View Full Version : The West's Water Worries

May 2nd, 2004, 08:08 AM
May 2, 2004

Drought Settles In, Lake Shrinks and West's Worries Grow


Satellite images of the north end of Lake Powell showing the sediment delta growing as the water levels dropped over four years. If water levels continue to fall, the lake may be unable to generate electricity as early as 2007.

Slide Show: Parched Earth (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2004/05/01/national/20040502_DROU_SLIDESHOW_1.html)

PAGE, Ariz. — At five years and counting, the drought that has parched much of the West is getting much harder to shrug off as a blip.

Those who worry most about the future of the West — politicians, scientists, business leaders, city planners and environmentalists — are increasingly realizing that a world of eternally blue skies and meager mountain snowpacks may not be a passing phenomenon but rather the return of a harsh climatic norm.

Continuing research into drought cycles over the last 800 years bears this out, strongly suggesting that the relatively wet weather across much of the West during the 20th century was a fluke. In other words, scientists who study tree rings and ocean temperatures say, the development of the modern urbanized West — one of the biggest growth spurts in the nation's history — may have been based on a colossal miscalculation.

That shift is shaking many assumptions about how the West is run. Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the states that depend on the Colorado River, are preparing for the possibility of water shortages for the first time since the Hoover Dam was built in the 1930's to control the river's flow. The top water official of the Bush administration, Bennett W. Raley, said recently that the federal government might step in if the states could not decide among themselves how to cope with dwindling supplies, a threat that riled local officials but underscored the growing urgency.

"Before this drought, we had 20 years of a wet cycle and 20 years of the most growth ever," said John R. D'Antonio, the New Mexico State engineer, who is scrambling to find new water supplies for the suburbs of Albuquerque that did not exist a generation ago.

The latest blow was paltry snowfall during March in the Rocky Mountains, pushing down runoff projections for the Colorado River this year to 55 percent of average. Snowmelt is the lifeblood of the river, which provides municipal water from Denver to Los Angeles and irrigates millions of acres of farmland. The period since 1999 is now officially the driest in the 98 years of recorded history of the Colorado River, according to the United States Geological Survey.

"March was a huge wake-up call as to the need to move at an accelerated pace," said Mr. Raley, assistant secretary of the interior for water and science.

Losing Water at Lake Powell

Some of the biggest water worries are focused here on Lake Powell, the vast blue diamond of deep water that government engineers created in one of the driest and most remote areas of the country beginning in the 1950's. From its inception, Lake Powell, the nation's second-largest artificial lake, after Lake Mead in Nevada, was a powerful symbol across the West. Some saw it as a statement of human will and know-how, others of arrogance.

Powell, part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, has lost nearly 60 percent of its water and is now about the size it was during the Watergate hearings in 1973, when it was still filling up. White cliffs 10 stories high, bleached by salts from the lake and stranded above the water, line its side canyons. Elsewhere, retreating waters have exposed mountains of sediment.

The tourist economy here in Page has been battered. The National Park Service, which operates the recreation area, has spent millions of dollars in recent years just to lay concrete for boat-launch ramps that must be extended every year, a process that one marina operator here called "chasing water."

Daniel C. McCool, a professor of political science at the University of Utah and director of the American West Center, says Powell is the barometer of the drought because what has happened here is as much about politics, economics and the interlocking system of rules and rights called the law of the river as it is about meteorology.

Part of the lake's problem, for example, dates to a miscalculation in 1922, when hydrologists overestimated the average flow of the Colorado River and locked the number into a multistate agreement called the Colorado River Compact. The compact, along with a subsequent treaty with Mexico, requires Lake Powell to release 8.23 million acre-feet of water each year below the river's dam, Glen Canyon, no matter how much comes in.

Because the river's real average flow was less than the 1922 compact envisioned, Powell very often released more than half of the water the Colorado River delivered. But it did not really matter because the upper basin states were not using their share. Now, communities from Denver to Salt Lake City and Indian tribes with old water rights in their portfolios are stepping forward to stake their claims. Lake Powell, which has been called the aquatic piggy bank of the upper West, is overdrawn.

If water levels continue to fall, Powell will be unable to generate electricity as early as 2007 or sooner, some hydrologists say. And it would be reduced more or less to the old riverbed channel of the Colorado River not long after that. Even now, the lake's managers say, it would take a decade of historically normal rainfall to refill it.

"If we're only in the middle of this drought, then Lake Powell might be very close to some very dramatic problems," said Dr. John C. Dohrenwend, a retired geologist for the Geological Survey who lives near the lake.

Insufficient water for the Glen Canyon Dam turbines would be only the beginning. At that point, much of the lake bottom would be exposed, creating a vast environment for noxious weeds like tamarisk and thistle. The next step in the spiral would come at what is called "dead pool," where decades' worth of agricultural chemicals at the lake bottom would begin mixing more actively with the reactivated river. The question then, environmentalists say, is what would happen to the Grand Canyon, just south of the dam.

An Issue That May Go to Congress

"Americans won't stand for the Grand Canyon being endangered," said John Weisheit, the conservation director for Living Rivers, an environmental group in Moab, Utah, that advocates removing the dam at Glen Canyon and allowing the river to return to its natural course. "In another year, they're going to be talking more seriously about Powell in Congress."

But the fact is, no one knows: the weather could change tomorrow. Many past Western droughts have ended suddenly, with a bang of precipitation. But some dry spells persisted for generations. From about 900 to 1300, scientists say, periodic drought in the West was the norm. Only a few times during that period, according to tree-growth measurements, was precipitation anywhere near the relatively high levels of the 20th century.

"What is unusual is not the drought periods, but the above-average wet periods," said Dr. Robert Webb, a hydrologist with the Geological Survey who specializes in the Colorado River.

The uncertainty has local, state and federal officials along the 1,450-mile river scurrying to secure water allotments while also preparing for the worst.

Already in Las Vegas, the regional water agency is removing the equivalent of a football field of grass every day from front lawns, playgrounds and golf courses to save on outdoor watering. Farther downriver, Arizona officials are pumping billions of gallons of water into aquifers to save for an even less rainy day.

Electricity has become a concern. The Western Area Power Administration, the federal agency that distributes power from hydroelectric projects in the Rocky Mountain West, plans to reduce by about 25 percent the amount of electricity it can promise in future years.

Conserving on a Large Scale

In Los Angeles, a representative from the West's largest urban water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, is among a group of Western water officials dusting off plans to help limit evaporation from reservoirs, which could save billions of gallons. One idea is to pour a nontoxic substance over the reservoirs to form a water-trapping barrier.

The group, which has been holding meetings, is even looking at far-off solutions like raising the height of Hoover Dam so that more water could be collected and saved during wet times.

"We understand we have a problem and we are working on it," said the Los Angeles representative, Dennis Underwood, a former head of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees dams and reservoirs in the West.

There are also worries downstream from Powell at Lake Mead, which serves Nevada, Arizona and California. It could drop low enough as early as next year to force officials to declare a drought emergency. That would hurt the booming southern Nevada economy through significantly higher water rates and outright bans on things like new swimming pools, said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Mr. Raley of the Interior Department said he wanted the states to consider a water bank, in which unused water could be leased or sold across state lines. Some previous efforts to create banks, with federal oversight, have been contentious because they were seen by smaller states as a means to funnel more of the river to water-guzzling California.

But the notion of cutting private water deals on the Colorado is gaining broader acceptance, in large part because of the drought. The most celebrated example was a deal last year to sell irrigation water in the Imperial Valley of Southern California to the urban water district in San Diego.

Some advocates for agriculture fear that water-to-the-highest-bidder could ravage ranches and farms if owners were induced to sell their irrigation rights. But private-market supporters say the truth, like it or not, is that farmers own most of the West's water, and ultimately there will be fewer of them.

There is some concern that if the Colorado River goes into crisis, the ensuing tangle of litigation over water rights, endangered species and border disputes could undo the system of Western water law that has evolved over the last 100 years.

Some say that would be a good thing.

"The law of the river is hopelessly, irretrievably obsolete, designed on a hydrological fallacy, around an agrarian West that no longer exists," Professor McCool at the University of Utah said. "After six years of drought, somebody will have to say the emperor has no clothes."

Water officials in Arizona and Nevada say they would also like to rethink the law of the river to put their states on a more equal footing in sharing the Colorado River. But Mr. Raley said such talk invites disaster and chaos, especially during a drought.

"This isn't the time to plunge into chaos," he said.

Other people who live here on the fringe of Lake Powell say that the West's great reservoirs have, in their very decline, proved their value in stretching out limited water resources and underlined the difference between past civilizations here that anthropologists say were wiped out or displaced by drought.

"Those people back then had nothing to catch and save their water — now we do," said Ronald W. Thompson, district manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District in southwestern Utah.

"I'm a believer that history repeats itself — long-term drought could return," Mr. Thompson said. "But I suspect our civilization can weather this."

Kirk Johnson reported from Page, Ariz., for this article and Dean E. Murphy from Grand Canyon National Park.

Where Engineering Trumps Nature, Science Seeks a Balance



GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK — Five years of dry weather have robbed the Colorado River of much of its mountain snowmelt, but the drought is hardly noticeable from a raft tossing downstream between the mile-high walls here.

That is because this part of the river is mechanized, flowing not to the rhythms of snowfall and the seasons but to a carefully calibrated, government-decreed schedule.

Below Lake Powell, the 186-mile-long cistern formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, the Colorado is a succession of human-induced flushes that generate electricity and entertain white-water boaters on its way to watering lawns and filling bathtubs in Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Even as the river here spills over billion-year-old boulders in a wondrous place that leaves even hardened geologists weak-kneed, every drop is the subject of a state, federal or international agreement and is assigned a prospective owner.

"It is an artifact of living in the desert," said Bennett W. Raley, the assistant secretary of the interior for water and science, whose department oversees a system of dams and reservoirs that divvy up the river among seven Western states and Mexico.

To a visitor bobbing through the Grand Canyon, the artifice is easy to detect on weekends, when the demand drops for hydroelectric power from Glen Canyon Dam. The river drops too, leaving splash marks high along the granite and lava walls.

"It is like a swimming pool," said Ted Melis, a scientist with the United States Geological Survey who is conducting experiments on the river's sparkling clarity, due to the loss of natural sediment at the dam.

The subduing of the West's most magnificent desert river has created a lot of work for scientists like Dr. Melis, who are intent on keeping the Colorado more than just an engineering marvel. Dr. Melis spends his days looking for ways to muddy the waters so that native river fish like the endangered humpback chub are not such easy prey for the relative newcomers, like rainbow and brown trout.

On some nights, other scientists from the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, a federal agency where Dr. Melis works, are also busy on behalf of the old river.

They patrol the rapids in small motorboats with big spotlights. At quiet pools at the river's edge, they apply jolts of electricity to the water to temporarily stun the fish, which then float to the surface.

The chub and other endangered fish are measured, marked and returned to the river. The others are killed and their stomach contents studied before they are ground up and given to the Hualapai Indians for fertilizer. Tens of thousands of trout have been removed from the river this way.

"There is a suggestion that the humpback chub is increasing in these removal areas," said Jeff Lovich, chief of the monitoring and research center. "The results are tantalizing."

Dr. Lovich spoke to a group of scientists, government and water officials, journalists and an environmentalist who took a recent raft trip downriver through the heart of the Grand Canyon.

It took eight days to cover the 225 miles from Lees Ferry, Ariz., near the Utah border, to Diamond Creek in the Hualapai Indian reservation. The rafts were supplied by the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, which tracks the effects of the Glen Canyon Dam on the river.

The journey was premised on the drought but it touched upon many other things. Mr. Raley, the assistant interior secretary, told of successes the Bush administration has claimed along the river. The biggest, he said, was a deal last year with California about how to divide surplus Colorado water — though it is unlikely that extra water will be much of an issue in the years to come.

Most talk was about the likelihood of water shortages, which the river has not seen since the Hoover Dam was built near Las Vegas in the 1930's. Many environmentalists already complain that the river is given too little water to support fish and other wildlife, let alone to flow the full 1,400 miles to the delta, which is a fraction of its size a century ago.

Mr. Raley insists that Nevada, Arizona and California need to speed up plans for what to do if the drought persists.

One hot afternoon, he lined up three water officials in a narrow slice of shade and prodded them as they worried aloud about the prospect of tightening water supplies.

"We want to make this work because we are terrified of the consequences across the spectrum if it is not working," Mr. Raley said.

Some consequences of the drought can be observed a short distance upstream at Lake Powell, a reservoir named for John Wesley Powell, the geologist who explored the Grand Canyon in the 1860's and 70's.

The Colorado was wildly unpredictable back then, sometimes running out of steam before getting much beyond the canyons here and sometimes barreling through to the Gulf of California. Now Lake Powell is more than half empty and still dropping. The same is happening below the Grand Canyon at Lake Mead.

In the lore of the West, there is no more mythical river than the Colorado, and in some sense, this drought may be just one more cliffhanger for the river to tell.

"We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore," Powell wrote on Aug. 13, 1869, as he entered the Grand Canyon. "What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise above the river, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 4th, 2004, 08:59 AM
Just before the millennium, I read a series of articles by futurists about what important changes would occur in the 21st century. In one, it was stated that the Great Lakes would become as important as oil fields are today.

May 4th, 2004, 04:54 PM


May 10th, 2004, 03:38 AM
May 10, 2004

The Arid West

Even in May, an extraordinary number of Westerners — especially those who live in the Rocky Mountain states — are still talking about March. In many places, it was an unusually warm month without precipitation. March put an end to the hope — a well-worn hope by now — that the weather would return to normal in a region that is now entering its fifth year of drought. Every indicator is grievous. Ranchers have radically destocked the range. In Arizona and New Mexico, more than a million acres of pinyon and ponderosa pine have died off. Critical reservoirs, like Lake Powell, are holding less than half their capacity. The Rio Grande is a trickle. The entire drainage of the Colorado River — the ultimate source of water for much of the metropolitan West — is at risk.

A drought of this severity naturally calls into question the definition of "normal." It appears, in fact, that what is normal is an oscillation in climate, from wet periods, like 1976 to 1998, to dry periods, which have recurred with some regularity. So far, this is a five-year drought. But no one knows how long it will last. The climatic history of Arizona, for instance, has been reconstructed by painstaking analysis of tree rings. That research shows that there have been two droughts that lasted 18 years and one, near the end of the 16th century, that lasted 28 years. Tree-ring evidence also shows that for parts of Arizona, 2002 was the driest year in the past 1,400 years.

This drought still isn't as dire as the one from 1900 to 1904. But everything in the West has changed since 1904. In fact, everything has changed since 1976, when two wet decades led to an almost unimaginable explosion of development and population across the region, an explosion that, in some places, is rapidly drawing down underground aquifers. In the short run, that pace of growth is unsustainable. In the long run, the question is whether the West can sustain even the growth it has managed so far.

The strain of a drought affecting such a huge population causes real fissures in society. Some people have begun to call for overhauling the body of water law that parcels out the Colorado River, while others cling ever more tightly to the rights those laws afford them. Farmers and ranchers find themselves pitted against the suburbs. Meanwhile, the legal consumption of water always comes ahead of preserving in-stream flows, which means that natural habitats and the creatures that live in them come last.

While there is some comfort in learning that periodic droughts are a part of natural climate change, the fact is this drought is occurring at a time when climate change is being driven by unnatural global warming. Drought may be normal, and yet there may be nothing historically normal about this drought.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

December 13th, 2005, 08:31 PM
Far-reaching pact protects water supply

First step is approval from 8 governors


December 13, 2005

Chicago River water flowed into Lake Michigan until clever engineers reversed it in 1900, creating the biggest and most notable giveaway of Great Lakes water.

Other ideas to remove water have been ambitious: A failed bid in 1998 to ship a tanker full of Lake Superior water to Asia. Or talk of building giant pipelines to carry Great Lakes water to arid Western states.

Only a single sentence in a federal law that soon may be declared unconstitutional stands in the way.

That's why Gov. Jennifer Granholm and seven other Great Lakes governors are in Wisconsin today, expected to sign the most far-reaching pact aimed at protecting the water supply.

Proponents say it would be the first true legal firewall prohibiting large-scale siphoning of water -- Michigan's most defining feature and the region's biggest advantage in the age of global decision-making.

June Rusten, 77, a retired schoolteacher from Ann Arbor, said she worries about water "when I hear people saying it's a commodity."

"I really agree with the people who say the next war will be about water," said Rusten, 77, who camped and canoed all over Michigan and the Great Lakes in her younger years.

The water pact -- saddled with the uberbureaucratic title "Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements" -- is important because of the unprecedented barrier it would erect to block attempts to siphon off water.

"It's pretty exciting stuff. It recognizes that the Great Lakes are one system, and they don't belong to any one state," said Cheryl Mendoza, water conservation program manager with the Chicago-based nonprofit Alliance for the Great Lakes.

And its urgency, say its supporters, is a Michigan lawsuit challenging the fragile sentence in 1986's federal Water Resources Development Act. That sentence allows diversions, but only if all eight Great Lakes governors agree. That provision is widely considered unconstitutional.

Nestle Waters Inc., which bottles Ice Mountain brand water from springs in western Michigan, has challenged the provision as part of its lawsuit against the state.

"The courts may be stepping up" to strike down the existing diversion law, acknowledged David Naftzger, director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the group that worked to get the governors' agreement during the last four years. "So, it's critical."

The new deal, which needs approval by all eight state legislatures, Congress and the president to take effect, would do more than block big water-sucking projects.

It would require the states to develop water conservation plans; force industry to report water use, and establish review of new projects that would permanently siphon large volumes of water for use in -- for instance -- consumer products.

In one controversial area it backs off -- leaving the rules, and the controversy, to the states.

Water bottled in containers of less than 5.7 gallons aren't subject to the "no diversion" rules -- essentially an exemption for the bottled water industry.

The pact allows bottled water and potentially other types of withdrawals to be considered a product and not a diversion, contends a written response by Michigan environmental attorney Jim Olson.

That would be a precedent to allow future exports, and "a gaping loophole in favor of those who want to profit off these public resources," wrote Olson, in an objection to the plan.

Nevertheless, Naftzger said Monday, all eight governors are onboard. Granholm said Monday she intended to sign.

Naftzger said he didn't expect significant congressional opposition if the agreement makes it that far, even from parched Western states.

In fact, the public perception that Westerners are coming for our water is wrong, say experts: The biggest threats are from just outside the basin where transporting water would be cheap.

Waukesha, Wis., for example, is seeking Great Lakes water after burgeoning growth has made its drinkable groundwater scarce. But the city lies just outside the basin -- meaning its wastewater flows west, into the Mississippi River system.

Akron, Ohio, which straddles the watershed boundary, earned approval to pipe in Lake Erie water in 1998 -- but only on the condition that the city send back an equivalent amount of treated wastewater.

Those are the regional struggles likely to threaten the lakes long before it becomes cost-effective to move water to the desert, said Robert Glennon, a professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona.

Furor over Great Lakes protection is largely inaudible in Arizona, said Glennon, who added that Western states are looking at water conservation, desalinization plants, reallocation among water users, cloud seeding and diversions from regional waterways.

Transporting water from the Great Lakes would be enormously expensive, he said.

Yet time and technology could change that.

"Although, when I do presentations in the Midwest, I do tell them that the idea that we are coming to take the Great Lakes is nonsense," he said. "We'll just be happy with Lake Superior."

Contact HUGH McDIARMID JR. at 248-351-3295.

Copyright © 2005 Detroit Free Press Inc.

December 14th, 2005, 07:51 AM
The Arid West

...Critical reservoirs, like Lake Powell, are holding less than half their capacity. The Rio Grande is a trickle. The entire drainage of the Colorado River — the ultimate source of water for much of the metropolitan West — is at risk.

...In the long run, the question is whether the West can sustain even the growth it has managed so far.

Las Vegas Nearing Its Water Allotment From the Colorado

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 10 (AP) - The booming Las Vegas area's water demands could outstrip the region's share of the Colorado River by 2007, according to the 2006 water budget approved by the Southern Nevada Water Authority board this week.

More: http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showpost.php?p=76061&postcount=35 (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showpost.php?p=76061&postcount=35)

February 22nd, 2007, 01:03 AM
February 22, 2007

That ‘Drought’ in Southwest May Be Normal, Report Says


The Colorado River Basin is more prone to drought than had been thought, a panel of experts reported yesterday, and as the climate warms and the population in the region grows, pressure on water supplies will become greater.

The severe droughts the region suffered in the 1990s and early 2000s would not stand out in the record of the last few centuries, the panel said, and the future presents “a sobering prospect for elected officials and water managers.” The panel said residents of the region should prepare for more frequent and more severe dry spells, and “costly, controversial and unavoidable trade-offs” in water use.

The data discussed in the report have been published before in scholarly journals and elsewhere. But Ernest T. Smerdon, a former dean of the College of Engineering and Mines at the University of Arizona, who led the panel, said its members hoped with this publication to pull the findings into a single document that ordinary people could understand.

Severe droughts will recur, Dr. Smerdon said, “and we better be prepared. That is the message.” He spoke at a news conference yesterday in Las Vegas, where the report was made public.

The panel recommended an “action-oriented” study of water use patterns and demands, including drought planning, population projections and possible effects of transferring water to urban areas from agriculture, still the dominant consumer. Dialogue between policy makers and scientists who study water issues should be “a permanent fixture within the basin,” it said.

The panel, organized by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Science, noted that the water allocation agreement for the basin, the Colorado River Compact, was negotiated in 1922 based on river flow records dating to the 1890s, when gauging stations were established. The agreement assumed that the annual river flow was 16.4 million acre feet — enough to cover 16.4 million acres to a depth of one foot.

But for some time, the panel said, researchers have known that the early 20th century was unusually wet and that 15 million acre feet was a more accurate estimate of the flow. Recent studies based on tree rings put the figure lower still — as low as 13 million acre feet — and suggest that “drought episodes are a recurrent and integral feature of the region’s climate.”

Because trees grow more when it is wet, scientists use tree ring size as an indicator of water abundance. The report says the federal Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies requested the panel’s review in the wake of the new findings.

Global warming is already making things worse, the experts said. For one thing, warmer weather means less precipitation in the form of snow, which is stored in the region’s mountain snowpack. And the snowpack itself forms later and melts sooner each winter. As a result, the steady reliability of snowpack water storage is compromised. Also, warmer weather itself increases consumer, environmental and agricultural demands for water.

Rainfall patterns are difficult to predict, another panel member, Connie A. Woodhouse, a geographer at the University of Arizona, said at the news conference. But the report said it was probable that the region would experience less precipitation over all in a warmer world.

Cloud-seeding, water desalinization and improved underground water storage have yet to emerge as solutions, the report said, and even conservation, while helpful, “is no panacea,” Dr. Smerdon said.

The report, which is available at www.nationalacademies.org, notes that the basin, 240,000 square miles in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico, has seen rapid population growth in recent decades. Until about 30 years ago, the panel wrote, growing demands for water were met through building dams and reservoirs. But today, the report says, “prospects for constructing additional large dams in the Colorado River basin have diminished.”

Instead, “there is going to have to be some kind of reallocation of who gets the water,” said Richard Seager, a climate expert at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, who was not involved in the panel’s report.

Dr. Seager, who studies the drought history of North America, said that it was “silly” to put golf courses in the region’s desert areas and that hotels and other businesses were already installing water-conserving toilets and other fixtures.

But he added, referring to cattle and cotton raising, “Let’s think whether it makes sense to have all this subsidized agriculture in the region, people who aren’t even paying the full cost of the water they do use.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

February 22nd, 2007, 11:45 AM
The best book I've read about the impending global fresh water crisis is
Blue Gold. Very eye-opening:eek:

February 22nd, 2007, 09:59 PM
Several years ago -- and no, I don't have the exact year right at my fingertips -- Lake Powell was overrun with water, so much so that the amount of water that had to be released through the spillway tubes of the Glen Canyon dam caused serious damage to the outlets. There was no risk of overtopping the dam, but for a while there, some were worried what would happen to the Glen Canyon Dam if an unusually wet season happened in the Rockies.

As for Mother Nature, she will do whatever the heck she wants, and unpredictably so. We could easily have too much water in 2007. Or, we could have no water in 2007.

February 22nd, 2007, 10:50 PM
I went boating on Lake POwell in 2002 and at that time it was 8 feet below normal. It has dropped EVERY YEAR since.

Keep building in La Vegas and Phoenix. It makes perfect sense.

February 23rd, 2007, 10:09 AM
The population booms and economic growth of that region are in danger with this happening. Its a issue that has to be addressed by them if they want to kepp that region alive

February 23rd, 2007, 10:53 AM
They just need to make it so that things like watering lawns (and yes, they do this) is forbidden.

Odd that people move to the desert, but still insist on having things found in more temperate climates.

April 4th, 2007, 10:19 AM
April 4, 2007

No Longer Waiting for Rain, an Arid West Takes Action

Jim Wilson/The New York Times
More than 80 feet below its normal level, the receding waterline at Lake Mead in Nevada
has left a fishing pier suspended over the lake bed.

The Western drought that began in 1999 has resumed after a couple of wetter years that now
feel like a cruel tease. At the Hoover Dam, the water level has dropped more than 80 feet.

The effects of the drought are dramatically seen at Lake Mead, Nev., where the shoreline has
shrunk so considerably that it has forced a marina to relocate from newly dry land.

Federal officials have even restarted a mothballed desalination plant, long seen as a white elephant
from a bygone era, partly in hopes it can purify salty underground water for neighboring towns.

At the plant, Jim Cherry, left, and Jack Simes walked between two of the three giant solid
contact reactors which remove suspended solids from the water.

A section of Astro Turf in an otherwise desert landscape.

Some homeowners and country clubs are removing turf in an effort to reduce the amount of
water used to grow lawn

A landscaping crew worked after grass had been removed around the 5-hole and fairway at a
golf course near Las Vegas.

Dean Baker, a rancher whose family spread straddles the Nevada-Utah border, pointed out
springs that farmers themselves have dried up with their own wells. "We did this ourselves.
Now imagine what pumping for a whole big city is going to do."


A Western drought that began in 1999 has continued after the respite of a couple of wet years that now feel like a cruel tease. But this time people in the driest states are not just scanning the skies and hoping for rescue.

Some $2.5 billion in water projects are planned or under way in four states, the biggest expansion in the West’s quest for water in decades. Among them is a proposed 280-mile pipeline that would direct water to Las Vegas from northern Nevada. A proposed reservoir just north of the California-Mexico border would correct an inefficient water delivery system that allows excess water to pass to Mexico.

In Yuma, Ariz., federal officials have restarted an idled desalination plant, long seen as a white elephant from a bygone era, partly in the hope of purifying salty underground water for neighboring towns.

The scramble for water is driven by the realities of population growth, political pressure and the hard truth that the Colorado River, a 1,400-mile-long silver thread of snowmelt and a lifeline for more than 20 million people in seven states, is providing much less water than it had.

According to some long-term projections, the mountain snows that feed the Colorado River will melt faster and evaporate in greater amounts with rising global temperatures, providing stress to the waterway even without drought. This year, the spring runoff is expected to be about half its long-term average. In only one year of the last seven, 2005, has the runoff been above average.

Everywhere in the West, along the Colorado and other rivers, as officials search for water to fill current and future needs, tempers are flaring among competing water users, old rivalries are hardening and some states are waging legal fights.

In one of the most acrimonious disputes, Montana filed a suit in February at the United States Supreme Court accusing Wyoming of taking more than its fair share of water from the Tongue and Powder Rivers, north-flowing tributaries of the Yellowstone River that supply water for farms and wells in both states.

Preparing for worst-case outcomes, the seven states that draw water from the Colorado River — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico in the upper basin and California, Arizona and Nevada in the lower basin — and the United States Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the river, are considering plans that lay out what to do if the river cannot meet the demand for water, a prospect that some experts predict will occur in about five years.

“What you are hearing about global warming, explosive growth — combine with a real push to set aside extra water for environmental purpose — means you got a perfect situation for a major tug-of-war contest,” said Sid Wilson, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix area.

New scientific evidence suggests that periodic long, severe droughts have become the norm in the Colorado River basin, undermining calculations of how much water the river can be expected to provide and intensifying pressures to find new solutions or sources.

The effects of the drought can be seen at Lake Mead in Nevada, where a drop in the water level left docks hanging from newly formed cliffs, and a marina surrounded by dry land. Upriver at Lake Powell, which is at its lowest level since spring 1973, receding waters have exposed miles of mud in the side canyons leading to the Glen Canyon Dam.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has sounded alarm bells by pushing for a ballot measure in 2008 that would allocate $4.5 billion in bonds for new water storage in the state. The water content in the Sierra Nevada snowpack has reached the lowest level in about two decades, state hydrologists have reported, putting additional pressure on the nation’s most populous state to find and store more water.

“Scientists say that global warming will eliminate 25 percent of our snowpack by the half of this century,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said recently in Fresno, Calif., “which will mean less snow stored in the mountains, which will mean more flooding in the winter and less drinking water in the summer.”

In Montana, where about two-thirds of the Missouri River and half of the Columbia River have their headwaters, officials have embarked on a long-term project to validate old water-rights claims in an effort to legally shore up supplies the state now counts on.

Under the West’s water laws, claims are hierarchal. The oldest, first-filed claims, many dating to pioneer days, get water first, with newer claims at the bottom of the pecking order.

Still, some of the sharpest tensions stem more from population growth than cautionary climate science, especially those between Nevada and Utah, states with booming desert economies and clout to fight for what they say is theirs.

Las Vegas, the fastest-growing major city in the country, and the driest, developed the pipeline plan several years ago to bring groundwater from the rural, northern reaches of the state. The metropolitan area, which relies on the Colorado River for 90 percent of its water, is awaiting approval from Nevada’s chief engineer.

Ranchers and farmers in northern Nevada and Utah are opposed to the pipeline plan and have vowed to fight it in court, saying it smacks of the famous water grab by Los Angeles nearly a century ago that caused severe environmental damage in the Owens Valley in California.

“Southern Nevada thinks it can come up here and suck all these springs dry without any problems,” said Dean Baker, whose family’s ranch straddles the Nevada-Utah border, pointing out springs that farmers have run dry with their own wells. “We did this ourselves. Now imagine what pumping for a whole big city is going to do.”

Meanwhile, Utah has proposed a $500 million, 120-mile pipeline from Lake Powell to serve the fast-growing City of St. George and Washington County in the state’s southwestern corner. Nevada officials have said they will seek to block that plan if Utah stands in the way of theirs.

“Utah is being very disingenuous, and we’re calling them on it,” said Patricia Mulroy, the chief executive of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency responsible for finding water for Las Vegas and its suburbs. “St. George, Utah, is growing as fast as southern Nevada, because the growth is going right up the I-15 corridor.”

Dennis J. Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said Nevada was protesting too much and instead should be cheering the Lake Powell project because Colorado River water that Utah does not use would flow in Nevada’s direction. Mr. Strong said that Nevada’s protests “may be a bargaining chip.” He said he hoped for a compromise that would allow both projects to move forward.

In Yuma, near the Arizona border with Mexico, officials have pinned hopes on a desalination plant built 15 years ago. The plan then had been to treat salty runoff from farms before it made its way into Colorado River headed to Mexico, thus meeting the terms of an old water treaty.

But a series of unusually wet years made it more efficient to meet the treaty obligations with water from Lake Mead, so the plant sat idle. Drought has changed all that. Arizona water managers, who are first in line to have their water cut in a shortage under an agreement with other states, called for the plant to be turned on.

Under an agreement with environmentalists, the federal Bureau of Reclamation plans to monitor the environmental effects of using the plant, and study, among other things, using the purified water for purposes other than meeting its treaty obligations, like supplying the growing communities around Yuma.

“It never made sense to me to just dump bottled-water quality water into the river anyway,” said Jim Cherry, the bureau’s Yuma area manager.

What unites the Western states is a growing consensus among scientists that future climate change and warmer temperatures, if they continue, could hit harder here than elsewhere in the continental United States.

“The Western mountain states are by far more vulnerable to the kinds of change we’ve been talking about compared to the rest of the country, with the New England states coming in a relatively distant second,” said Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist at the United States Geological Survey who studies the relationships between water and climate.

Mr. Dettinger said higher temperatures had pushed the spring snowmelt and runoff to about 10 days earlier on average than in the past. Higher temperatures would mean more rain falling rather than snow, compounding issues of water storage and potentially affecting flooding.

In some places, the new tensions and pressures could even push water users toward compromise.

Colorado recently hired a mediator to try to settle a long-running dispute over how water from the Rocky Mountains should be shared among users in the Denver area and the western half of the state. Denver gets most of the water and has most of the state’s population. But water users in the mountains, notably the ski resort industry, also have clout and want to keep their share.

Robert W. Johnson, the Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said he shared the optimism that the disputes could be worked out, but he said he thought it might take a reconsideration of the West’s original conception of what water was for.

The great dams and reservoirs that were envisioned beginning in the 1800s were conceived with farmers in mind, and farmers still take about 90 percent of the Colorado River’s flow. More and more, Mr. Johnson said, the cities will need that water.

An agreement reached a few years ago between farmers and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the chief supplier of water to that region, is one model. Under the terms of the agreement, farmers would let their fields lie fallow and send water to urban areas in exchange for money to cover the crop losses.

“I definitely see that as the future,” Mr. Johnson said.

Randal C. Archibold reported from Yuma, Ariz., and Kirk Johnson from Denver.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

June 19th, 2007, 06:14 AM
June 19, 2007

Florida Is Slow to See the Need to Save Water


POMPANO BEACH, Fla., June 12 — Even as a drought and unprecedented water restrictions strip many Florida lawns of their lushness, Mark Harding has few takers for the artificial grass he sells from a showroom here. Inquiries are up, he said, but swapping turf for less thirsty alternatives remains hard for Floridians to get their heads around.

“People are just starting to look at it,” said Mr. Harding, a transplant from Buffalo who admits to having replaced only a piece of his own lawn with the fake stuff. “It’s right in its infancy stage.”

The same might be said for awareness that Florida’s water supply, seemingly endless given the abundance of springs, lakes, canals, aquifers and rainfall, is not.

Many regions have all but depleted their groundwater supply, yet they have barely begun planning new water sources or enforcing conservation measures. Meanwhile, residential water bills in Florida’s urban areas — averaging $32 a month in Miami, for example — have remained much lower than those in many other cities.

“We now face the scarcity, the spending and the spectacle that used to be unique to the arid West,” said Cynthia Barnett, the author of “Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S.” But Ms. Barnett and others who study Florida’s water use say that unlike out West, a sense of urgency has not taken hold here, nor have government agencies taken the politically thorny steps some scientists say are necessary.

The South Florida Water Management District, whose political appointees regulate water use in some of the thirstiest counties, is only now considering permanent, year-round watering restrictions. Many cities and homeowner associations still require grass lawns, blocking alternatives like sturdy ground cover, drought-resistant plants or Mr. Harding’s artificial turf.

On Marco Island, near Naples, city officials made a homeowner get rid of $15,000 worth of artificial grass in 2005 on the grounds that it was offensive and might pose environmental risks. (He protested by painting his house with polka dots.) In the Villages, a vast retirement community near Orlando, a resident tried replacing sod with plantings that required less water, only to be rebuffed by the developer.

(Worth noting: Kentucky bluegrass, the soft, archetypal grass of the Northeast and the Midwest, does not grow here. Instead, Florida’s trademark turf is St. Augustine grass, coarse, tough on bare feet and often laid on the ground in strips, not seeded.)

Changing the rules on lawns could be significant, since Florida households — especially those with automatic irrigation systems, which are increasingly common — use up to 75 percent of their water outdoors.

“The most important incentive we can establish is limiting lawn watering,” said Amy Vickers, an engineer and consultant who is helping Orange County rewrite its water conservation ordinance. “It’s reasonable and fair, and something I think we’ve got to learn to live with.”

In Southeast Florida, the restrictions in place since March — twice-a-week watering in some areas, once a week in others — have been erratically enforced. Wellington, a wealthy community in Palm Beach County known for its polo grounds, has issued more than 2,200 water violations. But Miami Beach has issued none.

To date, only the Tampa Bay region has faced a serious water crisis, after Pinellas County pumped too much groundwater from areas to its north in the 1980s. The region built a $158 million seawater desalination plant, but it has been fraught with problems and had to shut down for almost two years.

Other parts of the state are now under pressure to plan similar projects because in 2005, the Legislature required cities and counties to prove they will have enough water for any new development. The law has been a wakeup call for counties like Miami-Dade and Broward, which reuse only a tiny part of their wastewater and flush the rest into the ocean or injection wells deep underground.

In 2004, Miami-Dade asked to add 100 million gallons of water a day over the next two decades to the 346 million gallons a day it already uses. The county appeared shocked by the state’s response last year: that it could not keep tapping the Biscayne Aquifer, its cheap, longtime water source, and must create alternatives. The county is planning to spend $4.5 billion on projects like a high-tech wastewater disinfection plant over the coming decades.

As the prospect of costly water projects looms, so do water wars reminiscent of those that have raged for years in the West.

Orange County, home of Disney World, riled neighbors by requesting an additional 14 million gallons of groundwater a day, a 30 percent increase, over the next two decades. And residents of North Florida were outraged in 2003 when a group of developers urged the transfer of water from that region to the more crowded South Florida.

For now, the state has pledged $60 million a year to help subsidize water projects from the Panhandle to the Keys. Where the rest will come from remains unclear, as does the wisdom of some of the proposed projects. Ms. Vickers said more studies were needed on the safety of treated wastewater, the main alternative source counties are eyeing.

“What are the long-term impacts on health and the environment?” she asked. “I don’t think we know.”

Since rain will keep falling in Florida — even now, after some of the driest months on record, South Florida has started seeing deluges again — cities here may never press conservation to the extent that many of their Western counterparts do, offering homeowners cash for every square foot of turf they tear up and rebates for water-efficient toilets and appliances.

Yet some places are trying. After the 2001 drought, Ms. Barnett said, Sarasota County kept tough water-use rules in place and reduced its per-capita consumption to 90 gallons a day, compared with the state average of 174. Broward County now encourages homeowners to replace grass with native plants that need little water, sending out consultants who have helped remake 1,600 lawns. But it runs into trouble with homeowners’ associations that still require grass.

“Until these older communities change their bylaws,” said Diana Guidry, a Broward County official, “a lot of people will meet resistance.”

Marilyn Barber, whose yard was a carpet of grass when she moved to Broward County a decade ago, replaced all but 10 percent with plants that need watering only once a week. “Just like cars get smaller when gas gets high enough,” Mrs. Barber said, “if water becomes expensive or there isn’t enough of it, people will say, ‘Gee, I really can’t afford to have grass.’ ”

For now — at least in Southeast Florida — that seems unlikely. More than eight inches of rain have fallen so far this month in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, compared with about three inches throughout May.

[On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District announced it was likely to ease the water restrictions soon.]

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

June 19th, 2007, 10:26 AM
Why is it, no matter where people move in the country, they want to make their yard look like a NJ suburb?

June 19th, 2007, 01:27 PM
^^ because NJ suburbs are nice? :confused:

June 19th, 2007, 03:15 PM
^^ because NJ suburbs are nice? :confused:

Because they miss home.

You move to ARIZONA, you do NOT plant a lawn!

If you like the NJ suburbs, do not try to create them in areas that cannot support them! (ecologically).

If people could buy sunlight, you would probably see more palm trees up north. Everyone wants what they want where they want it.

As for even SUGGESTING people should use Astroturf, I can see why people would say "NO!". It is quite tacky. but opposition to going for plants and other low-water landscapes instead of sod lawns in areas that need constant watering to support them is just not right.

Lawns are a luxury item. If they grew fruit or something, then there would be an argument for them. But if the primary use for them is just to make your place look better...... It is not worth the resource. Like the lady said. They are a luxury:

“Just like cars get smaller when gas gets high enough,” Mrs. Barber said, “if water becomes expensive or there isn’t enough of it, people will say, ‘Gee, I really can’t afford to have grass.’ ”

June 19th, 2007, 05:59 PM
I know, it makes me nuts when I see people in Arizona planting lawns. Or golf courses in Nevada, for that matter. Millions left the Northeast for dryer/hotter climates in the past decades, and now it looks like we'll have the last laugh.
You might see a lot of those same folks moving back here in 10 or 15 years, when the wildfires are raging uncontrollably each summer and the aquifers start to dry up.

June 19th, 2007, 10:36 PM
Having been to Phoenix and driven through some of the suburbs, I can say lawns are not a predominant feature. Many, many houses simply put rocks (or some sort of gravel) out in front. With cacti, of course.

June 19th, 2007, 10:48 PM
Even more pronounced in Tucson.


June 19th, 2007, 10:48 PM
I really can't do cactus and rocks and dry sand. But that's why I don't live in Arizona.

June 20th, 2007, 01:35 AM
Well, pianoman, evidently you just didn't get to the right neighborhood. looks like
somebody is planting lawns down there.


You're right about the trend in more environmentally sensible garden alternatives, but there are still plenty of lawns and golf courses in the dry Southwest to frown at, until more people start wising up. I think it was fairly obvious I was talking more generally than just Arizona, merely using that as an illustrative example. Similarly I wasn't only talking about golf courses in Nevada. Alles klar ? I'll assume you were simply offering information on Phoenix, and not trying to be needlessly contrary.;)

June 20th, 2007, 10:11 AM
I know, it makes me nuts when I see people in Arizona planting lawns. Or golf courses in Nevada, for that matter. Millions left the Northeast for dryer/hotter climates in the past decades, and now it looks like we'll have the last laugh.
You might see a lot of those same folks moving back here in 10 or 15 years, when the wildfires are raging uncontrollably each summer and the aquifers start to dry up.

It always gets me when I see those fires. The majority of them are caused by human factors (campfires, housing, or even a cigarette butt) and you hear about all the homes that were lost.

1. Those homes were new and put in an area that was prone to that kind of thing. You build a house in a flood zone, expect floods.

2. They used standard suburban construction (tar shingles, wood frame). If more of these places were the classic tile roof and adobe construction, you would probably see a lot less damage in the end.

We have to start building more WITH nature rather than in spite of it. You build your place underground in Arizona, with windows being the only exposure, your power bill will drop dramatically, and you will probably get more in the end.

But that is not what people want when they move there. They want their grass-golf and white picket fences.

Mark this on your calendar MTG, 100% agreement! ;)

June 20th, 2007, 11:36 AM
^^Yes, I was only offering information about Phoenix, but I suspect it's not the only city in the Southwest where that sort of thing is common.

Did I say there were no lawns at all? No, just a general observation that there were many houses with rocks instead.

April 1st, 2008, 10:32 PM
Mother Nature does it again:

1. Massive volume of water recently released from Lake Mead to flood Grand Canyon. Restoration of sandbars, habitat, etc.

2. Bureau of Reclamation advises of whopping snowpack, and that Lake Powell is expected to rise to 50' above its current level.

February 10th, 2009, 09:20 PM
Roosevelt Lake, just northeast of Phoenix, is now at its highest water level ever. On thinking that this was not just a local phenomenon, I checked out the Lake Powell stats. Lake Powell's level is above prior levels and the snowpack in the Colorado Basin above the dam is at 105% of average norms for this time of the year. This stuff is monitored very closely by federal and state authorities, as the very lifeblood of the southwest is water.

September 11th, 2011, 11:06 PM
Too wacky? Moving water from flood to drought

By SETH BORENSTEIN - AP Science Writer | AP – Fri, Sep 9, 2011

Aug 28, 2011. Tropical Storm Irene floods Rt 100, Waitsfield, VT

Aug 7, 2011. Dry bed of Lake E V Spence, TX

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the soggy East tries to dry out from flooding and Texas prays for rain that doesn't come, you might ask: Isn't there some way to ship all that water from here to there?

It's an idea that has tempted some, but reality gets in the way.

A Texas oilman once envisioned long pipelines carrying water to drought-stricken Texas cities, just one of several untested fantasies of moving water vast distances. Parched Las Vegas still wants to indirectly siphon off excess water from the overflowing Mississippi River. French engineers have simulated hauling an iceberg to barren Africa. There are even mega-trash bags to move heavy loads of water.

There's certainly plenty of rainwater available. Tropical Storm Lee dumped enough on the already saturated Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Gulf Coast to bring 9.6 inches of rain across the entire state of Texas, according to calculations by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Associated Press.

"One man's flood control is another man's water supply," said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "Doesn't it make you want to think about a larger distribution that helps both? That's the crazy part of this. It's a win-win. There's no loser."

But moving vast quantities of water is not simple or cheap, and thus not realistic, experts say. Mostly, it's too costly and political.

However, these dreamed-up concepts show that a quiet water crisis is getting more desperate.

"We will go to any lengths to avoid confronting the reality of water shortages," said University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, author of the book "Unquenchable."

"What all those zany ideas suggest are the traditional beliefs that we can control nature and there must be some oasis out there where we can go to, to import water."

But those are mirages, he said — tempting, but not realistic.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, knows the temptation. He's about to fly from Washington, which has had 7 inches since Monday, to Houston, which got about that amount of rain for the entire spring and summer. All that D.C. rain would be enough water for every person in Houston for 10 days.

He jested that he would love to carry water in his suitcases. He said colleagues have been "joking that we'll send Texas our water. Will they send us their oil? But I don't think that's going to fly."

The trouble with water is "there's enough quantity but it is not always in the right places," said G. Tracy Mehan, who was chief water regulator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration during the George W. Bush Administration.

So how about moving it?

"The short answer ... is that it costs too much. It's not a technical problem," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Studies Institute and a MacArthur genius grant recipient for his work on water.

Las Vegas' grand proposal is to take water from the mighty Mississippi in a series of smaller pipeline-like exchanges among states just west of the Mississippi to refill the overused Colorado River. There are no official cost estimates, but it likely would be in the hundreds of billions dollars. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens abandoned his plans for a massive water pipeline stretching across Texas to just moving water around the Texas Panhandle.

Water weighs a lot — about 8.3 pounds per gallon — so moving massive amounts, often up mountains, costs a lot, Glennon said. Gleick notes that conservation and efficiency are cheaper.

Building a pipeline to pump water from flooded areas is foolish because each year it is somewhere different that gets drenched, so you can't build something permanent based on a couple of years' unusual rainy weather, NOAA's Halpert said.

For purely moving water, Gleick likes a smaller-scale concept: the trash bag. A California firm has designed Spragg Bags "with the world's strongest zippers" that haul millions of gallons of drinking water from one place to another over the ocean, said inventor Terry Spragg. It's been used in Greece.

When asked the cost to haul excess water by bag from the flooded Northeast to Texas, Spragg declined to say. "It just wouldn't be practical. It's just too distant... Forget about taking it from New Jersey or Pennsylvania, there are sources that are closer."

If you want to go high-tech for water, desalination — taking salt out of ocean water — and reusing wastewater for drinking water are cheaper and more realistic, said Gleick, author of the book "Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water."

In Big Spring, Texas, they are looking at reusing wastewater by treating it and then adding it to the fresh water supply. Orange County, Calif., has a state-of-the-art water recycling program. And on the International Space Station astronauts use a system that turns their urine into drinkable water. Tampa has a new $158 million water desalination plant that can produce as much as 25 million gallons of water a day from the sea.

While those who need more water say the challenge is just a matter of balancing out too much and too little, other experts say there is a bigger problem: 1 billion people on Earth don't have clean drinking water.

"Absolutely there's a water crisis, but it means different things in different places," Gleick said. "In Africa, it's people dying because they don't have safe drinking water. In Texas, it means people at risk and property being damaged because there's a natural drought. In some places, it might mean not enough water to make semiconductors and grow food.

"Nature always distributes water unevenly — that's just the way it goes," Gleick said.

In the 20th century in the United States, the answer to water shortages was to drill another well, tap another aquifer, build more dams, divert more rivers and build pipelines, Gleick said. But now "we're running into limits."

Politics is almost as big a barrier as price. Legal battles over water run rampant in U.S. history, especially out West. But now they have gone nationwide, along with shortages. North Carolina has sued South Carolina, Florida has sued Georgia and Alabama, and the Great Lakes states have banded together to fend off water diversions, Glennon said. The Great Lakes region has been in and out of court over water rights for about a century.

"People are concerned about water rights. Even in eastern water-rich states, you don't want to be giving it away," said Robert Holmes, who deals with the problem of too much water. He is the national flood hazard coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey.

University of Colorado natural hazards professor Kathleen Tierney put it more bluntly: "As we say in Colorado, whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press

September 12th, 2011, 12:57 PM
People are stupid.

They do not see what is happening around them and will only see it when it is too late.

teh thing about the floods is just that, you cannot just teleport water somewhere else, and even transporting it through pipes has its problems (look at our own system in NYC, and add things like algae and biocontaminants to the picture and you start counting dollars).

I have NO sympathy for Las Vegas though. You build a town in the middle of the desert and expect to have running water and fountains, well..... the places I feel for are the farmlands that have been hit, and the ones that are being dried out because people "upstream" from them keep taking more water.

September 12th, 2011, 02:07 PM
Vegas and Water: The Jig Is Up! Just like in So Cal, when you build in a low rainfall desert area then you'd better be smart! Unfortunately 60-80 years ago not many foresaw the huge influx of folks to the SW USA.

Farther east, Texas is worried about water, but those in charge down there are allowing huge uranium mining operations (http://www.uraniuminfo.org/) that could very possibly effect their major local water (http://www.uraniuminfo.org/water) source: the Gulf Coast Aquifer (http://academic.emporia.edu/schulmem/hydro/TERM PROJECTS/2010/Lefebvre/Lynn.htm).

And that's not the only problem down in South Texas (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022169410003379) ...

An analysis of the relationship between land use
and arsenic, vanadium, nitrate and boron contamination
in the Gulf Coast aquifer of Texas

And ...

Q: Where does our water come from (http://www.scfpud.org/faq.htm#w1), are we likely to run out someday?

Our current water supply is drawn from groundwater located in the "Upper Gulf Coast Aquifer (http://www.scfpud.org/i/map-tx-aquifers.jpg)" system. You may notice from the linked graphic that we share our water with large geographic areas within the State of Texas. In our area, we are all basically pulling from the same water source. Naturally, as our area grows more dense with population, more water is needed. The Gulf Coast Aquifer is comprised of four water producing formations. The deepest of the four is the Catahoula aquifer, next is the Jasper aquifer then the Evangeline aquifer and the shallowest is the Chicot aquifer. These aquifers are artesian, which means that the water rises above level where it is encountered in the well bore. Spring Creek Forest P.U.D. has two water wells that are both drilled into the Chicot and Evangeline aquifers. These aquifers were selected as our water source because they provided the highest quality of water of the four aquifers. Water in these aquifers is recharged naturally by rainfall which seeps its way down into the aquifer system. The distance from the surface to the water varies from place to place. The SCF wells are drilled to about 650 feet and have a static water level of 250 feet.


September 12th, 2011, 05:56 PM
Yeah, well they are stoopid down south there.

I mean URANIUM??!?!?!

Don't they know that Hydrofracking is the way to go?!??!

February 25th, 2014, 10:50 PM
American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga

A $25 billion plan, a small town, and a half-century of wrangling over the most important resource in the biggest state

Alexis Madrigal February 24, 2014

Hood, California, is a farming town of 200 souls, crammed up against a levee that protects it from the Sacramento River. The eastern approach from I-5 and the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove is bucolic. Cows graze. An abandoned railroad track sits atop a narrow embankment. Cross it, and the town comes into view: a fire station, five streets, a tiny park. The last three utility poles on Hood-Franklin Road before it dead-ends into town bear American flags.


I've come here because this little patch of land is the key location in Governor Jerry Brown's proposed $25 billion plan to fix California's troubled water transport system (http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/Home.aspx). Hood sits at the northern tip of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a network of manmade islands and channels constructed on the ruins of the largest estuary from Patagonia to Alaska. Since the 1950s, the Delta has served as the great hydraulic tie between northern and southern California: a network of rivers, tributaries, and canals deliver runoff from the Sierra Mountain Range's snowpack to massive pumps at the southern end of the Delta. From there, the water travels through aqueducts to the great farms of the San Joaquin Valley and to the massive coastal cities. The Delta, then, is not only a 700,000-acre place where people live and work, but some of the most important plumbing in the world. Without this crucial nexus point, the current level of agricultural production in the southern San Joaquin Valley could not be sustained, and many cities, including the three largest on the West Coast—Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose—would have to come up with radical new water-supply solutions.

Too much is being asked of the Delta. The levees that define the region's water channels are aging, and geologists and climate scientists worry that earthquakes or rising sea levels could rupture them. More immediately, the Delta ecosystem is collapsing. Native fish species are on the brink of extinction in part because of this massive water-transfer apparatus. The unnatural flows disrupt their natural habitat, and when they reach the pumps—which they often do, despite the state's efforts—they die. The Delta smelt population (http://www.kcra.com/news/battle-brewing-over-calfiornias-delta-smelt/24474942), for instance, has gone from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands in the last few decades.

Brown's father, Pat, oversaw the completion of this productive, destructive system, and Jerry Brown himself tried to fix it during his first round as governor 30 years ago. A statewide vote thwarted him then, but he's ready to try again. His proposal, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (http://baydeltaconservationplan.com), would bore two tunnels longer than the English-French Chunnel underneath the Delta, while simultaneously restoring thousands of acres of wetland.

The water intakes for the tunnels would flank Hood: two to the north, one to the south. Water that would have flowed down through the Delta, then sent south, will be diverted here instead. If the water goes underground at Hood, passing through new, high-tech fish screens, it will pick up fewer endangered creatures on the way to the south Delta pumps. State officials hope that means federal environmental agencies will stop interfering in their water delivery operations.


Long article. The rest is here (http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/02/american-aqueduct-the-great-california-water-saga/284009/).