Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


Leave a comment

How Low Can You Go?

The water level in Lake Mead, the country’s largest man-made reservoir, reached its lowest point on record back in May and the situation has not improved since then.

Water levels in the lake fell to 1,074 in May, down from an average of 1,084 feet in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, leaving the lake at 37% of capacity The region has suffered from a drought that has lasted more than a decade with the snow packs that feed the lake continuing to be lower than average over the past few years. Recent images of the lake show just how far water levels have dropped with “bathtub ring” markings indicating the higher height of the reservoir.

At 1073ft above sea level, the July reading at the Hoover Dam, which forms Lake Mead, was the lowest elevation since the reservoir was filled in the late 1930s.  The currently level also falls below the initial threshold of 1075ft that triggers emergency rationing measures across several states.

The manmade lake provides crucial water to parts of Arizona, Nevada and California, including the Los Angeles region. The federal government could implement emergency measures if the water level remains at 1,075 feet or below at the end of the year. Those measures would require reductions in water delivery to Nevada and Arizona.  California and Mexico would be exempt.

The Bureau of Reclamation expects the lake’s levels to drop to 1,071 feet over the summer during peak demand before rising to 1,078 at the end of the year.

However, the crucial measurement is not the current level but the mid-August assessment by the Bureau of Reclamation for 1 January 2017. And if it is below that threshold an official water shortage at Lake Mead will be declared.  The El Nino present over the past year delivered significant rain and snow fall to the West but not enough to truly impact the severe drought conditions.  If a La Nina follows, the region could see itself once again covered by extreme drought conditions that negatively impact all reservoirs and make sever water rationing the rule rather than the exception.

Lake Mead Water Level – July 2016Lalke Mead July 2016


Leave a comment

Reaching A New Low

The Associated Press reports that water levels in Lake Mead in Nevada have dropped to the lowest level since it was originally filled in the 1930s,  leaving Las Vegas facing existential threats unless something is done. Las Vegas and its 2 million residents and 40 million tourists a year get almost all their drinking water from the Lake and at levels below 1075ft (the level is currently several inches below that mark), the Interior Department will be forced to declare a “shortage,” which will lead to significant cutbacks for Arizona and Nevada.

The lake is now approximately 37% of capacity and features a distinctive white mineral bathtub ring that demonstrates the 130 feet in surface level that has been lost since the turn of the century.

From USA Today:

The downward march of the reservoir near Las Vegas reflects enormous strains on the over-allocated Colorado River. Its flows have decreased during 16 years of drought, and climate change is adding to the stresses on the river

As the levels of Lake Mead continue to fall, the odds are increasing for the federal government to declare a shortage in 2018, a step that would trigger cutbacks in the amounts flowing from the reservoir to Arizona and Nevada. With that threshold looming, political pressures are building for California, Arizona and Nevada to reach an agreement to share in the cutbacks in order to avert an even more severe shortage.

As population growth and heavy demand for water collide with hotter temperatures and reduced snowpack in the future, there will be an even greater mismatch between supply and demand, said Kelly Sanders, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in water and energy issues.

“The question becomes how to resolve this mismatch across states that all depend on the river to support their economic growth,” Sanders said. She expects incentives and markets to help ease some of the strains on water supplies, “but it is going to be tricky to make the math work in the long term.”


Leave a comment

Lake Mead at Record Low Levels

We have posted several stories on what is happening to Lake Mead and the impact it will have on Las Vegas, Arizona and Southern California.  This is a recent update on the water level and what another 5 foot drop will mean.  From Brookings:

This week, the water level in Lake Mead dropped to an all-time low, falling below 1080 feet above sea level for the first time in 78 years. As drought continues to afflict the American West, the dire situation at Lake Mead will continue to have consequences for states like Arizona, California, and Nevada  that draw their water supply from Lake Mead.

In a new video Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Pat Mulroy, who served as general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) when one of the worst droughts in the history of the Colorado River hit the region, predicts the current crisis at Lake Mead and why it is a problem.  

 


Leave a comment

Lake Mead Has Resumed Shrinking

We have highlighted in the past the frightening reality of Las Vegas’ dependence on water from Lake Mead, not to mention the reliance of much of Arizona and the city of Los Angeles.  As the lake lost volume during the Summer of 2014, alarm bells started going off regarding the epic decline in the elevation of the lake.

While the lake gained approximately 7 feet of elevation from mid-November to  mid-January, that has all been given back as of this week.  For context, the lake went from 1082 feet in elevation to 1089 feet.  A “full pool”, meaning the optimal elevation, is 1220 feet.  The all-time highest elevation was 1226 feet and the all-time lowest was 1080 feet.

So, as we near the beginning of Summer 2015, Lake Mead is only two feet above the all-time low reading.

Bathing may become just one more extravagance for those visiting Vegas.

Lake Mead Water Levels


Leave a comment

America’s Most Endangered Rivers – 2014

From American Rivers

America Most Endangered Rivers

1. San Joaquin River

Outdated water management and excessive diversions leave the river dry in stretches, threatening water quality, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of drought.

2. Upper Colorado River

The river’s health, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and recreation are threatened by new proposed diversions and increasing water demands.

3. Middle Mississippi River

A proposed new levee would cut off the river from the floodplains that protects downstream communities from floodwaters and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

4. Gila River

An unnecessary water diversion and pipeline would harm fish and wildlife, river health, and local economics dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism.

5. San Francisquito Creek

The 65-foot Searsville Dam blocks threatened steelhead from reaching habitat upstream, impairs water quality, and poses flooding risks for local communities.

6. South Fork Edisto River

Excessive agriculture withdrawals threaten the river’s health and downstream water users, including other farmers.

7. White River (Colorado)

15,000 proposed new oil and gas wells in the region threaten to ruin clean drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat.

8. White River (Washington)

Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations are often killed at the unsafe and outdated Buckley Dam.

9. Haw River

Drinking water and recreation areas for more than one million people are threated by polluted runoff and wastewater.

10. Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers

The Wild and Scenic rivers’ coldwater fisheries, scenery, and whitewater are threatened by industrialization that would bring huge megaloads bound for Canadian tar sands onto narrow roads beside the rivers.


Leave a comment

“Last Call at the Oasis”

The global-catastrophe documentary is a thriving form these days, as the apparent unsustainability of human life has emerged as fertile ground for cinematic journalism. Jessica Yu’s “Last Call at the Oasis, is one of the more recent additions to the canon and the content, combining interviews with experts and video evidence of what is happening to water resources across the globe, brings home the catastrophic potential of global inaction.  Though released in 2012, the film remains relevant in a time of increasing drought, water wars and water pollution.

From the New York Times review of the film:

The calm, knowledgeable voices of the experts make “Last Call at the Oasis” especially scary. Nothing is more unnerving than predictions of an apocalypse delivered by a reasonable person in friendly, conversational tones.

The question is whether anyone is listening, and it is a question that always nips at the heels of documentaries like this one. One way the question is answered — or perhaps finessed — is by the optimistic, encouraging tone that tends to sneak in at the end. 

There is also a measure of hope to be gleaned from Ms. Yu’s interview subjects, though less from what they have to say — which is pretty grim — than from their seriousness and dedication.

However frustrated they may be by political paralysis, corporate trickery or plain human stupidity, none of them seem inclined to give up. When they do, we really will be screwed, and we won’t have or need movies like this to tell us so.

Here is the original trailer for the film.


Leave a comment

Groundwater Loss Adds to Pain in Western U.S.

Beyond shrinking lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, the western U.S. is experiencing a rapid and significant depletion in its groundwater resource.  According to a recent story at Common Dreams, NASA satellites are showing that the groundwater supply is at greater risk than previously thought.

The drought-stricken Colorado River Basin has experienced rapid and significant groundwater depletion since late 2004, posing a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought, according to a new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine.

The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which is the water source for more than 30 million people and 4 million acres of farmland. The satellites showed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (about 17 trillion gallons) of freshwater between 2004-2013 — almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead, which itself recently fell to its lowest level since the 1930s. More than three-quarters of the total water loss in the Colorado River Basin was from groundwater. The basin has been experiencing the driest 14-year period in the last 100 years.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the UC-Irvine and lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Because pumping from underground aquifers is regulated by individual states and is often not well documented, it is difficult to quantify how groundwater reserves are affected by drought. But the NASA/Irvine study, which measured gravitational attraction as a way to assess rising and falling water levels, reveals that a crucial water source for seven basin states and Mexico has been compromised. The study also indicates that declines in the snowpack that feeds the river and population growth could further compound the problem.

“The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti. “With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

Last year, the Pacific Institute found that about 70 percent of the Colorado River Basin water supply goes toward irrigated agriculture.

In a blog for Science, Eric Hand writes:

The groundwater losses, which take thousands of years to be recharged naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of Colorado, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

To that end, several Western states are implementing or considering groundwater management plans. And earlier this month, the Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers in releasing a new report that identified municipal conservation, grey water treatment and reuse, and irrigation efficiency as ways to mitigate “Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River.”