Whither Lake Mead?

Sinking waters in the Colorado basin

I subscribe to Dr. Tim O’Shea’s newsletter, the most recent of which I link to here. In it he talks about Lake Mead, the reason we have a large city in Nevada named Las Vegas. (There is also a Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we have spent more time. The series Longmire was shot in large part there. What we did there stays there, and anyway can easily be forgotten.)

There is considerable concern that Lake Mead is being drained and that in the near future it will be a “Dead Pool,” that is, it will no longer be able to run the turbines that send electricity to Las Vegas and California.

I do not place much faith in Dr. O’Shea, as I imagine in real life he is very busy with his practice and doesn’t have much time to go really in depth on things. His work on Covid, while useful, is not deep enough, that is, he believes in viruses. He has a habit of talking down to his readers, too. That is also the case with his thoughts on Mead, but it did cause me to look into the matter for myself, reading a long, long piece about the area put out by, I think, the National Park Service, but maybe the Bureau of Reclamation or BLM. I don’t know. I’ve lost the piece, and you are on your own anyway. I did learn that Lake Mead collects 97% of its water from the Colorado, and damned little from any other source, because it sits in the midst of a drought-prone region that normally has very little moisture.

The overarching point this this: Mead cannot last much longer because they take more out of it than the Colorado River puts into it. When it does become a dead pool, Ed Abbey will rise from his rocky grave (location unknown) and begin writing again. He’ll be gratified. Also, when it dead pools, Las Vegas will lose an important source of water and power, and may have to shut down a fountain and golf course or two. That’s OK by me. Here’s O’Shea on the aftermath of dead pooling:

The lake will finally be able to retain everything from seasonal snow-melts from the Rockies and the Sierras [he is unaware of the 97% factor]. At that point it would begin to refill. …It is extremely unlikely that state or federal “Water Management” is going to solve this Colorado River crisis in any realistic future. Making decisions based solely on political expedience, continued procrastination, and ignoring the realities of Mother Nature is all but guaranteed to fail. This Robbing Peter To Pay Paul scheme isn’t going to last must longer either. Nor is asking people to please not water their lawn or wash their cars. This is a crisis of scale, involving the powerful forces of nature. Bureaucrats are incapable of thinking at that level.

I do not imagine that Mead will go bone dry. Here’s something I know that O’Shea does not: It is cyclical. The American Southwest is drought-prone. Because of this, we have two very important public projects called Hoover and Glen Canyon, producing Lake Mead and Lake Powell. In 1983 they were flush, and now are stressed. This is, again, because they exist in a drought-prone area. That is why they were built!

O’Shea claims that snowfall in the Colorado Rockies has been normal since 2016, so that supply is not the reason for the dead pool future (for both Mead and Powell). People like to live in warm areas, and the American Southwest is that. Las Vegas has grown by 750,000 people in just the last four years. That will have to stop. Resources are overused.

I went looking for statistics on snowfall in the Colorado Rockies, and like O’Shea came up with more questions than answers. He finally chose to rely on statistics for the city of Denver, which might be useful, though not valid. Denver usually gets about seven inches of precipitation annually, and when in the form of snow, it melts right away. That pales in comparison the Colorado Rockies, and so I think his use of that as his barometer is flawed. So I looked for overarching information, and came up dry, so to speak. It must be out there somewhere, but I did not find state-wide numbers. So, I went looking for statistics on ski areas, where they do keep close track of snowfall. Here is the six-year record for Loveland, in inches of snow: 348, 358, 302, 238, 245, 218. Here is Winter Park: 300, 401, 302, 328, 216, 267. Breckenridge: 321, 279, 271, 387, 311, and ???.

What does that mean? Certain isolated areas have indeed suffered a decline in snowfall during the winters ending in 2020 and 2021. Others have not. That is unscientific as hell, by the way. But maybe, just maybe, inflow into Lakes Powell and Mead did indeed decline in 2020 and 2021.

I have learned not to rely on things like the map below:

I treat such matters as this map with a truckload of salt grains. For one thing, the colors chosen to exhibit the problem are fiery red, almost like an inferno. Below is another map, this from 2020, making the same case:

It conveys the same information with just a little less of the high drama and fear.

There is an area of the southwestern United States known as the Sonoran Desert. The inset to the left shows its range. It extends all the way from Phoenix and Tuscon to Palm Springs, and down to the Baja peninsula.

It is a gorgeous place, that is, it is rich with life and vegetation. We have hiked there, and (involuntarily) spent a night in March in the Superstition Wilderness near Phoenix. (I will have to get Klausler to write about that experience, as he could make it interesting.) Anyway, there is overlap between areas suffering from “extreme” drought and the Sonoran, notably the city of Phoenix.

More to the point, however, the entire American Southwest and the state of California are drought-prone. Arizona has typically, over the last 100 years, received on average 2-3 inches of precipitation. Nevada gets even less. As a consequence they build dams and reservoirs. That’s the only reason people can live there. (This fact has Ed Abbey rolling in his grave to the extent that they finally put his body on a spit.)

Back to Lake Mead. It is indeed draining, and has only about 90 feet left before it reaches Dead Pool. Of course, the masters of the Lies of Our Times, such as Wikipedia and the warming fanatics, are claiming it is due Climate Change and extreme, unprecedented drought. Not true. It is due to overuse, and a business-as-usual water supply, sometimes flush, sometimes not.

My bottom line here: Should we be worried? Me? No. I do not care. If I live in Las Vegas, and if I do not have the resources to just up and move, yeah, I am very worried. I will have to limit toilet flushes to once daily. In the meantime, if Mead closes shop, we return to a situation we had before it existed, water accumulating in that basin, and a future time when the turbines will come back to life and the boaters will return. Las Vegas will shrivel and dry up. It is cyclical, and sometimes the cycles last longer than we like.

Forty million people rely on the Colorado River for sustenance. That was probably a mistake.

15 thoughts on “Whither Lake Mead?

  1. Industry wastes so much water – agriculture does as well.
    Still drought exists, water evaporates here, clouds blow away, and water rains down over there.
    But also one should not forget – corporations will steal the people blind, who can say for sure where the water is going.

    Control the water – control the people

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    1. I work on the east coast so I may not have a dog in this fight – but we all need to be concerned. Clean fresh water is a necessity for us to survive.
      I don’t work in agriculture (growing plant or animal), but I do working in the manufacturing (chemical) industry.

      Water, water so much water – wasted

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  2. At 1,847 gallons per pound of beef produced, maybe there’s room for improvement in the agricultural sector. https://www.denverwater.org/tap/whats-beef-water

    Livestock grazing is a driver of drought. Cattle numbers in Colorado is regularly reported at well over 2 million head.

    I’ve seen the number 80% thrown around for years describing how much of the Colorado River is used by ag. It’s a higher percentage according to the Guardian article below. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/02/agriculture-cattle-us-water-shortages-colorado-river

    Damn dams, anyway.

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  3. The homestake water project, since 1967, has taken water from the west side of the continental divide and diverted it to the east side of the mountains. I live in an area that has developed beyond the local water resources, dependent for some percentage of city water on this project’s water. I have been concerned that in an extended and widespread electrical crisis the electric pumps required to continually relocate this water might increase local water costs or even fail to deliver to the more recently developed parts of town.

    Needless to say, this water is not going to flow west.

    https://coyotegulch.blog/category/colorado-water/transmountaintransbasin-diversions/homestake-water-project/

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    1. To make this clearer, the homestake water project diverts water from the Colorado River basin to deliver it to Aurora and Colorado Springs which are both in the Mississippi River basin. There are a few large pump stations needed to get this water over some big hills, such as Wilkerson Pass, even if the continental divide itself is crossed via a tunnel.

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      1. I am not going to be very clear on this, reflecting my own lack of understanding, but years ago when I visited Estes Park, long before moving here, I was shown a kind of wooden catch basin, built on a mountain side. It took runoff from the hills and diverted it elsewhere. I was told that these were the Colorado River headwaters, and before touching ground they were already sent elsewhere. Do not know of there is any truth to that, but do know the demands on the river are extreme. We canoed the Green, a lazy meandering stream, and where it and the Colorado came together, I suddenly felt great power beneath the little boat. The joined rivers were deep and could easily drown us. I was glad to get off … a man on the shore frantically waved at us and we pulled off. He said we were headed for wild waters ahead … some famous rapids ahead. [Cataract Canyon, my wife tells me. This was 2006, and we were surely aware. I cannot imagine we did not know. But memories are unreliable. I do not think I knew what lay ahead for our little canoes.]

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      1. Happy I can contribute.

        Seems there are more claims on water rights to the Colorado River water than there is actual water. Similar in a way to how there are more paper gold and silver futures than actual metal. Someone apparently already owns rights to the rain falling on my roof. I am only allowed two 55 gallon barrels to save a tiny portion of it.

        People downstream have little recourse if the water is already taken or polluted.

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  4. ps. And please don’t eat the made-in-laboratory, bacteria-burger grown in vats with “mouth feel” and synthetic flavors, colors, and other non-food ingredients added.
    Of course the Guardian can’t resist pitching the tech/global-warming bullshit: “Plant-based meat alternatives can play a role, as one analysis found that a meatless Beyond Burger generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and has practically no impact on water scarcity.”

    It’s like eating a vaccine. Nobody knows exactly what’s in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear friend,

    From what my experience and lying eyes tell me, Water begins her cycle in the mineral rich oceans, naturally seeping and settling below deep into the hidden arteries of the earth, finally depositing the minerals in the mountains as it is filtered back into clean spring water on its way back to the oceans. Clouds are more electrical phenomenon than water vapor. Myth upon incestuous myth. Much like how our bodies work.

    The hills and mountains breath.

    Also related, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear…

    2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar poured onto 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate aka baking soda in 8 ounces of water, 2x day, morning and evening, will do your body wonders. Good for what ails ya.

    Reduces uric acid causing “arthtitic” symptoms, reducing acidity and balancing pH towards an alkaline state, leading to a whole litany of good things. Thank me later. About 2 weeks and tell me you still have the same aches and pains.

    You were Wise to cancel France. The mojo is bad now, nevermind the heat.

    Love, peace, and hair grease.
    DTF

    Like

  6. My friend,

    From what my experience and lying eyes tell me, Water begins her cycle in the mineral rich oceans, naturally seeping and settling below deep into the hidden arteries of the earth, finally depositing the minerals in the mountains as it is filtered back into clean spring water on its way back to the oceans. Clouds are more electrical phenomenon than water vapor. Myth upon incestuous myth. Much like how our bodies work.

    The hills and mountains breath.

    Also related, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear…

    2 Tablespoons of apple cider vinegar poured onto 1/2 teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate aka baking soda in 8 ounces of water, 2x day, morning and evening, will do your body wonders. Good for what ails ya.

    Reduces uric acid causing “arthtitic” symptoms, reducing acidity and balancing pH towards an alkaline state, leading to a whole litany of good things. Thank me later. About 2 weeks and tell me you still have the same aches and pains.

    You were Wise to cancel France. The mojo is bad now, nevermind the heat.

    Love, peace, and hair grease.
    DTF

    Like

  7. Re: overuse of the Colorado, check out the alfalfa fields around Yuma, near the end of the river. Alfalfa used for feed, to Steve’s point.

    OK, only one month, and measured at, of course, the airport, but this year, per Weather Underground, Yuma, one of the hottest and driest of American cities (97k pop) had temps above 100F (37.8C) starting in early May, with zero precipitation and humidity ranging from an average of 12.3% to one day when it was 43%. Avg temp was 80.5F (26.9C) for the month. June’s avg temp was 91.8F (33.22!!!C), again with zero precipitation, July 95.3F (35.2C) and zero rain, the max temp was 113F (45C). I have been through there when the temp was 120F (48.9C). August has had some rain, a sum to date of 0.46 in (11.7 mm) Imagine the evaporation rate of that irrigated water. 35,000 acres of the stuff grows there. Is that the best place to grow alfalfa, a high-water usage crop, if you have limited water? Pretty tough to raise beef cattle there, though there are some local dairies. Seems other states, including Montana and Idaho, are better positioned to grow the stuff.

    Like

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