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Falling Lake Mead Water Levels 'Incredible Warning Sign'
Falling Lake Mead Water Levels 'Incredible Warning Sign'

AIR DATE: June 13, 2013


Pat Mulroy, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority

John Fleck, reporter, Albuquerque Journal

Robert Glennon, University of Arizona law professor and author of Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to do About it

BY AMY KINGSLEY -- The Colorado River — and Lake Mead — are in deep trouble.

Studies by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that demand will soon overwhelm supply. The first stage of water restrictions could come as soon as 2016, when Lake Mead has a one-in-three chance of slipping below the critical 1,075-foot threshold.

That’s when Nevada will have to cut its water allocation by 4 percent. Residents probably won’t notice the first round of cuts, said Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Still, it is an important limit for Colorado River users.

“It is an incredible warning sign,” Mulroy said. “Because what happens at 1,075 is that you’re now getting in to the lower reaches of Lake Mead. And Lake Mead is a V. So the further you go down in the reservoir, the faster the rate of decline.”

In recent years, the seven states that share the river — along with Mexico — have done a better job collaborating on ways to stretch the water supply. But it still hasn’t been enough to keep the level of Lake Mead from falling.

“We are buying and storing water in Lake Mead to buffet it and prop it back up again,” Mulroy said. “So if despite all those efforts, despite everyone spending as much money as we are, and everybody leaving their water in Lake Mead, we still get to 1,075 – the time has come for the states to really get serious about some real critical elevations.”

If the water falls to 1,050 or 1,025, then Arizona will be hit the hardest with cuts to the Central Arizona Project, said Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona. But the conversation shouldn’t focus on which communities or industries will be hit the hardest, because they are all imperiled, he said.

“The bigger picture is that the whole basin is looking at a tough situation,” Glennon said.

The good news is that we can do something about it.

“We have the tools to use the water in a more sustainable way,” Glennon said.

The bigger questions is whether we have the time to implement those solutions.

“If this were to happen in the next five or six years, if you were to start seeing a rapid downward spiral, you don’t have the time to make the investments in an IID (Imperial Irrigation District), or a Palo Verde, or any of the agricultural areas down in the southern end of the system,” Mulroy said. “The time is not there.”

States have resorted to lawsuits, and even military action to protect water sources in the past. Lawsuits have a huge downside, and can cost municipalities access to water if they lose.

“What we’ve seen going back to the late 1990s is that it’s in their best interest not to fight,” said John Fleck, reporter for the Albuquerque Journal. “It’s much better for the water managers to understand how the shortage is going to be shared.”

Lake Mead will almost certainly fall below 1,075 feet in the near future, Mulroy said. Soon after that, life will change in Southern Nevada. Eventually, Hoover Dam will stop producing electricity, and water restrictions will change the way we live.

“Everything starts falling apart at elevation 1,000,” Mulroy said. “Which why, for our planning purposes, 1,075 is such an enormous trigger.”

“This is going to come as an enormous wake up call.”



    comments powered by Disqus
    Las Vegas monthly water bills are lower than most cities along major rivers in the United States because of the foresight of your grandparents and community leaders in the 1930s and their willingness to take over mortgage payments for the construction of Hoover Dam in the desert. It is time for today's generation living in the southwest to rise up like those who came before you and do what you need to do. The alternative is to shut the doors to growth and downsize the population, downsize agriculture, downsize industry, and downsize the number of jobs for your children and their children. Infrastructure costs money, and is needed for future generations. Your grandparents did it for you.
    MidwestJul 31, 2013 06:53:10 AM
    Maybe if they stop building golf courses for retires across the whole Southwest & So Cal.......
    Ron polandJul 28, 2013 04:37:07 AM
    Perhaps if the farmers didn't use so much water to grow produce in the middle of a desert we wouldn't have to worry about the lake level.
    David AJul 21, 2013 05:41:11 AM
    22 days after this story appeared : PHOENIX  The heat wave is to blame for Phoenix residents setting a record for water usage last weekend. The citys water department says 420 million gallons of water were used Sunday. Thats up from last years record of 382 million gallons.
    Colorado Bob Jul 6, 2013 09:19:59 AM
    Our buddies down in Carson City want to control the water down south with their million dollar ideas. Well, i'm a proud Nevadan resident who is concerned about the knowledge of the people in control of the Lake Mead. Why are we not using some effective ways to restore the water like cloud seeding. Of course you would use the method in the runoff area (Colorado). Take this idea into consideration before its too late.
    Marcus M.Jul 3, 2013 16:10:49 PM
    Mr. Serensitis so perfectly typifies the mindset of the uninformed whiners who can never come to grips with the realities of life; to wit, that you might have to give up something. They busy themselves with mindless finger-pointing, conspiracy theories and anything else that they think(!) might spare them from having to accept any kind of step backward in the standard of living they feel is some sort of God-given due. They usually can't tell "we're" from "we're".
    Donald McMeenJun 26, 2013 08:54:27 AM
    The Bureau of Reclamation folks who we're responsible for building the Boulder "Hoover" Dam as well as the several others along the Colorado River had a grand vision and that vision was realized and completed - not by the grace of God; but by hard manual labor !! The greed and the underhanded techniques by this very organization to trick you into signing legislation to make them more money and put them further into our H20 driver's seat - where they will eventually have us all by the short hairs (more then they already do) !! It's cheapens the accomplishment of these dedicated men and women who poured they life into the completion of that project. Also...Nevada has one of the largest underground fresh water aquifers in the world. Think about it... they call it the "Great Basin" for a reason. We get the snow melt from the E. Side of the Sierra Nevada and from the W. Side of the Rocky's. Plenty of water here... just none that can be accessed by SNWA so they can naked gouge the consumers they provide it to.
    Greg SerensitsJun 21, 2013 10:49:40 AM
    And my proof that this is a contrived crisis: Pat Mulroy signed an agreement in 2005 to fill Lake Powell first. Why in the world would she agree to that for any other reason than to artificially drain Lake Mead. Moreover; in the watergrab's monitor, manange, mitigation "plan" SNWA adamantly refuses to ANY triggers to stop pumping. Yet, SNWA has set an arbitrary trigger for the construction of the watergrab pipeline - that they apparently are manipulating.
    Rick SpilsburyJun 19, 2013 10:11:48 AM
    This still sounds like disaster capitalism scare tactics to get Las Vegans to foot the bill for more development. If "rationing" of river water does happen, the people of Las Vegas will still have access to more water per capita than the people of Tucson use now. And of course, conservation would be far less expensive than the Rural Nevada watergrab. Think about it; 2 million people, 15 billion dollar bill. That's over $7,000 for every man, woman, and child in Las Vegas. Most rational people would rather conserve. That's why they're trying to panic you.
    Rick SpilsburyJun 19, 2013 09:33:23 AM
    Three solutions: Farms use around 75% of Colorado River water, so plenty of conservation potention there. The President issues an executive order reduces water to all states by 5%. Persue solar, wind, and other new desalting techniques that other nations are doing.
    Mark BirdJun 14, 2013 16:58:07 PM
    An interesting discussion - we know what needs to done, but fail miserably at doing it, and instead look to the "easy" solutions like ground water mining and other augmentation schemes. The real answers lie in conservation, growth management, re-allocation of Colorado River water and desal.
    Rob MrowkaJun 14, 2013 11:05:34 AM
    Perhaps it's time to talk seriously about where the southwest is going during the current and ongoing drought period. It may last for years, we may be the next generation of "Anasazi." All goundwater areas that are being pumped worldwide are being depleted, so that's a bad option. "Growth" is maybe becoming a bad word... Google GRACE satellite photos showing groundwater depletion and don't plan on that as a permanent solution. If little snow falls on the mountains, little water seeps in to recharge aquifers. Rain just runs off, generally. Open your eyes and see reality, everyone.
    Linda JohnsonJun 14, 2013 08:52:23 AM
    How about we impose water restrictions on residents AND businesses? We have seen how some of these casinos turn their backs on the common sense approach of water usage (Bellagio fountains, for one). We could possibly have a program to assist home owners in filling in residential pools that are no longer in use if the area is changed to water-smart landscaping. Community pools or indoor public pools could be subsidized as well so that individuals do not have the need for pools when constructing new homes. We all agree that changes must be made...
    RobJun 13, 2013 19:42:27 PM
    Why when we have such a shortage of water do we allow places like water world to open reight here in Las Vegas???
    FardanJun 13, 2013 09:30:17 AM
    water world might be a good idea if most or many private pools are closed. all pools should have an evaporative cover requirement, one would think.
    Linda JohnsonJun 14, 2013 08:42:51 AM
    Perhaps, we need a simple turf limiting law instead spending billions to rape hundreds of square miles of the central Nevada ecosystem and screwing up their economy to boot. And I don't mean the socialistic current system where I, who chose to put in desert landscaping from day one, pay to subsidize my neighbors desert landscaping because they chose to put in grass, but perhaps one that says, five years from now *everyone* at their own cost must meet certain landscaping requirements. For example, landacaping in neighborhoods in Tucson is vastly different from that in neighborhoods here. After all, we do live in a desert.
    Tom HurstJun 12, 2013 14:36:31 PM
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