Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


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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


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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.”


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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.  

 


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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


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“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.


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20 Signs That the Drought in the U.S. West is Becoming Epic

With a tip of the hat to Michael Snyder, at the Economic Collapse Blog, here are the 20 signs that the epic drought in the western half of the United States is starting to become something more than a very bad stretch of dry weather.

  1. According to the Los Angeles Times, downtown Los Angeles is now the driest that it has been since records began being kept all the way back in 1877.
  2. The California State Water Resources Control Board says that nearly 50 communities are already on the verge of running out of water.
  3. In a desperate attempt to conserve water, the state of California is considering banning watering lawns and washing cars.  Once implemented, violators will be slapped with a $500 fine for each offense.
  4. It has been reported that a new social media phenomenon known as “drought shaming” has begun in California.  People are taking videos and photos of their neighbors wasting water and posting them to Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Climate scientist Tim Barnett says that the water situation in Las Vegas “is as bad as you can imagine“, and he believes that unless the city “can find a way to get more water from somewhere” it will soon be “out of business”.
  6. The water level in Lake Mead has now fallen to the lowest level since 1937, and it continues to drop at a frightening pace.  You can see some incredible photos of what has happened to Lake Mead right here.
  7. Rob Mrowka of the Center for Biological Diversity believes that the city of Las Vegas is going to be forced to downsize because of the lack of water…

The drought is like a slow spreading cancer across the desert. It’s not like a tornado or a tsunami, bang. The effects are playing out over decades. And as the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people (from Las Vegas).

  1. In some areas of southern Nevada, officials are actually paying people to remove their lawns in a desperate attempt to conserve water.
  2. According to Accuweather, “more than a decade of drought” along the Colorado River has set up an “impending Southwest water shortage” which could ultimately affect tens of millions of people.
  3. Most people don’t realize this, but the once mighty Colorado River has become so depleted that it no longer runs all the way to the ocean.
  4. Lake Powell is less than half full at this point.
  5. It is being projected that the current drought in California will end up costing the state more than 2 billion dollars this year alone.
  6. Farmers in California are allowing nearly half a million acres to lie fallow this year due to the extreme lack of water.
  7. The lack of produce coming from the state of California will ultimately affect food prices in the entire nation.  Just consider the following statistics from a recent Business Insider article..

    California is one of the U.S.’s biggest food producers — responsible for almost half the country’s produce and nuts and 25% of our milk and cream. Eighty percent of the world’s almonds come from the state, and they take an extraordinary amount of water to produce — 1.1 gallons per almond

  8. As underground aquifers are being relentlessly drained in California, some areas of the San Joaquin Valley are sinking by 11 inches a year
  9. It is being projected that the Kansas wheat harvest will be the worst that we have seen since 1989.
  10. The extended drought has created ideal conditions for massive dust storms to form.  You can see video of one female reporter bravely reporting from the middle of a massive dust storm in Phoenix right here.
  11. Things are so dry in California right now that people are actually starting to steal water.  For example, one Mendocino County couple recently had 3,000 gallons of water stolen from them.  It was the second time this year that they had been hit.
  12. At the moment, close to 80 percent of the state of California is experiencing either “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.
  13. National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt says that this is “the worst drought we probably have seen in our lifetime“.

 


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Viva…..Las Vegas?

“It’s just going to be screwed. And relatively quickly,” warns Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, telling The Telegraph, the situation in Las Vegas is “as bad as you can imagine”. After a devastating, 14-year drought drained the reservoir that supplies 90% of the city’s water, the apparently endless supply of water is an illusion as Las Vegas population has soared.

As The Telegraph reports,

America’s most decadent destination has been engaged in a potentially catastrophic gamble with nature and now, 14 years into a devastating drought, it is on the verge of losing it all.

“The situation is as bad as you can imagine,” said Tim Barnett, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “It’s just going to be screwed. And relatively quickly. Unless it can find a way to get more water from somewhere Las Vegas is out of business. Yet they’re still building, which is stupid.”

The city is generally very dry, but this year is looking to be extraordinarily dry.

Las Vegas gets just four inches of rain in a good year, and in the first four months of 2014 there was just 0.31 of an inch.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has the task of keeping the city from running dry, has described the effects of the drought as “every bit as serious as a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy”.

However, Las Vegas still uses 219 gallons of water per person per day, one of the highest figures in the US. In San Francisco the figure is just 49 gallons.

And having sucked the Colorado River dry and with a good start on Lake Mead, they just can’t stop themselves.

 Lake Mead’s water level is currently at 1,087ft above sea level. There are two pipes, known as “straws”, that take water from it to Las Vegas.

The first extracts water at an elevation of 1,050ft and is likely to be sucking at air, rather than water, soon. The second straw is at 1,000ft.

Lake Mead is expected to fall another 20ft towards that critical point by the end of this year.

 

Beneath the ground a mammoth effort is already under way to complete a new, lower straw which will be able to draw the last of the water from the lake.

But it is a painfully slow process as a giant drill the size of two football pitches advances at a rate of one inch per day.

That rescue project is costing $817 million and is currently expected to be complete by late 2015, but it is not viewed as a long-term solution.

Las Vegas also wants to build a separate $15.5 billion pipeline that would pump 27 billion gallons of groundwater a year from an aquifer 260 miles away in rural Nevada.

But a judge has refused permission after environmentalists sued on the basis that it would adversely affect 5,500 acres of meadows, 33 miles of trout streams, and 130,000 acres of habitat used by sage grouse, mule deer, elk and pronghorn, an antelope-like creature that is endangered in the region. The court heard that 25 species of Great Basin springsnails would be pushed toward extinction.

Ultimately, the city and state need to entirely rethink their water situation, but that realization seems slow in coming.

 “It’s a really dumb-headed proposition. It would provide a false sense of security that there’s plenty of water and it would delay the inevitable decisions that have to be taken about water conservation and restricting growth.

“The drought is like a slow spreading cancer across the desert. It’s not like a tornado or a tsunami, bang. The effects are playing out over decades. And as the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people (from Las Vegas).”

But, perhaps, this isn’t the outside-the-box thinking that is needed.

One proposal is for landlocked Nevada to pay billions of dollars to build solar-powered desalination plants in the Pacific off Mexico, taking Mexico’s share of Colorado River water in exchange.

“The Colorado is essentially a dying river. Ultimately, Las Vegas and our civilisation in the American South West is going to disappear, like the Indians did before us.”