California has stored water in Lake Mead, now plans to withdraw it

Lake Mead bathtub ring
Lake Mead bathtub ring

The California drought may lead to California withdrawing water it has saved in Lake Mead, which is already low. However, California isn’t stealing the water, Rather, this is water it parked there.

“The people making an issue of this only see the negative, because water is being taken out,” he said. “But if Met [The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California] hadn’t banked it in the first place, that water wouldn’t be there.”

Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico have also banked water in Lake Mead. Nevada made some bad choices many years ago over Lake Mead when not many lived there and Vegas was not yet a gambling mecca. It only gets about 7% of the water from Lake Mead, yet this accounts for most of Las Vegas’ water.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to pump billions of gallons of groundwater from hundreds of miles away. Environmentalists have sued to stop them. The project would cost most than $15 billion and it’s not clear where the money would come from.

A giant tunnel is being drilled now to create an intake pipeline from the bottom of Lake Mead to Vegas. This is a precaution in case water levels drop below two higher intakes. It is an expensive, dangerous, challenging task that has already had delays.

Lake Powell water cuts could trigger “unprecedented water crisis”

Lake Powell. 1999.
Lake Powell. 1999.
Lake Powell. 2013
Lake Powell. 2013

The US Bureau of Reclamation will cut water releases from Lake Powell by 750,000 acre feet due to the worst 14 year drought in 100 years. Two huge reservoirs, Lake Powell on the Arizona / Utah border and Lake Mead near Las Vegas store water from the Colorado River and are the primary source of water for 36 million people in seven states, including 22 native American tribes, 4 million acres of farmland, and national parks.

The move could trigger an “unprecedented water crisis within the next few years,” the business coalition group Protect the Flows told USA Today, as reductions could have major ramifications for farmers and businesses downstream that depend on those flows, as well as on hydroelectric power generation.

Lake Mead will continue having lower water levels, due to the drought and less water from Lake Powell. It is getting close to the threshold for a formal water shortage to be declared. Their water authority is building a third intake in case water levels drop below the first intake.

“It’s essentially a race for us,” Scott Huntley of the Southern Nevada Water Authority told National Geographic, because the lake likely “is going to drop more precipitously than seen in the past.”

Sure, droughts are a normal part of the cycle of nature. But the drought is exacerbated by climate change and by the millions of people who rely on Colorado River water. She canna take much more of this, captain.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell lowest level since Powell was filled


jfleck brings baleful news about water levels in two crucial lakes, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, that feed into the Colorado.

Ever the journalist in search of gloomy extremes, I just noticed that total storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest reservoirs used to manage flows on the Colorado River, is currently forecast (USBR pdf here) to end the current water year at its lowest level since 1968.

I’ll see your gloom, jfleck, and raise it. California snowpack this year is 17% of normal. No one out-glooms me when it comes to water.

Water wars. Nevada wants federal help on Lake Mead pipeline

The Southern Nevada Water Authority will appeal to the federal government for funding, low-cost loans, anything really, to help with a proposed $800 million third pipeline from Lake Mead.

Water levels have dropped so precipitously due to sustained drought that a new pipeline is needed to get water out of Lake Mead.

The SNWA is run by Pat Mulroy. She is smart, savvy, and relentless. Some of that Lake Mead water is used by southern California where another 800 pound gorilla of water, the Metropolitan Water District, resides.

Hoover Dam. Lake Mead. Big hydropower

Standing on Hoover Dam

The turbines at Hoover Dam have a nameplate capacity of 2.08 GW, making it one of the largest hydro plants in the country and equal to nuclear and big coal plants. The Dam certainly is immense, 650 feet long and 229 feet tall. Lake Mead stretches for 110 miles behind it.

Who are the principal contractors for [Hoover Dam] energy?

The States of Arizona and Nevada; City of Los Angeles; Southern California Edison Co.; Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; California cities of Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, Riverside, Azusa, Anaheim, Banning, Colton, and Vernon; and the city of Boulder City, Nevada.

Interesting, isn’t it, that much of the power goes to southern California. Power (and water) in the US west is like that. It often comes from hundreds of miles away.

Hoover Dam has all the cheery ambience of a grumpy military encampment. Armed guards inspect your vehicle before you enter. Signs in the parking lot warn that video cameras are everywhere, specify what size packs can be carried, and sternly admonish that no knifes are allowed. This presumably to prevent someone with a Swiss Army Knife  from hijacking the dam. Yes, I understand the need for security but it was way too militarized for me, as increasingly are many of our public facilities.

Hydro does indeed create clean energy but at the cost of flooding huge swaths of land. However the resultant lakes can also become popular recreation areas as Lake Mead has. After several decades though, lakes behind dams start to silting up. Lake Mead “lost about 15 percent of its capacity between 1936 and 1964 due to silting–more than five million acre-feet.” For this reason, big hydro is viewed suspiciously by some renewable energy advocates. As for building new big hydro plants, this is probably a moot question, as most of the good locations are already taken.

Lake Mead bathtub ring. Water levels are low, but better than two years ago
Lake Mead marina. It closed two years ago due to the drought.