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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National Groundwater Awareness Week 2015

With the challenges to our groundwater resources in the U.S., it behooves all of us to recognize and respond to the issue.  To that end, this week is National Groundwater Awareness Week.

ngwa_aware

 


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10 Shocking Facts about the World’s Water

The Pacific Institute works to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities by finding real-world solutions to problems like water shortages, habitat destruction, global warming, and environmental injustice. The recently compiled a list of 10 shocking facts about the world’s water, which we reproduce here.

1.  3.4 million people—mainly children— die as a result of preventable water-related diseases every year.

2.  1.2 billion people—nearly 20 percent of the world’s population—live in areas of physical water scarcity. What does that mean? Water withdrawals for agriculture, industry, and domestic purposes exceed 75 percent of river flows.

3.  In developing countries, an estimated 90 percent of sewage and 70 percent of industrial waste is discharged into waterways without any treatment at all.

4.  Energy is a major user of water. In the US, thermoelectric power plants account for nearly 50% of all freshwater withdrawals.

5.  There have been 265 recorded incidences of water conflicts from 3000 BC to 2012. The past several years have seen an increase in the total number of reports of violent conflict over water.

6.  The last time the United States did an assessment of the water resources at the federal level was in the 1970s.

7.  It takes more than twice the amount of water to produce coffee than it does tea. Chicken and goat are the least water intensive meats to consume. More about how much water your diet consumes here.

8.    The amount of coal produced worldwide in 2009 required an estimated 1.3 to 4.5 billion cubic meters (m3) of water for extraction and processing. Global production of natural gas in 2009 required an estimated 840 million m3 of water.

9.    Because groundwater levels have dropped as much as 14 meters in the past half century in China, some sections of the Great Wall have been buried by sand. It’s estimated that some of the Great Wall will be gone in 10-20 years if action if not taken.

10.    Nearly 12 percent of Native Americans on reservations and 30 percent of Alaska Natives lack plumbing.


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Water Stress vs. Water Scarcity

Hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. An area is experiencing water stress when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces water scarcity, and below 500 cubic meters “absolute scarcity”.

Global Water Scarcity

Water scarcity is defined as the point at which the aggregate impact of all users impinges on the supply or quality of water under prevailing institutional arrangements to the extent that the demand by all sectors, including the environment, cannot be satisfied fully. Water scarcity is a relative concept and can occur at any level of supply or demand. Scarcity may be a social construct (a product of affluence, expectations and customary behavior) or the consequence of altered supply patterns – stemming from climate change for example.


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Maybe Don’t Go to Luckenbach Texas – Because it’s Really Dry There

Most of Texas is suffering through several years of significant, if not severe, drought.  While the northwest of the state historically has been the driest, the popular area know as the Hill Country has always been dry as well and is seeing some extreme conditions as reported recently by Houston TV station KHOU recently:

Joe Mooneyham no longer grows any flowers or plants in his backyard. Instead, the Pebble Beach resident in Bandera County is nursing a quiet optimism that it will all come back.

“I haven’t watered since September of last year,” Mooneyham said. “Everything was just emerald green.”

He misses the greenery, the deer and the water.

Medina Lake, which used to send gentle waves lapping at his backyard dock, has receded more than a mile and a quarter away.

“Every day I go on and check the level,” Mooneyham said.

Pebble Beach is a community whose name is borne out in the field of small stones that were once covered by several feet of lake water. It’s also a community reporting less than a three-month supply of water for its residents.

Neighbors a few miles down the road are having water brought in by the truckload, or face spending tens of thousands of dollars to dig for it.

“The well-service people have been lowering pumps. Some have had to have new wells drilled. It’s just a fact of nature,” said Bandera County Judge Richard Evans.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality keeps tabs on those places where the water is scarce enough to draw concern.

Pebble Beach is on the list, and so are 33-others which could be out of water within three months.

A dozen municipalities are reporting they could go dry in 45 days or less

And as San Antonio and other large water-users grow in population — and go shopping for more water resources — they’re dealing with smaller communities which are becoming more protective of their water rights.

Experts say this is the trend, even should the skies do open up.

Medina Lake