Archive | Water

Salton Sea

California does little as Salton Sea smell and toxic dust apocalpse nears

If an inland salt water lake 35 miles long and 15 miles wide dried up, releasing toxic dust and reeking odors for 100-150 miles around into highly populated and wealthy areas, then that would be apocalyptic. That’s exactly what will happen if the Salton Sea in southern California dries up after 2017, if a new agreement isn’t reached with agriculture there. Farmers are being paid to fallow their land and let their water allotments from the Colorado River flow into the Salton Sea. That agreement expires the end on 2017.

After 2017, the [Salton Sea] “falls off a cliff environmentally.” Toxic dust storms will increase markedly, and so will the chances of a rotten egg smell routinely wafting over much of coastal Southern California.

Oh, I bet California beach cities will definitely start howling for action then, as their air fouls, tourists go elsewhere, and property values drop. However, by then it’ll be too late. The howling for actions needs to start now.

Lack of action will have a devastating impact on the public health and economy of the region, the board was told.

Six months later, the board had done nothing.

In addition to a new agreement, the Salton Sea needs massive help to prevent further deterioration. The problem is, doing so will cost billions.

“The amount of water flowing to the Salton Sea will soon decrease dramatically, with rapid and catastrophic consequences,” Cohen wrote. “Fish will die out. Birds will lose their food source. The lake will shrink and the exposed lake bed will emit large amounts of disease-causing dust unless action is taken quickly.”

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Colorado River

Water law based on common good not archaic water rights explored at Nevada Drought Forum

Colorado River
Southern Nevada uses 32 billion gallons less water than in 2000 despite having 500,000 more people. Nevada governor Sandoval says Nevada is the best in the nation at conservation. This is not an exaggeration. Israel is also a leader. Both did it out of necessity.

“We are the best in the nation and maybe the world in water conservation,” Sandoval said. On a trip to Israel, another arid region, Sandoval said he was amazed by the innovation used to manage water.

“It made me wonder, are we doing all we can?” he asked.

One way to improve water use and conservation is to focus on the common good, a topic that was explored the the recent Nevada Drought Forum.

Existing water law is anchored on the principles of beneficial use and a pecking order that gives owners of the oldest water rights first dibs at the trough.

Those two concepts are coming under increased scrutiny. Some people suggest the “use it or lose it” criteria for water rights is at odds with the goal of rewarding conservation. Others question whether giving senior water right holders access to water at the expense of others in times of drought does not necessarily benefit the public good.

Even though the drought is severe, southern Nevada has water it is not using.

The authority board last week approved leasing 150,000 acre-feet of water to drought-parched Southern California for $44 million, and a new resource report said the water purveyor has enough water to support 1 million new residents in coming years.

“That is a compliment to Southern Nevada Water Authority,” the governor said. “It is one of the most efficient water systems in the world. That is a good problem to have.”

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Vegas casino water fountain

Vegas has water for 1 million more residents, no worries for 20 years

Omigod, casinos on the Strip in Vegas have water fountains, and Vegas is in a desert so it must be a ginormous water pig, right? Wrong. Vegas is allocated a tiny 1.8% of water from the Colorado River and doesn’t use all of it. Southern Nevada done such a superlative job of conserving and reusing water it just sold 150,000 acre feet to parched southern California. It has enough water for one million more residents, and no worries for at least 20 years.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has been hugely proactive in identifying ways to save and reuse water. Huge catchment basins capture rain water, send it to treatment plants to be cleaned, then into Lake Mead to be used. This also applies to all indoor water in Vegas, including toilet water. SNWA has enough water stockpiled for seven years at current usage levels.

Even under the worst case envisioned by the document — a combination of the deepest cuts imaginable on the Colorado River coupled with an unexpectedly large population surge — the authority won’t need to start bring new resources on line for the next 20 years.

That scenario, which Entsminger called the ultimate stress test for the community’s water supply, envisions worsening drought conditions that force an almost 15 percent cut in the valley’s Colorado River allocation at the same time the population is growing at a rate 40 percent higher than the what UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research is projecting.

“We don’t believe this is realistically going to happen,” Entsminger said.

Phoenix and Tucson are equally proactive is cutting consumption and re-using water.

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3 month precipitation forecast

Promising Colorado River forecast. El Nino builds. But…

3 month precipitation forecast

El Nino continues to build. However there are two caveats for California. El Nino is projected to mostly hit southern California. However, crucial reservoirs and mountains where it snows are in the northern part of the state. Also, temperatures are predicted to be higher than normal, which will impact the amount of snow remaining. To get real relief from the drought, California needs substantial precipitation in the Sierras this coming winter. El Nino rains aren’t predicted to start until December or so. Fire hazard remains extremely high, especially in areas already devastated by fire.

Things look promising for the all-important Colorado River, which supplies water to seven states and Mexico. Lake Mead and Lake Powell water levels have already started rising again. Whew.

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Las Vegas sending Southern California extra water

Las Vegas is allocated a mere 1.8% of Colorado River water, yet is so successful at conservation and reuse it currently is using only 75% of that. So, it’s sending Southern California 150,000 acre feet of water. This isn’t a transfer, it’s more like a loan. At some point in the future, Vegas will ask for the water back, which means it can use more water in Lake Mead and Southern California will get less.

The water will help the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California make up for shortfalls in its supplies from Northern California, where drought has dramatically reduced the amount of water available for shipment through California’s State Water Project. Met is basically desperate, and Las Vegas has been so successful at water conservation that it is only using 75 percent of its Colorado River allocation these days.

Las Vegas has a huge system of flood basins, Rain water is trapped, cleaned up, then pumped into Lake Mead to be re-used. Ditto for all indoor water including that from bathrooms. Vegas has been toilet-to-tap for years.

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Big waves against pier

California prepares for El Niño deluge

Big waves against pier

Roofers and tree trimmers in California have more work than they can handle. Municipalities are clearing storm drains, shoring up creeks. and doing everything possible to prepare for the coming El Niño deluge. Because when it rains in California, man, it pours. Small creeks in highly populated areas near mountains can easily flood, deluging homes and streets. Homes slide down steep hillsides, especially those in areas that have recently burned. Most areas really aren’t all that well prepared.

After four years of drought, creeks and rivers flowing through the Bay Area are more trickle than torrent. But weather scientists are recording water temperatures in the Pacific nearing the highest they’ve ever seen, suggesting El Niño will open an atmospheric fire hose in the jet stream this winter. That’s caused a rising tide of anxiety that has left even the highest-and-driest Californians on edge.

In the heart of tech-savvy Silicon Valley, the preposterously low-tech burlap bag filled with sand remains the most sophisticated weapon to fight flooding. “Short of actually building a big engineered solution,” JPA Executive Director Len Materman said, “sandbags are the tried-and-true solution.”

We lived in California during two El Niños, which pretty much shut things down for a while. The coming El Niño is bigger than those two.

The latest government El Nino forecast, issued by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center on Thursday morning, said that computer models unanimously favor a strong El Niño, and that there is a 95% chance that El Niño will continue through the winter — essential if California is to benefit from increased rainfall as the state experiences its fourth year of punishing drought.

Here in Vegas, a system of huge concrete flood basins designed to capture waters from flash floods should prevent flooding. The water is then released, purified, and sent to Lake Mead to be used by residents.

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Company wants to ship water from Alaska to California


Alaska Bulk Water joins the parade of companies with hare-brained schemes to ship water to California, cost be damned. These have included building a pipeline from the Great Lakes, towing icebergs, and their idea to fill tankers with lake water and transport by sea to California. The cost would be extravagant and there is no infrastructure in California to handle it. Desalination, which is expensive, would still be cheaper than shipping water by tanker from the spelling and grammar-challenged Alaska Bulk Water, whose website looks like it was designed ten years ago and contains this gem “There are four principle ways to move bulk water from Sitka to it’s destination.”

California uses about 151,000 acre feet of water a day. A big tanker holds 307 acre feet. Do the math.

Ideas like this “are technologically feasible but economically unreasonable,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank in Oakland. He lumps Trapp’s idea in with others such as shipping water in pipes from the Great Lakes, large-scale “mining” of groundwater far underneath the Mojave Desert, or towing icebergs from the Arctic.

“There are no shortage of people with ideas about how to ship water around with no economic savvy,” he said.

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Las vegas water use and population

Las Vegas decouping. More people, less water used

Las vegas water use and population

Las Vegas recycles all indoor water, purifying it, then sending it back to Lake Mead to be used again. Although its population is now 2 million, Vegas uses less Colorado River water than it did 15 years ago when the population was less than 1.5 million. (Phoenix and Tucson are doing the same; more people, less per capita use.)  Southern Nevada is allowed just 1.8% of Colorado River water and isn’t using its full allotment now, even though it is the primary source of water.

Water journalist John Fleck comments:

I’ve shared this before, some of the data I’ve been accumulating during my book research, but it bears repeating – a really remarkable decoupling of water use from Las Vegas’s economic and population growth:

Roth makes a point that I’ve heard a lot in my conversations about the Las Vegas conservation success story – that the visceral experience of watching nearby Lake Mead drop has helped Las Vegas-area residents grasp their water risk:

A Coachella Valley newspaper looks at how Vegas saves water and is impressed.

Las Vegas can credit its water frugality to a combination of fines, rigorous enforcement, generous grass-removal incentives and aggressive education campaigns. Developers aren’t allowed to build homes with grass in the front yards, and golf courses pay huge penalties when they exceed their water budgets. Conservation ads have featured a man getting kicked in the groin for spraying too much water on his lawn.

When we moved to Vegas last year, the first thing we did was rip out the lawn, replacing it with small rocks and xeriscaping. We have a pool with a floating pool cover. Our water bill last month was a mere $32. Conservation is indeed possible, and Las Vegas encourages it. The pool cover came with a discount from the water agency and a new pool pump had a similar subsidy from the power company. (many forms of electricity generation require water, and variable speed pumps use less power.)

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Oct-DEc US precipitation outlook

Precipitation outlook improves for most western states, not California

Oct-DEc US precipitation outlook

The 3-month precipitation outlook shows above-average probability for much of the American West, including Colorado, source of crucial Colorado River water. Southern California will get more rain, however the rest of the state, where most of the water storage is, will get normal or less. This is a three-month outlook for Oct-Dec, and does not appear to factor in the building and powerful El Nino. Or maybe it does and assumes it will not hit central and northern California. Hmm.

Maven’s Notebook, a key source for California water news, has a plethora of state and national maps about water, including reservoir and general water conditions for California.

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Shower of the Future, changing filter

Shower recycles and heats water

Shower of the Future, changing filter

Shower of the Future, changing filter

An innovative new shower purifies and reuses water, reheating it in the process. Potential water and electricity savings potentially can be large, especially in big households. The technology is the same as used on spacecraft. Downside is it is expensive and requires a bathroom remodel if not installed as part of new home construction. Hopefully the price will drop, as this seems a good idea.

The Shower of the Future is based on the technology that is used on spacecraft, and works on a closed-loop water system. Because of this it only needs 1.3 gallons (5 liters) of water to function, which is about one tenth less than classic showers need. After the first use, the water is collected from the drain, filtered and purified, and fed back into the in-flow tank to be reused. Apart from the water savings, the shower is also capable of saving more than 80% in energy consumption

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