Las Vegas Wash

Las Vegas Wash. 85% of this water is already reclaimed

Las Vegas Wash

Las Vegas Wash

Las Vegas has complete toilet-to-tap water. Indoor water is reclaimed, cleaned up, then filtered through various wetlands. 150 millions gallons of water a day come through the Las Vegas Wash, next to the Clark County Wetlands Park, on its way to Lake Las Vegas and then Lake Mead, where it will be reused over and over. 85% of water coming down this wash has already been reclaimed at least once. Wetlands help clean the water further, as does Lake Las Vegas.

During a flash flood in 1999, 4.5 billion gallons came down the wash in 24 hours. That’s why the wash is so wide. It’s meant to handle massive, not-infrequent desert floods.

Casino rubble is used to line channel in Las Vegas Wash

Casino rubble is used to line channel in Las Vegas Wash

Rubble from torn-down casinos has been used to line the channel in Wetlands Park.

Clark County Wetlands Park pond

Clark County Wetlands Park pond

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Hoover Dam, March 2015.  Photo: John Fleck

Western states to California. Fix the Sacramento Delta now

Hoover Dam, March 2015.  Photo: John Fleck

Hoover Dam, March 2015. Photo: John Fleck

Pat Mulroy, former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, says California must fix Sacramento Delta water problems now, because the western states are in this together, what happens in the Delta affects Colorado River water usage, and vice versa. However, so far, the Colorado River community has been way more proactive, dare I say “awake”, than California has been.

The regional water situation is bad and getting worse. Yes, things are better in the Colorado River basin this year, but are much worse in California. Southern California uses 20% of Colorado water (mostly for agriculture, but also for Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.) At some point circumstances may force that to change. And at some point Californians will need to take conservation seriously. This will probably be very soon.

Last year was bad. The Sierras were hit, the Colorado was hit, and Lake Mead plummeted. Metropolitan had to draw significant amounts out of Lake Mead, despite the fact that the reservoir was already going to plummet. The Colorado River community understood.

This year, it’s going to be worse. Whatever storage was in Southern California has been exhausted or at least severely diminished and Lake Mead’s going down again. Yes, we have snow. Right now it sits at around 90% of normal in the Colorado River basin; but 90% is not 100% and normal is getting redefined every single day. So it is within our reach now to achieve that magic goal of breaking the shortage elevation in Lake Mead.

California to often thinks it exists in a little bubble and its comatose state legislature simply compounds the problems. I lived there for many years, as well as in Utah, and now Nevada. Other western state legislatures are capable of taking much faster action on pressing issues than California, which too often dithers over issues for years.

Many here in California still don’t see the connection. I’ve been up and down the Colorado River last year, speaking several times in Colorado, in New Mexico, in Arizona, and I have one message. In order to fix the larger problem facing the entire region, California has to resolve the Bay Delta issue. The two are interconnected. Everyone up and down the Colorado is watching what California’s doing in the Bay Delta, because what happens in the Delta matters in Denver.

It’s all one big system.

I have to reiterate the connections again for those of you who have not heard me say it, because it doesn’t seem to want to sink in. From Denver, down all the way up to San Francisco, it’s one huge interconnected plumbing system. It’s inseverable. And everyone’s actions matter.

But the Colorado River community is getting very nervous about what’s going on in California, and you are an integral part of the Colorado River community. Yet you don’t see it, unless you go boating at Lake Havasu or unless you come to Southern Nevada, or go to one of the other facilities on the Colorado River where you actually live in the area that is bordered by the Colorado River. You don’t see it.

But if you’re sitting in Southern California, you’re drinking that water. And it is distant and it is far, but it is a watershed that is just as much in stress as the Bay Delta is.

The message from the Colorado River community to the Bay Delta community is you’ve got to find a solution. You have got to find an answer

Among other immediate issues, California needs to strictly regulate groundwater pumping now. Not five years from now. Now.

Nevada has the strictest groundwater law in the United States. Groundwater and surface water are connected. The groundwater basins provide an opportunity. They are great storage reservoirs; we need to use them as such. Not everybody has the geology to be able to do it, and that’s where the strategic partnerships become invaluable. Just like we are paying Arizona to store their unused water in their groundwater basins for our future use.

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California drought having minimal impact on Big Ag, so far

The supposedly apocalyptic California drought is having little impact of agriculture in the Central Valley. However, this is probably because new acreage using groundwater is replacing low-value crops. Pumping large amounts of groundwater is not sustainable as a long-term strategy. However, the real damage caused so far by the California drought is environmental, like disappearing fish, not economic. Water blogger John Flecks suggests in his newsletter “is that farmers are adapting to drought with shifts in their operations that are softening the disruptions. The disruptions are still there, but may not be as apocalyptic as the hyperventilation would suggest.”

From Valley Economy.

While I have a long record of saying that drought impacts on the economy tend to be overblown, even I was surprised by the minimal drought impacts in the data released this morning.

There is virtually no difference in farm employment between 2014 and 2013 in the 3 counties that are thought to be most devastated by the drought.

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Echo Bay Marina in Lake Mead clobbered by drought

Echo Bay. Lake Mead.

The bathtub ring shows how far water levels have dropped

Ordinarily, Echo Bay in Lake Mead would be thriving on a pleasant March day with temperatures in the 80’s. But the drought has dropped water levels so much in Lake Mead that the road to the marina is closed because waters levels are too. The restaurant and hotel are shuttered.  There’s a bedraggled RV area but that’s about it. No stores, no activity, just a couple of boats on a day when in normal times, there would be many.

Echo Bay. Lake Mead. Bathtub ring.

Closeup of the bathtubring

Echo Bay road to marina

The road to the marina is closed. There are no boats in the marina.

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Mike Jenson / Merced Irrigation District

California drought. Don Pedro reservoir may run out of water

Mike Jenson / Merced Irrigation District

Mike Jenson / Merced Irrigation District

The Don Pedro reservoir, about 50 miles east of Modesto CA in the Central Valley, is at 8% capacity and if the water authority doesn’t find more water fast by drilling, 3,200 people could be without water by summer. Six new wells have produced no appreciable water. The area gets its water from the Merced River watershed. However the continuing California drought means little new water is coming this year.

Farmers are getting zero surface water deliveries this year. This means they either fallow their fields or use groundwater pumping. The community already has cut water use by a commendable 30%. That has now been raised to 50%. Residents are being given 5 gallon buckets. Fill the buckets up with water when getting shower water hot, turn off the water, then use the water in the bucket for the shower.

The water district may also be required to release water to aid downstream fish, a policy that is understandably a wee bit controversial in dire times like these.

“I think it’s horrible,” says Chuck Arndt. “It’s scary. Nature gave us this water. They’re not giving us any this year. What I think is criminal is all the water that has to be let out because of the fish.”

Few houseboats remain in the lake. Most have been temporarily placed in parking lots.

Also out on the lake are floating pumps that carry water to the Lake Don Pedro community.

“Our emergency floating pumps have another 50 feet below them,” says Kampa. “Once that gets exhausted, which right now we estimate to be sometime mid-summer, then it’s five miles to get to another location where the water exists.”

Almost certainly other towns in California are or will soon be facing severe water shortages. Big cities have more resources and have stockpiled water, but even they are facing mandatory rationing.

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California Sierra Nevada snowpack 19% of normal

Snow and rain in the Sierras during the winter rainy season are crucial for California water. This year though, March snow readings (PDF) were less than in January and February, the opposite of what normally happens. Barring unexpected deluges of rain, the California drought will continue through 2015, as the rainy season ends on April 1.

California reservoirs statewide now average 67% full, with a scattered few are full while others are at single digits of capacity. This means more wells will be drilled, with more aquifers put under stress. At some point, mandatory rationing may be necessary.

Statewide, 103 electronic sensors found today’s snow water equivalent to be 5 inches, 19 percent of the March 3 multi-decade average. When DWR conducted the season’s first two manual surveys on December 30 and January 29, the statewide water content was 50 percent and 25 percent respectively of the historical averages for those dates.

In normal years, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff as the snowpack melts to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.

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CalPERS sign, not watering lawns

Continuing drought in American West need not be a crisis

Australia faced a devastating drought a few years ago. Everyone learned to use less water and catastrophe was averted. Water journalist John Fleck says the American West can (and must) do the same, and doing so might not even be that painful.However, for this to happen, everyone must work together.

We recently bought a house in Vegas and are converting the yard from grass to xeriscaping. This is just a simple example. Not only will the yard look nicer, it will need less maintenance and will use much less water, which saves us money. Vegas already has toilet-to-tap water recycling. Other cities need to do this too. Everyone should have water meters and pricing should be tiered – the more you use, the more expensive it becomes. There are any number of ways water can be conserved and recycled.

A continuing drought will only be a disaster if residents don’t adapt and change.

If we set to squabbling rather than figuring out how to share, we also could crash-land the system in ways that I think are unacceptable – letting Lake Mead drop below Las Vegas’s water system intakes is the system’s most dramatic near term risk scenario, but one also can easily see a not too distant future in which Phoenix and Tucson see their Colorado River water slashed while California loses not a drop. I also don’t think that’s desirable or acceptable, but that’s a realistic scenario if we don’t get the rules fixed soon. In any of those scenarios, the system would no longer retain its basic function and structure.

It would be a failure of resilience, it would not be “equilibrium”, and it would make me sad.

The agricultural Imperial Valley of California gets 20% of all water from the Colorado River. At some point, that will need to change. There’s no way Arizona cities will have mandatory rationing while the Imperial Valley continues to get its full 20%. That simply will not be politically doable. This change will happen, it’s just a question if happens (relatively) peacefully and not when things have already reached crisis.

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Central Valley, State Project canala

California Central Valley water allocations for 2015 are dire

Central Valley, State Project canala

Bureau of Reclamation allocations for their Central Valley Project is a devastating 0% for farmers and 25% for municipal and industrial contractors. For the second year in a row, valley agriculture will receive no water at all, an unprecedented situation. This will inevitably lead to more wells being drilled, further depleting already stressed aquifers. Once aquifers are depleted beyond a certain point, they lose the ability to hold water. If that happens in the Central Valley, it would be catastrophic, not only for the area but for consumers across the country since food prices would rise sharply.

Hundreds of shallow wells in the area have already gone dry. California, alone among all western states, still does not regulate groundwater pumping. (It did pass a mostly toothless law last year about this that will take years to implement. If the drought continues, it doesn’t have years because the damage will already have been done)

The CVP was created in 1933 to transport water from the Sierras to the arid, agricultural heartland of San Joaquin Valley. It works sometimes in conjunction with the California State Water Project to send water hundreds of miles southward through the valley to southern California. The two are water lifelines for the much of California.

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Generating power from flow of water in existing water lines


Lucid Energy installs turbines inside major water mains. The flow of water turns the turbines, creating electricity. Unlike other forms of renewable energy, this is not dependent on the weather, only on downhill water flow, making it excellent for heavy industry, server farms, and more. The video highlights the deep relationship between water and power. It takes electricity to move water and it takes often takes large amounts of water to create energy. Using these turbines on major water pipelines would get the amount of outside energy needed to move the water. Big power plants and industrial areas that use large amounts of water can also use it to cut their power bill. The water pressure is there inside the pipes. Lucid Energy turns it into electricity.

Driven by the demand for reliable, cost-effective electricity, water- and energy-intensive industries, municipalities and agricultural irrigation districts worldwide can deploy our in-pipe hydropower system to generate millions of megawatt hours of renewable electricity from the water already flowing through their pipelines – without interrupting flow.

LucidPipe systems can be deployed 3-4 turbine diameters apart, so up to four LucidPipe units can be installed in a standard 40-foot section of pipe. One mile of 42” diameter pipeline could produce as much as 3 megawatts or more of electricity

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Drought watch. Lower Colorado states ok for now, Upper Colorado, not so much

The Colorado River supplies crucial amounts of water to seven states. The water comes primarily from precipitation in the Rockies. However, lower Colorado states (AZ, CA, NV) are in much better shape than upper Colorado states (CO, NM, UT, WY) because they have so much water banked in Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and elsewhere. So, paradoxically perhaps, Colorado farmers may get slammed this year because not enough water will flow down from mountains into their fields while Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles may not have cutbacks, at least for a while.

Let’s start with Las Vegas and the other water users of the Lower Colorado River Basin. In addition to Vegas, this includes Phoenix, Tucson, and Los Angeles/San Diego. More importantly (in terms of the volume of water used), it includes the Imperial Irrigation District and a lot of other farmers in the LoCo desert basins. For them, at least for this year, the dwindling snowpack means nothing. With two big upstream reservoirs as buffers, the water allocation rules call for full deliveries this year for all the Lower Basin water users. In the longer term, however, a shortfall upstream moves us closer to the point where Lake Mead drops so low that we could see a shortage declaration in the next few years. At that point, supplies available to Arizona and Nevada are reduced first. (What happens at that point is crazy complicated.)

The Imperial Irrigation District in California, due to water rights dating back to the 1890s, gets 20% of all water from the Colorado. Should a shortage declaration be called, it would be politically impossible for cities in Nevada and Arizona to have forced, mandatory rationing while the IID agriculture continued to get its full share. Some sort of deal would have to be brokered quickly else real live water wars would become a distinct possibility.

The Upper Basin is different. While Lower Basin folks are all in a lather about the possibility of shortages at some point in the future, in the Upper Basin, where you’re getting your water directly from the mountain snowpack, shortage is imposed by nature and happens all the time.

There, you have smaller irrigation districts near the headwaters, farmers pulling directly from depleted streams. You can see what happened to them during comparable bad times during the drought of the early ’00s. In wet years over the last decade, farmers in the state of Colorado used 1.5 million to 1.6 million acre feet. In drought years, they used 1.2maf or less. This is not operating rules imposing shortages because there is not enough water in a reservoir. This is hydrology – if there isn’t water flowing down the river, the field goes dry.

Crazy isn’t it? Not enough water upstream, yet still enough downstream.

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Bob Morris


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