Lake Mead, Lowest Level Ever

Lake Mead, well known to Colorado River rafters as the terminus of their great three week adventure, and not so well known to millions as the source of their water, is reaching a record this week, and probably not stopping there.

The last time Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, reached maximum capacity was 1983. This week the lake, located along the Colorado River near Las Vegas, Nevada, is expected to reach a new milestone — its lowest point ever.

Formed by the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead has been suffering for years as an expansive drought across the West, coupled with rising temperatures and populations, has overstressed the massive man-made body of water. According to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, water levels will fall this week to their lowest since it was first filled in 1937. The lake, which provides water for 20 million people across the Southwest has been losing water for over a decade and is currently at about 40 percent capacity.

Climate Progress

Bathtub Ring of Once High Water at Lake Mead

Bathtub Ring of Once High Water at Lake Mead

Among those who will be affected as the lake shrinks more and more will be plenty of climate change deniers, who in their wisdom, will blame the federal government for conspiratorially siphoning off millions of gallons of water for nefarious purposes and depriving Mr. and Mrs. Ostrich of their right to get what they want!

Can’t we start a class-action suit for damages caused by obstinate idiocy?

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And the American southwest of course is only a small part of the problem.  A 2013 comprehensive study by the National Academy of Sciences says what’s ugly now is only going to get uglier.

…even modest climate change might drastically affect the living conditions of billions of people, whether through water scarcity, crop shortages or extremes of weather.

The group warns that water is the biggest worry. If the world warms by just 2 °C above the present level, which now seems all but unavoidable by 2100, up to one-fifth of the global population could suffer severe shortages.

“Water and all that relies on it, from food to sanitation and public health, is an emblematic aspect of climate change whose urgency people tend to instantly understand,” says Schellnhuber.

Regions most at risk from water scarcity include parts of the southern United States, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. By contrast, India, tropical Africa and high latitudes in the Northern Hemi­sphere can expect to receive more water in a warming world.

drought conditions are likely to become more frequent and severe in some parts of South America, western and central Europe, central Africa and Australia, another project team reports3.

Uncertainty, adds Schellnhuber, is no excuse for inaction. “Those who might say, ‘Come back when you’ve narrowed down the risk’ should be reminded that climate change is a treacherous gamble,” he says. “We don’t quite know the odds, but the chance of losing heavily might be a lot bigger than many tend to think.”

Nature dot com


Drought Pushes on, Rain or Not

CA Drought Map

Those concerned about California’s record-breaking drought received four pieces of bad news this week.

First, the state’s drought conditions did not improve at all. For another week, an unprecedented 23.5 percent of California is experiencing the worst drought category -– exceptional drought. And nearly 69 percent of the state is still either under extreme or exceptional drought. And a remarkable 95 percent of the state is still suffering from severe drought or worse.

Read all at Climate Progress


Thirsty? Swallow Spit

California is not alone in its water wars, nor the nearest to outright armed stand-offs.  All through the South West the situation is dire, and the scaffolding of agreements from which decisions are to be made, looking increasingly rickity.

Texas:

Just outside this minuscule farm town, Frank DeStefano was feeding a 500-acre cotton crop with water from the Brazos River 16 months ago when state regulators told him and hundreds of others on the river to shut down their pumps. A sprawling petrochemical complex at the junction of the Brazos and the Gulf of Mexico held senior rights to the river’s water — and with the Brazos shriveled, it had run short.

State regulators ordered Mr. DeStefano and others with lesser rights to make up the deficit. But they gave cities and power plants along the Brazos a pass, concluding that public health and safety overrode the farmers’ own water rights.

Now Mr. DeStefano and other farmers are in court, arguing that the state is wrong — and so far, they are winning.

…In southern Texas, along the Gulf coast southwest of Houston, the state has cut off deliveries of river water to rice farmers for three years to sustain reservoirs that supply booming Austin, about 100 miles upstream.

Nevada

In Nevada, a coalition ranging from environmentalists to the Utah League of Women Voters filed federal lawsuits last month seeking to block a pipeline that would supply Las Vegas with groundwater from an aquifer straddling the Nevada-Utah border.

Colorado

In Colorado, officials in the largely rural west slope of the Rocky Mountains are imposing stiff restrictions on requests to ship water across the mountains to Denver and the rest of the state’s populous eastern half. Fearing for their existence, Colorado farm towns on the Arkansas River have mobilized to block sales of local water rights to Denver’s fast-growing suburbs.

Arizona

In Arizona, activists and the federal government are fighting plans to tap groundwater used by a vast housing development — a move that would reduce the water level of a protected river.

Kansas

Kansas accuses Colorado and Nebraska of allowing their farmers to divert Kansas’ share of the Republican River, which flows through all three states.

And the Rules?

In Texas, landowners own the groundwater beneath their property, but a neighbor pumping groundwater from the same aquifer can siphon it away without penalty.

The Arizona court battle over a proposed housing development hinges on the still-murky question of whether the state can allow the builder to pump groundwater that sustains a river that is under federal control.

The prevailing law on rivers and streams is all too clear: The earlier someone stakes a claim on a stretch of water, the more bulletproof that owner’s right to it.

“If you’ve got the oldest claim on that river, you get to use that water regardless of what you’re using it for — agriculture, industry, whatever,” said Gabriel Eckstein, a professor at Texas A & M University School of Law and a lawyer with Sullivan and Worcester. “That’s regardless of whether you’re doing it efficiently, regardless of whether it’s the highest use.”

Meanwhile, large segments of our elected decision makers are spending precious hours and court time on whether your marriage threatens my marriage or whether the poor are poor because they won’t work…

Paying Attention to the Water… NY Times: Wines


Drought and Desalinization

Even as we bask in a Northern California smirr, not quite a rain, the multi-year drought that threatens to turn the Central Valley from a fruit basket to archeological site continues.  Desperate minds turn to the ocean: there’s an awful lot of water there! How to get and use it?  Desalinization has been used on naval ships for decades – potable,barely, but certainly good for showers and washing down decks.  What’s the situation of large-scale terrestrial projects?  Here’s a brief, recent, report from Grist.

Enter the ongoing construction of 17 desalination plants across the state. A $1 billion plant being built in Carlsbad, Calif., expected to be ready by 2016, will pump 50 million gallons of drinkable water out of the ocean daily — making it the largest such facility in the Western Hemisphere. Another project underway near San Francisco (a discount at only $150 million) could supply 20 million of the 750 million gallons of water guzzled daily in the Bay Area by 2020.

Desalination involves sucking up seawater and pushing it at high pressure through a series of very thin membranes, to strip away the salt and ocean gunk. Water purists (ha) know it as reverse osmosis. It’s not an ideal process, since it uses an enormous amount of energy to turn about two gallons of seawater into one gallon of potable water, plus there are the aforementioned ocean gunk leftovers, but it does keep working rain or shine.

I didn’t know so many were in progress, albeit with delays and frustrations.  Given the increase in population, even with lots of water savings, many more plants would be needed if the drought continues.

Weaning So Cal off water imported from other areas would mean building a Carlsbad-scale plant every four miles along the coast, which adds up to 25 plants just between San Diego and L.A.


California Drought: Ugly

When outdoor writers feature the state of state’s drought you know it’s not good.  Tom Steinstra’s report is not good.

It seems few in government recognize what is happening out there, a full-on drought. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, everybody connected to the outdoors gets it.

The only ranches, farms and duck clubs that are getting water are those that have wells. Those few are worried about pumping too much ground water. Last week, I actually saw one almond orchard where a rancher was running piped water from a well into spray-type sprinklers to try to keep the trees from dying. In the middle of winter?

All the water deliveries from irrigation districts have been cut off. Some duck clubs have been high and dry all winter and have members who haven’t taken a shot.

In the San Joaquin Valley, it’s grim. Many cattle ranches have landscapes that consist of brown stubble and dirt. Ranchers are bringing in hay at tremendous expense – one at Pacheco Pass has spent $350,000 this winter trying to keep his herd – and some are selling off parts of their herds.


California Drought Tightening Its Grip

As California enters its third consecutive dry winter, with no sign of moisture on the horizon, fears are growing over increased wildfire activity, agricultural losses, and additional stress placed on already strained water supplies.

The city of Los Angeles has received only 3.6 inches of rain this year — far below its average of 14.91 inches, USA Today reported. And San Francisco is experiencing its driest year since recordkeeping began in 1849. As of November, the city had only received 3.95 inches of rain since the year began.

The state is enduring its driest year on record

… wildfire risk remains high. Mid-December’s Big Sur Fire scorched through more than 900 acres and destroyed dozens of homes before it was contained.

Read All at Think Progress


California Looking at Drought Declaration

Well, it’s been nice to have clear, dry weather in November and December in the Bay Area but another name for clear and dry is drought, which we are on the verge of.

After an unusually dry start to the rainy season, two California lawmakers are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a drought emergency.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, sent a letter to the governor’s office this week, saying the state is facing a third consecutive year of scant rainfall that could deplete reservoirs and leave farmers without enough water to grow their crops.

Climate forecasters have said the chances of a wet winter in California are slim. The Department of Water Resources released a winter forecast last month that called for “mostly dry conditions.”

Since the start of the rain year July 1, San Francisco has received 2.09 inches, barely one-third of the average to date.

SF Gate


Sea Ice Loss Drives Jet Stream South, Increasing Rain in the North, Drought in the South

A new study offers an explanation for the extraordinary run of wet summers experienced by Britain and northwest Europe between 2007 and 2012. The study found that loss of Arctic sea ice shifts the jet stream further south than normal resulting in increased rain during the summer in northwest Europe.

Climate Progress

Jet Stream Shift

And also Science, here.


California Drought Warnings

January through May 2013 were California’s driest in about 90 years of record keeping.

Currently the San Luis Reservoir, which gets water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is only 22 percent of its historical average for this time of year.

and

California’s other main source of water comes via the Colorado River Basin, originating in the Rocky Mountains. More than a decade of drought has left both Lake Powell and Lake Mead less than half full. About a quarter of urban Southern California depends on these reservoirs for supply.

Climate Progress


Drought, Rivers Down, Over Fishing: Big Trouble in Florida

It’s hard getting our empathy worked up for people who are heavily involved in causing their own troubles, or at least not minding the signs and signals that troubles are coming and continuing as though it will be just another year.  Nevertheless, the conditions described by Lizette Alvarez in Sunday’s New York Times in Florida’s northwest Apalachicola Bay make us pay attention.

Oyster Seeding Oyster Seeding

In a budding ecological crisis, the oyster population has drastically declined in Apalachicola Bay, one of the country’s major estuaries and the cradle of Florida’s prized oyster industry.

The fishery’s collapse, which began last summer and has stretched into this year, is the most blatant sign yet of the bay’s vulnerability in the face of decades of dwindling flow from two rivers originating in Georgia. For 23 years now, Georgia, Alabama and Florida have waged a classic upstream-downstream water war, with Alabama and Florida coming out on the losing end of a long court battle in 2011.

Oyster overharvesting in the bay after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which largely missed this area, worsened the situation, as did persistent drought.

Though the fight over river water between three states is described as the leading cause that of course has the cart before the horse, or horses — of drought, extravagant water use (lawns and golf courses!), poor planning, over population and anti-scientism.

And of course, those who cry loudest about big government have got few other ideas but to ask big government for help when they, themselves, need it.  So different than when the unworthy and sinfully lazy poor ask.

Economically, the situation has become so desperate that Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican who is not inclined to ask for federal help, wrote to the United States Commerce Department last year and asked it to declare the oyster harvesting areas a fishing disaster.