Northern High Sierra, just in case, they say. Lake Mead’s reservoirs have reached 1087 feet for the first time since 1956 when the lake dropped ten feet in order to fill Lake Powell. These twin reservoirs will require years of snow melt and runoff to make up the deficit and tree ring dating data frankly doesn’t support that optimism, it does suggest the droughts since 1990 frankly are nothing out of the ordinary and things could get worse. Utah has a $2billion “pie-in-the-sky” pipe line planned to bring more water from Lake Powell…water that might not be there. Kinda of reminds me of the Hohokam, all we really find of them are the water canals they built to bring water to the desert and therefore brought life itself.
In Phoenix, the Arizona Republic reports Lake Mead water levels determine drought status on the river under a set of guidelines adopted in 2007 by the seven Colorado River states: Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. If the lake reaches the first drought trigger, measured at an elevation of 1,075 feet above sea level, water deliveries below Lake Mead are reduced by a little more than 10 percent. Additional cutbacks would occur if the lake continued to drop. For Arizona, the stakes are high. Arizona absorbs 96 percent of any water rationing on the river under a decades-old agreement that ensured construction of the 336-mile CAP Canal. Nevada absorbs the other 4 percent under a separate deal with Arizona. Although rationing would affect some users on the river in western Arizona, most of the cuts would come from the canal, whose annual flow of 1.5 million acre-feet would be reduced in stages. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough to serve two average families for one year.)
Farmers and users of excess water, such as underground-storage programs, would be affected first. It’s unlikely cities and business in Phoenix and Tucson would lose any water in the earliest stages.
“It’s a clear warning,” said Tim Barnett, a scientist and Lake Mead expert from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who sounded the alarm in 2008 that Mead had a 50% chance of running dry by 2021. “The thing that’s astounding to me is the head-in-the-sand attitude of the bureaucrats that we’ve talked to.” “The water situation in Southern California is serious,” he added, “But I don’t think it’s dire yet. Six months or a year from now, we might not be using ‘serious.’ ‘We might be using dire'”.
During the last decade the Southwest has loss snow pack, vegetation and endured serial wildfires and increased temperature and all the while the region has grown faster than any other part of the US. Study after study predict that climate change will reduce the banked snow pack from 6 to 45 percent over the next half century. Every year more water is drained than deposited with an annual deficit of 1.6 million acre-feet, still without a “full-fledged crisis” most folks won’t do anything. In Las Vegas, for instance”, the “Cash for Grass” program pays homeowners $1-per-square-foot to convert to desert landscaping.
In 2007 the Feds mandated an agreement between the seven US states sharing the rivers flow. The lowest reduction cuts deliveries by 333,000 acre-feet, about half of what Las Angeles consumes in a year. Should the lake’s surface fall another 12 feet to 1075 feet below sea level or about 33 percent capacity. some say this will happen next year. When the 28.5-million-acre-foot reservoir’s surface hits 1,050 feet, or about 26 percent capacity, deliveries get slashed by 417,000 acre-feet, Las Vegas shuts down one of its two intakes and Hoover Dam’s massive turbines lose the hydraulic pressure needed to generate electricity. The maximum cutback of 500,000 acre-feet kicks in when Mead surfaces hits 1,025 foot, or about 20 percent capacity.
The mighty Colorado carries the lifeblood of the Southwest. It services the water needs of an area the size of France, in which live 40 million people. In its natural state, the river poured 15.7 million acre-feet of water into the Gulf of California each year. Today, twelve years of drought have reduced the flow to about 12 million acre-feet, and human demand siphons off every bit of it; at its mouth, the riverbed is nothing but dust.
The U.S. intelligence community understands what is happening, according to one report released last year, the global need for water will exceed the global supply of “current sustainable water supplies” by 40 percent by the year 2030…