Archive | Water

Las Vegas attempted grab of Great Basin water


The Great Basin (about 1/15 of the total land mass of the US, mostly in Nevada) has plentiful amounts of water just waiting in its aquifers for thirsty minions in Southern Nevada to slurp down, via hundreds of miles of proposed pipelines into Lake Mead. The geography of the Great Basin is unique. Water flows down from 351 mountain ranges and never flows out. Instead, it just sits there, eventually seeping in to aquifers. There are vast open and empty valleys, few people, and Southern Nevada thinks, dang it, they should certainly be allowed to share in that water. But tragically, ranchers, American Indians and residents of the Great Basin disagree, saying pumping out huge amounts of water will damage their land, vegetation, wild life, crops, and lifestyle, so like David, they’ve fought Goliath, and at least for now appear to be winning.

Hey, I live in Vegas and agree with the Great Basin. It’s their water. The photo was taken Saturday in the tiny town of Baker, at the entrance to Great Basin National Park. It should be mentioned that Vegas is a world leader in reclaiming and reusing water. However, like the Metropolitan Water District in southern California, it always wants access to more.

Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) plans to convey millions of gallons of groundwater from central and eastern Nevada to Las Vegas have generated a deluge of legal challenges at the state and federal level. At the state level, the Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled on appeals of Judge Estes’ district court decision sought by SNWA and the State Water Engineer; the appeals were pursued to overturn Estes’s decision issued on December 10, 2013. As it now stands, SNWA and the State Engineer must comply with the Judge Estes’s order and the requirement to demonstrate that SNWA’s proposed groundwater mining and export operation will be sustainable and will not cause impermissible impacts on the environment and existing water rights holders, such as ranchers, farmers and local business.

Great Basin Water Network

Southern Nevada Water Authority

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Desalination is not a cure-all for water woes

Carlsbad CA desalination plant

Carlsbad CA desalination plant

Some countries, like Israel and Saudi Arabia, rely heavily on desalination for water. However, for California, it isn’t a panacea. It’s expensive, uses copious amounts of electricity (and many forms of creating electricity require using large amounts of water, hmm) and while it might be good for coastal cities, there’s is no existing way to get the water from the desal plant on the ocean to inland communities where it is needed. Plus, of course, NIMBYs howl and squeal whenever a desal plant is proposed. Getting past the lawsuits and permitting process took the new San Diego desal plant fifteen years.

But as with so many things involving water, desalination is not that simple. Converting seawater into drinking water is very expensive, it consumes a lot of electricity and it comes with a host of potentially unsavory environmental impacts.

First of all, it’s very expensive. Second, it takes a lot of energy, and it’s hard to find places where you can site desal facilities that are acceptable to the local community and people who are concerned about marine resources.

The other point is that a lot of the places that really need desal don’t have access to the State Water Project. Because of where it’s going to happen – places like Monterey and Carmel or Moss Landing – it’s not going to reduce demand on the State Water Project or Central Valley Project appreciably, if at all.

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Colorado River voluntary cuts by California, Nevada, Arizona

Lake Mead bathtub ring

Lake Mead bathtub ring

Water officials in three states have negotiated voluntary water reductions in water use from the Colorado River. The deal, which still needs to be ratified by the states and various water agencies, is aimed at slowing any decline in water levels at Lake Mead. It is the first time California, whose Imperial Valley receives 18% of all water from the Colorado, has agreed to cuts. I believe this voluntary agreement was spurred by the federal government, which said make an agreement or we will make it for you.

Lake Mead is now at 1075 feet. Nevada gets a tiny 1.8% share of Colorado River water and because it recycles all indoor water, can handle the cuts with no problem. Recycled water is sent back to Lake Mead and does not count against its allotment. California water cuts start if Lake Mead drops to 1045. Oh, some squeaked because Steve Wynn says he will convert his golf course, which is just off the Strip, to a 28 acre lagoon. Doing so will actually save substantial amounts of water, plus he owns the water rights.

Nevada’s share of the proposed cuts is comparatively small, but so is the state’s annual river allocation of 300,000 acre-feet, Entsminger said.

Nevada would leave 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead each year under the first round of voluntary cuts, while Arizona would lose 192,000 of its 2.8 million acre-foot allocation. One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average Las Vegas Valley homes for just over a year.

The annual reductions would increase to 10,000 acre-feet for Nevada and 240,000 acre-feet for Arizona should the surface of Lake Mead drop another 32 feet from current level, to 1,045 feet above sea level.

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Feds to investigate California misuse of Delta Tunnel money

The Interior Inspector General says they will investigate claims California misused millions in federal grant money meant to preserve fish and wildlife and instead used the money to benefit Big Ag. This is all part of the Twin Tunnels plan to siphon water from the Sacramento Delta in order to save the Delta, which coincidentally will send copious amounts of water to Central Valley agriculture and ever-thirsty southern California. Inquiring minds want to know how draining water from the Delta will help preserve it. Perhaps this is akin to that US general in Vietnam who said it was necessary to destroy the village to save it.

Representing a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employee, PEER filed a complaint detailing how a funding agreement with the California Water Resources Department is illegally siphoning off funds that are supposed to benefit fish and wildlife to a project that will principally benefit irrigators.

The allegations include not spending any of the money of habitat improvements, double billing, and spending the money before providing matching funds.

Inspectors General are not to be trifled with. They are independent units within a federal department with serious investigative power.

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El Nino was a non-event in Southern California. Expect water wars

discussing water rights

Northern California got a considerable amount of rain this winter, and some reservoirs are full. However, southern California got little so that means Socal wants a (big) share of that northern water. Not surprisingly Norcal resists this. We can expect a festive number of water wars this Spring and Summer, because the drought is nowhere near being over, as well as casting of runes to decide who gets water and how much they get. Remember, much of the water for the Central Valley and southern California is via aqueducts from the north. And they really don’t like any water being used to help those stupid Delta smelt and salmon. Really, they don’t. Screw the fish and send us the water is their cry!

Sharing doesn’t come naturally in the contentious world of California water, and the mandatory water cuts that have hit communities such as Sacramento particularly hard have sharpened the traditional geographical schisms. The north-south tensions have put state water officials on the spot, as they wrestle with the consequences of a glass-half-empty winter that did little to alleviate drought conditions south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

As for the casting of runes to decide supply, this means farmers may or may not be able to plant, based on where they are.

Agricultural areas south of the Delta that rely on the Central Valley Project for supplies will face another meager year – the US Bureau of Reclamation announced on April 1st that while CVP contractors north of the Delta will receive 100% of their allocations, agricultural water service contractors south of the Delta will receive just 5% of their allocation. CVP contractors that rely on the New Melones Reservoir (which currently sits at 26% of total capacity) will again receive no CVP water in 2016.

The critical questions in my mind going forward are: Can we save the wild Delta smelt population with the current paltry numbers researchers are finding? If they can be saved, how much water does the species need to survive? How much water (if any) can be diverted safely south? And most importantly, what is the balancing point between the water needs of endangered species and humans? If these questions are not answered, I am afraid that we will add one more line to this already very long song.

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