The Coming Water Crisis in America

Water, Water Everywhere? Not so much…

We’re on the edge of a water crisis in the United States. Ongoing development in the American Southwest has created an ever-rising demand for a resource that has always been in short supply in the region. Civil engineering projects over the last century have made this development possible, but we seem to be reaching the point where current population levels in Nevada, Arizona, and Southeastern California are becoming unsustainable. People are living in a desert, and using water to do things like filling swimming pools, growing lawns, and creating golf courses. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to face the inevitable conclusion that this can’t go on. There are several indicators that we are headed for disaster. Here are a few.

Lake Mead

You can see the former water level here. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
You can see the former water level here. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The town of St. Thomas ought to be underwater. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The town of St. Thomas ought to be underwater. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Lake Mead

A man-made lake, Lake Mead is stacked up behind Hoover Dam, and supplies water and, via the dam, electricity to places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The problem is that it’s going dry. The water level in Lake Mead has been steadily dropping since the year 2000, and is now only slightly higher than it was during the harsh 1965 drought. The drop in Lake Mead’s water level is proportional to the growth of thirsty cities in the surrounding desert—cities like Las Vegas. If current trends continue, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego predicts that the lake may dry up completely by 2021. Even if this worst-case scenario doesn’t come to pass, there will certainly be shortfalls in both water delivery and electricity generation in the coming decade.

Colorado River

Lake Mead is essentially a wide spot in the Colorado River, which runs over 1450 miles from its source in the Colorado Rockies all the way to the All-American Canal, which diverts its flow away from Mexico and the Gulf of California and toward Imperial Valley in southeastern California. This diversion sends enough fresh water to Imperial Valley to allow its farmers to grow over a billion dollars worth of crops in what would otherwise be a desert. Of course, this miracle has its dark side in that it has turned what would otherwise have been an estuarial marshland in Mexico into a desert.  

Continuing development in the American Southwest has put a great strain on the lower part of the Colorado River, prompting the states that depend on its flow to enter into the Colorado River Compact. You’d think that this would encourage responsible water management, but under the compact, even if the water level in Lake Mead drops to below what it was immediately after Hoover Dam was built, California will still get its full allocation so it can continue to irrigate its desert.

No Problem--We Can Use Great Lakes Water!

Of course, many folks in the Southwest imagine that we can simply divert water from the Great Lakes to supply their needs. After all, the Great Lakes Basin is the world’s largest resevoir of fresh water. Surely the Lakes can spare a few cubic miles of water to keep the people of Las Vegas from having to look at brown lawns. But even without a major diversion of water to the Southwest, the Great Lakes’ water levels have been decreasing over the past several years. Already ore freighters are unable to run fully loaded on the Lakes without scraping the bottom in shallow areas. If Great Lakes water is diverted while this trend continues, shipping on the Lakes will become functionally impossible, rendering thousands of people jobless in a region that can ill afford more unemployment. 

Predictions of dire economic repercussions aside, history has shown us what happens when people try to turn a desert into farmland.

The Aral Sea…No, not “Sea.” What’s the Word? Desert.

The Aral Sea used to be the world’s fourth largest lake, at a little more than 26,000 square miles. It supported a robust fishing industry that employed thousands. But then, in an effort to create arable land from a desert, the Soviet Union diverted a couple rivers and built some irrigation canals. Today, the Aral Sea is mostly gone. Its surface area is now just under 2000 square miles, and the water is so salty and contaminated that nothing can live in it. The town of Moynaq, which used to be a fishing port, is now nearly a hundred miles from shore. Occasionally, there are dust storms where the water was.

Images of the Aral Sea

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Russian Navy survey map of the Aral Sea, 1853 Image courtesy Wikimedia CommonsAral Sea from Space, 2004 Image courtesy Wikimedia CommonsAral Sea, 2009 Image courtesy Wikimedia CommonsWhere the shore used to be, Moynaq. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, ChanOJ, photographerOrphaned Aral Ship Image courtesy Wikimedia CommonsNo Fish Today. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Gilad Rom, photographerSometimes, there are dust storms. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Russian Navy survey map of the Aral Sea, 1853 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Russian Navy survey map of the Aral Sea, 1853 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Aral Sea from Space, 2004 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Aral Sea from Space, 2004 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Aral Sea, 2009 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Aral Sea, 2009 Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Where the shore used to be, Moynaq. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, ChanOJ, photographer
Where the shore used to be, Moynaq. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, ChanOJ, photographer
Orphaned Aral Ship Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Orphaned Aral Ship Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
No Fish Today. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Gilad Rom, photographer
No Fish Today. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Gilad Rom, photographer
Sometimes, there are dust storms. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, there are dust storms. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Why Am I Worried?

“But that was the USSR, “ you might say. “There’s no danger that the USA would make the same errors as a failed communist regime.” Well, not at the behest of a monolithic government bureaucracy, no. But we certainly might be moved, as a nation, to take pity on a region that is dealing with a drought (never mind that it was a desert before people moved there and remains one today). “People need water to live,” we might tell ourselves. “It would be inhuman to deny them the most basic of necessities when such an abundance exists in the Great Lakes basin.” I suppose it would be, if in fact folks were dying of dehydration because of some natural disaster. But that’s not what’s happening in the American Southwest.

Tuscon. Yes, this town is in the middle of a desert.
Tuscon. Yes, this town is in the middle of a desert.

The Reason for This Article

Some weeks ago I ran across a letter to the editor in one of my wife’s gardening magazines. This letter stuck in my brain like a bit of popcorn between my teeth, and I’ve been worrying at it all this time. I didn't think to keep the magazine for reference, but the letter went something like this:

Dear Gardening Magazine,

Please help me. I’ve been trying to grow a formal English garden in my backyard for years now, inspired by the lush landscapes I see in your pages every month. But I just can’t get the plants to thrive. I’ve tried everything from moisture-retaining compost to drip irrigation to overnight soaking, and nothing works. What am I doing wrong?

Signed,

Stupid Person,

Tucson, Arizona

The editor’s response was suitably polite, and suggested that S.P. try growing plants more suitable to her arid climate. My response, even after having thought about it in the back of my head for many weeks, would be decidedly more blunt. It would go something like this:

Dear Stupid,

The reason you can’t grow an English garden is that you live in the freaking desert! Plants like lupines, bugleweed, and forget-me-nots can’t survive in your backyard. Stop wasting water, you idiot, and either plant some cacti or move to a place where your garden will grow.

If I thought that this attitude were uncommon in the Southwest, I wouldn’t worry so much. But a quick look at Google Maps shows that while most Tusconians seem to be content with the desert climate, there is still an alarming number of swimming pools and lush green lawns. Kentucky bluegrass can’t live in the desert unless someone dumps a messload of water on it every day. That water has to come from somewhere. Every drop of water that you waste on your lawn is water that can’t be used to bathe in, irrigate crops, or slake your thirst. It’s water that will never flow down the Colorado River, water that will not reach the sea.

This mindset, that one should be able to make the world bend to one’s wishes, is perhaps the biggest indicator that we’re headed toward a crisis. But I’m still hopeful. After all, people can decide to live with their local climate instead of battling against it. Maybe more folks in the Southwest will come to the realization that Midwest-style lawns are unsustainable for them. I hope they do. Because I will do everything in my power to keep the Great Lakes from becoming America’s Aral Sea.

Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It
Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It

Some constructive suggestions for individual action.

 
Brita 42558 Aqualux Water Pitcher
Brita 42558 Aqualux Water Pitcher

For goodness' sake, don't buy bottled water! Get one of these instead. It's cheaper (and greener) in the long run.

 
Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Poly Loop Cap (18-Ounce, Pink Renewal)
Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Poly Loop Cap (18-Ounce, Pink Renewal)

If you need a bottle of water, use the pitcher to fill one of these to take with you.

 

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Comments 24 comments

Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

I was taught in school the the human spiecies thrives because of our ability to adapt...I've come to understand that another word for adapt is to Infringe.


kerryg profile image

kerryg 6 years ago from USA

Wow, I can see what you mean about that letter! We are so doomed.

Honestly, though, "Midwest-style lawns" aren't even that well suited to most of the Midwest. They're suited to England, where they developed! Most Midwesterners are better off with drought tolerant native or non-native warm season grasses such as buffalograss or zoysia. Better yet, skip lawns entirely and plant yourself a prairie! ;)


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, folks. Thanks for your comments!

M.A., to adapt is to adjust your lifestyle to your environment, not the other way around, as most of us Americans seem to think.

kerryg, lawns in general are a huge waste of time and resources. They started as nothing more than conspicuous consumption. (Oh, look at my land! I can afford not to grow food on it! Aren't I posh!) There's probably another hub in that.

Cheers,

JB


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

Thanks for this hub. Freshwater resources in many places, especially the aquifers in the American Southwest, cannot be replenished at the rate they are being depleted. I'm glad you're trying to bring attention to this issue,but I fear nothing is going to be done about it until it is too late.


Jules 6 years ago

Good job condensing what is a HUGE, world-wide problem with many mind-blowing causes and effects. I have a hard time writing on this topic because I feel I would need 1,000 pages to get my thoughts out, lol...that being said, may I bring a couple more of the larger issues and thoughts to light? Florida's water management and population explosion are just as dire as the Southwest's. Tampa area, in particular. Another driving force which we can act upon is consumer demand for the SW's produce and beef. (Buy local, or better yet, turn your lawn into an edible food forest and grow your own)! Think about every bag of salad that comes out of CA...80-90% water, to name just one example. Another thought: water needs to FLOW, not be damned up. Recommended reading includes: Water Wars by Vandana Shiva, When Rivers Run Dry (on river health world-wide) and Water Follies (US rivers). Blue Planet Run is a great coffee table book to quietly make a statement when people come over and leaf through it. :D It also poses lots of solutions.

OK, I keep thinking of other things...like water pollution! It's very easy to pollute a watershed and VERY hard to remove the pollution. Think ahead before you spray crops, your lawn, etc. We are orchestrating our own demise, for sure. Also, the deeper you pull from an aquifer, the more mineral content it has, which can sometimes be a very bad thing (think: arsenic).

When my children are thirsty, I feel very blessed to always have a ready source of water nearby. My heart aches for the many villages who have had their water sources stolen from them by large agri-businesses who drill deep and dry up their wells. It's torture and murder, plain and simple, and we are accomplices when we purchase food from these businesses. It's very difficult not to, but if you even just make IMPROVEMENTS, or baby steps in that direction, you'll be making an impact and be able to feel better about taking action.

OK, I'd better stop. Thanks, Jeff!


LRCBlogger profile image

LRCBlogger 6 years ago

sobering and great hub. I saw this great indie film a while back, if I can remember the name, I'll post it later. It was essentially about our use of water. The #1 most irrigated 'crop' in the US is grass. People are obsessed with lawns. One day we'll look back and kick ourselves for dumping massive amounts of clean drinking water into our grass.


PrettyPanther profile image

PrettyPanther 6 years ago from Oregon

Thank you for writing about this. I believe most people don't even think about how much water they use for unnecessary things like green lawns. Education/enlightenment is the key.


festersporling1 profile image

festersporling1 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

This year was the wettest in a long time in So Cal. Imagine a year when it doesn't rain like this. Deep troubles.


tom hellert 6 years ago

JeffAsa geologist with well drilling background lke mead and other bodies of water sit on areas of recharge for the oolaga aquifer once they run dry areas to the east of lake mead for 100s and up to 1000 miles east could also experience water shortages- as for taking it from "My lakes up here" no offense but screw the idiots including my brother in law that try to live in a dessert - he has the right idea though he says I don't want a lawn... then I have to cut it and if I forget tpo water it it will just die... dirt don't die and don't cost me $...

Great hub... well done...

TH


nflagator profile image

nflagator 5 years ago from North Florida

Enjoyed your Dear Stupid letter. Yes we're all in for some serious water shortage issues. Have seen it coming for years. Several television programs have shown what might occur. One such program was on the History Channel several years ago, Mega Disasters: Mega Drought

I belong to a gardening blog and posted that while I live on several acres, I was looking into hydroponics. Someone responded "Why, if you have so much property to work with?" I live in FLA, and we have some pretty intense hot summers. Hydroponics and aeroponics greatly reduce the amount of water used for growing plants and crops. Many commercial growers are also turning to this style of growing. The weather is no longer as predictable as it once was, and it won't get any better (in our lifetime). I have several rain barrels built into my gutter system that collect and store water. The yard plantings on my property have to be pretty drought tolerant, or I don't plant them.

Great Hub. Thanks.


Phil Plasma profile image

Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

Here in Montreal we get quite a bit of precipitation so in terms of our natural vegetation, we're doing okay. For my vegetables, however, I also have rainbarrels so that I can put even less pressure on city water systems. If it was up to me, it would be required by law to catch the rain in places where rain is plentiful. Great hub earning you a vote-up and an awesome.


CWanamaker profile image

CWanamaker 4 years ago from Arizona

What a great read! I agree that our current level of water consumption is unsustainable. Unfortunately everything that we do requires water and our demand for it increases daily. I would have to say that the water crisis is already here. Many small towns in America have already ran out of water! World leaders are already planning for wars over water and future water shortages. Perhaps we need to invest more money/time into constructing desalination plants and atmospheric water generators.

And yes , Tucson has plenty of lush greenbelts in the middle of the desert...fortunately though the culture there is slowly changing. The City is now promoting xeriscape landscaping and water harvesting techniques for its new developments.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Thanks for the kind words, CWannamaker. I'm pleased to hear that Tucson's water-use is changing for the better. Maybe we can figure out how to stave off the crisis.


darryn12 3 years ago

The information is right there in front of you. 75-80% is used for agriculture. Actually, last year, the Bureau of Reclamation statistics were 81% for agriculture and 12% B&I(Business & Industry) for the Colorado.


Darryn12 3 years ago

What was the point of my previous post? The point is that we here in the west are "EXPORTING" our precious resource out of the area largely because we have the climate to produce agriculture when the rest of the country can't. Think about this. If you live in Boston, New York, Montreal, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and are eating a fresh garden salad with a beautiful red vine ripened tomato come November, January, February ect, Where do you think it came from? It sure wasn't produced locally. A miracle of topography here out west created a situation where a major water resource runs right through las Vegas's front door and then heads south to a climate zone during the winter months that see temp's that range from the mid 60's to mid 80's when the rest of North America is either under a blanket of snow or at least far to cold to grown anything. The fact that Las Vegas grew to two million people and some have lawns, or some women in Tuscon wants an English garden is irrelavent. "WE ARE EXPORTING 90% OF OUR WATER OUT OF THE REGION"! Las Vegas only gets 3 1/2% of the flow rate of the Colorado. The casino industry receives their water from well water. The fountains at the Bellagio are NOT using Lake Mead water. Think about this...what happened to canning cellars/fruit cellars that our parents/grandparents used in this country's past. That changed when technology figured out how to ship agriculture all over the world through refrigerated truck/air/rail transport. People here in Nevada are starting to ask the question, why should we suffer so that people in the rest of the country/world can have access to fresh produce simply because we happen to have the climate and water resource to produce it? I say to Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, ect, you have the water, Do you want this agriculture? If the answer is yes, then start sending your water. That is what the national conversation should be. Let's all be honest with each other as Americans and talk about what the real problem is and what the solution should be that is fair for all of us. Pointing at the growth of the southwest as simply the "problem" is ignorant of what the the reality is. Sure, we all need to be good stewards of this resource, but there is a lack of honesty about it.

I'd like to address a myth:

The picture that is routinely used that shows the "bathring" around lake Mead is misleading and frankly abusive. That ring exists because of the high alkaline content that you find west of the Rockies. When the water is at that level it is considered "full pool". That is "FLOOD STAGE"! At that level, Hoover Dam is doing it's #1 intended purpose of why it was built in the first place "flood control" . Lake Mead is a resevoir, not a natural lake. It was not designed to be at "flood stage" 24/7 365. Think about it as a large water tank. The resevoir's on the Colorado move water around the system as mandated by the bureau of reclamation requirements to deliver water based on the Colorado compact. Looking at that picture misleads people into thinking that's the normal elevation of the Lake Mead(resevoir) and is used routinely as a doom's day scenario by those with an agenda.

What's the agenda?

The enviromentalist don't like the carbon foot print that transporting all that agriculture produces on our planet. They want people to go back to more locally grown agriculture. The reason why they are trying to mislead the public is they realize that the conversation has started about building a pipeline to the west. Knowing human emotion, they know that no matter how enviromentaly conscience people say they are, tell them that come winter(or any other time of year) they will not have access to as much agriculture, or if they do, it will be at much high prices, they know people are going to want that pipeline built. That is their doom's day secnario.

If we closed of the agriculture southwest, Climate change or not, once Lake Mead filled up again (a few years), whether people have a lawn or take extended showers, the flow rate even in low years of the Colorado is far more water than people out here could possible ever use.

Those are the facts,

Thank You for listening.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 3 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

""WE ARE EXPORTING 90% OF OUR WATER OUT OF THE REGION"! "

No, see, when you live along a river, and the river flows past you, you are not "exporting" the water that you don't take out of the river.

By that argument, you could say that Michigan, too, "exports" over 90% of its water, 'cos it all eventually flows out to sea via the St. Lawrence River. Letting a river flow is not "exporting" water.

"People here in Nevada are starting to ask the question, why should we suffer..."

You live in the desert. That's why you 'suffer.' If you don't like a dry climate, move to a wet one.

Also, I don't know where you got the idea that Nevada supplies all that fresh produce. It mainly comes from California. But your point about canning/preserving local produce for the winter months is well taken. There is a movement to do exactly that, and lots of folks in the East and the Midwest are doing it.

"The picture that is routinely used that shows the "bathring" around lake Mead is misleading and frankly abusive."

You mean that the level of Lake Mead /hasn't/ gone down?

"When the water is at that level it is considered "full pool"."

Oh, so it /has/ gone down. So the photo isn't misleading at all, really.

'At that level, Hoover Dam is doing it's #1 intended purpose of why it was built in the first place "flood control."'

Not generating electrical power? 'Cos that's what it does with all that water: generates electricity.

"Looking at that picture misleads people into thinking that's the normal elevation of the Lake Mead(resevoir) "

Which it is. It gets that low during drought conditions, and the last time it was that low was--well, if you read the article, you'll know.

"The enviromentalist don't like the carbon foot print that transporting all that agriculture produces on our planet. They want people to go back to more locally grown agriculture."

This is true.

"they realize that the conversation has started about building a pipeline to the west."

This is also true.

"they know that no matter how enviromentaly conscience people say they are, tell them that come winter(or any other time of year) they will not have access to as much agriculture, or if they do, it will be at much high prices, they know people are going to want that pipeline built."

This is also true.

The problem is that if we start piping water away from the Great Lakes to water the desert in the Southwest, it /will/ wreck the Great Lakes. Great Lakes water levels are already at historic lows. Diverting Great Lakes water will negatively affect shipping, fisheries, agriculture, tourism, you name it--all to make the desert bloom.

Lawns are a huge waste of water, even in places where water is abundant. The Southwest isn't the only region guilty of poor water management: the Atlanta region also has water use issues, and even the Midwest would do well to be more responsible with its water. But I can't imagine a more irresponsible use of water--no mater what its source--than pouring it on a desert to grow a lawn.


Burnell Andrews profile image

Burnell Andrews 3 years ago from LaBelle, Florida

Liked your article, live in Florida myself and we have similar water problems, some of them are things like salt water intrusion, something that can be caused by water demand and sea level rise. Here we also have huge water demand usually for inane lawns full of water hungry grass. We have put in place restrictions, but even so it is not keeping up. So we are putting in place desalination plants, which in effect just trade off the problem of water to one of consuming large quantities of fossil fuels. I can't tell you what a joy it is though that with the restrictions to see all those lawns dying off because of their water hungry lawns.

The middle east is often ignored on the water issue, westerners are so used to thinking of oil as the most important issue there, but no there it is water, and it is lack of access to water that is likely to be part of the driving force behind some of the conflict there.

Another issue is population, if we have limited water should we limit people numbers simply because the water cannot support them even with water restrictions, so anyway tough problem, like your take on it.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 3 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Burnell-- thanks for stopping by and commenting. Lawns in Florida make about as much sense as lawns in Arizona. Also, why would anyone want to waste resources on a lawn full of boring old grass when they could have a garden full of Florida's beautiful native plants?

You know, I hadn't thought of the Middle East in a water resource context. Of course you're right: wherever people live, they'll need water, and when they live in a desert, water will be at a premium. I wonder how large population centers in places like Dubai and Saudi Arabia handle their water management? Maybe we could learn something from them?

Population control is a touchy issue, and you're right that it's related to resource management. It's really hard to limit people numbers, though, without intrusive, barbaric (not to mention unconstitutional) policies. Perhaps areas with limited water resources should limit /property development/ to homes with little or no lawn area, or apartment buildings only, or dwellings only within town limits (which would mean the construction of multi-unit buildings)?

Urban planning is outside my skillset, though. Is there anyone who knows something about urban planning and development who would like to weigh in?


Darryn12 3 years ago

Jeff,

Thank You for your response

It doesn't matter that water "flows past" anything. The water of the Colorado watershed is owned by 7 western states and Mexico, so your Great Lakes/St. Lawrence river analogy is nonsensical. The river can flow past Nevada all it wants, it doesn't change the fact that Nevada and all the other 6 states can request their allocation at anytime. Nevada and Arizona have even entered into an agreement to pump water underground to save for future use. The issue is "allocation". Obviously, when the states entered into the agreement, there was little need for residential usage, thus the majority of the flow rate was granted to the agriculture industry. Who needs all that water? Sense the water was allocated for agriculture, the industry has taken full advantage of it, using every drop possible to irrigate their fields. As I stated before, over 90% of the water is used for other than residential usage. Over the last few decades, the desert southwest has become a much bigger international player for ag production, contributing 100's products to over a half a billion people, particularly at a time of year when most of north America lacks the ability to grow any localized products. A % of the product even ends up in Europe and Asia(Japan particularly). How smart is that? So, you see, Climate change, drought, whatever you want to call it, is irrelevant. As mighty as the Colorado is, it does not have the capacity to supply that many consumers, and While I agree that all of us need to be good consumers of this resource, a lawn in Las Vegas(though there is plenty of data that shows a lawn absorbs heat) will not change the outcome of the Colorado watershed in future years. The conversation will be about our right to the water, and whether you and anyone else has the right to access it through agricultural production. In fact, when you talk about how irresponsible it is for people out west to have a lawn(while I agree), you'll be quite the hypocrite if at anytime during your last Michigan winter, you or your family consumed any agricultural product not grown locally. Just the carbon foot print in that consumption should be unexceptable to you.

Where did you get the impression that I don't like living here in the desert? I was born right here in southern Nevada and have no plans to leave. Been to Michigan, nice, but no thanx. Offered a home by my wife's parents south of Seattle free of charge if we wanted to move there. Again, nice and green, but no thanx. As far as "suffering" because I live in a desert, we are not suffering I assure you. But...the conversation has now started here in the desert as residents realize how much of our resource is being shipped out of the area in the form of that head of lettuce or ripened tomato. While we do here agree in conservation (southern Nevada has reduced it's ave daily usage by 35% the last 15 years, 347 per day down to 223) that conversation has become a mixture of conservation, and our right to use this resource without us "suffering" for the rest of North America's benefit.

I think you would of recognized that I was referring to the desert southwest as a whole and not simply "Nevada" as to agricultural production. Sense I do personally work in the produce industry, I do understand California followed by Arizona are the two largest producers.

When you look at the bathring, it tells you one thing, and one thing only. Oh! look at that, so that's the level when the dam's at "flood stage"! Ok, I get it. The hoover dam was not designed to sit at "Full pool"!!! How hard is that for people to understand. In it's 80 plus year history, the dam has been at that level less than 1% of the time in it's entire existense. If you could create the perfect situation where there was no drought, no climate change and the flow rate was at a level to keep the dam at full pool regardless of how much the agriculture industry, and residential usage was, the Bureau of reclamation would never allow the Hoover dam stay at full pool. The B of Rec would release a larger amount than the flow rate coming in, and find a balance based on a matrix used in it's operation. THINK ABOUT IT, it can't stay full, it's #1 purpose is flood control. How would it control flooding if it was kept at flood stage. Hello!!!

For those that weren't aware: The Hoover Dam is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. There is a formula for it's operation. There are 4 primary factors that govern it operation and only an act of congress can change this. Each of the following supercede each other in order of importance.

1. Flood control: Flood control is the #1 reason for the building of the Hoover Dam. The Colorado river is legendary for it's heavy run off years that happen, on ave, of about once every 7 years and the havoc it creates.

2. Water storage: The idea was simple. Water would help the southwest grow.

3. Drinking water

4. Electrical production: Electricity is a by-product of the dam. The Hoover Dam "DOES NOT" produce electricity 24/7. It only produces when the B of Rec is transferring water through the system based on the requirements of the compact. Most of the Electricity is sent to Southern California, with Arizona it's 2nd largest consumer. When California was going through their rolling blackouts, they simply couldn't call up and say "let her rip'! No reason to transfer water, no reason to generate, regardless of what California needs.

FYI: Las Vegas get's a very minimal amount of electricity from the dam. In fact, The B of Rec's own website states Las Vegas does not receive any electricity from the dam, though, sense we're all on a grid, it's pretty hard to say exactly where electricity comes from. Nevada Power is the supplier of power to greater Las Vegas. Currently, about 70% of our power comes from natural gas, 15% from renewable(Wind, Solar,Geo). The rest??

So Jeff, no! That's not "what it does with all that water". You were uninformed about that fact, and I suspect weren't even aware of the matrix used in the day to day operation of the dam, or even, that flood control is the first priority of the Hoover Dam. I'm also sure, you now see that the resevior can't be kept at full pool, for what now are obvious reasons to you. When you stated above that full pool is "normal" elevation, you were not accurate.

The resevior is low and will continue to get lower. This is correct. As long as agriculture has the rights to the the vast majority of the water, turning a profit is their primary concern, and the water levels will constantly be low because ag will use every drop available. As I stated above, drought or no drought, demand into the future will always outstrip supply going forword. They can make a profit by providing you and your family products you're not able to produce most of the year in your own part of America. Are you all ready to be honest with yourselves and give up these products that increase your carbon footprint?, and leave the water where it belongs, here in the desert southwest.

The bottom line is this: North America has been incredible to all of us. It's resources are incredible. I even think how lucky we are to have within our boundries, a climate zone that can produce so much for all of us, and the miracle that it exists within our border. Add the fact, that a major internationally known water source flows right too it, and can produce when places like Maine or Michigan which have lots of water can't. What a miracle! But we soon out West are going to start demanding from the rest of the country, either grow your products locally or send water out west to replace what you're taking. We all can talk, but like going before a judge, you better to have an agreement ahead of time or you may not like what the judge decides, and that decider will soon be us.


Darryn12 3 years ago

Jeff,

My last post was not to beat you up, but to make you and others who read your articles understand the much broader issue about the Colorado watershed and the issues before it. I am not a professional writer, obviously. What frustrates me is that people like yourself who do write professionally are supposed to be the gatekeepers of information for the general public. That very public depends on you for accurate information so they can make informed judgments on any given subject. Unfortunately, what I continually see is, information that is disseminated with a political agenda hidden in it, and your article screams that! You wrote about a subject that lacked some of the most basic information about Hoover Dam's operation, and I had to point out the inaccuracies. In fairness, you weren't the first. The complete lack of truthfulness you've shown is either a thinly vieled attempt at pushing an agenda, or, your amazing lack of knowledge about the subject should be an example of writers not writing about a subject they truly don't understand.

Jeff, Americans just want to be told the truth. When you write about a subject, you have the responsibility to supply information without any personal bias or political leanings. Americans don't know who to trust anymore because of the irresponsible behavior shown by people who pose as those gatekeepers. Don't be a coward, say who you are. If you truly are going to write about subjects with a political bend, be honest with the readers. To intentionally write about the water issues out west and supply the reader with so much misinformation (that I so easily pointed out) does none of us a service. Also, the fact that you haven't responded to my second post looks very much like you're embarressed that I exposed your lack of knowledge on the issue.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 3 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Darryn12, thanks for your comment(s).

First of all, "It doesn't matter that water "flows past" anything. The water of the Colorado watershed is owned by 7 western states and Mexico, so your Great Lakes/St. Lawrence river analogy is nonsensical."

No. Rather, your claim that Nevada "exports" 90% of its water is nonsensical. But I'll agree to disagree with that.

"The issue is "allocation". Obviously, when the states entered into the agreement, there was little need for residential usage, thus the majority of the flow rate was granted to the agriculture industry."

Yes, absolutely allocation is an issue.

However, you're arguing that showing the low water levels in Lake Mead is misleading, and that urban and suburban development doesn't impact the water level at all because water for residential and commercial use comes from underground aquifers. That's fine, but then you argue that agricultural use (or over-use) of water from the Colorado River will make life more difficult for people living in the Southwest? I thought you just said that they got their water from other sources, and not the Colorado River? That Southwestern suburbanites don't use water from Lake Mead to water their lawns? That it's mostly going to SoCal for crop irrigation?

If that's the case--that growing urban development and subsequent increases in residential water usage aren't a factor in the lower levels of Lake Mead--then that would be an excellent argument against using Lake Mead's low level to make a point about responsible urban development.

But your further points about Lake Mead and Hoover Dam undermine this argument.

First, you're right that I was unaware that Hoover Dam's primary function is flood control. Knowing this, of course it would be silly to let Lake Mead rise to the "brim" of Hoover Dam. You're absolutely right that there could be no flood control if that were allowed to happen. That doesn't change the fact that the second and third purposes, that is, water storage and drinking water (two aspects of the same use, really), tell us that urban development in the Southwest is absolutely a factor in the historically low levels of Lake Mead. That is, unless you were right that nobody is getting Lake Mead water for household use.

So we have a bit of a conundrum: you say that most of the residentially used water in the Southwest comes from underground, and not Lake Mead, and then you say that the number three purpose of Hoover Dam/Lake Mead is to provide drinking water. How does that work? It can't be both, can it? Or perhaps you can explain how it /can/ be both? And really, if agricultural demands and not irresponsible development are responsible for Lake Mead's low levels, then if Great Lakes water should be sent anywhere, it should be sent to SoCal, where the agriculture is happening, rather than to Las Vegas, where it isn't.

"Where did you get the impression that I don't like living here in the desert?"

From your previous comment, where you said, "People here in Nevada are starting to ask the question, why should we suffer so that people in the rest of the country/world can have access to fresh produce simply because we happen to have the climate and water resource to produce it?" (Which, by the way, was what led me to think you were talking about Nevada specifically and not SoCal and Arizona.) If you like living in the desert, that's super.

"a lawn in Las Vegas(though there is plenty of data that shows a lawn absorbs heat) will not change the outcome of the Colorado watershed in future years."

You're right that /a/ lawn in Las Vegas (or Phoenix, or wherever) won't have much of an impact. Several thousand lawns, however, will. And that's what we're dealing with: not one lawn, but several thousand (or several hundred thousand) new, thirsty lawns.

"When you stated above that full pool is "normal" elevation, you were not accurate."

Well, I never stated that 'full pool' is 'normal' elevation. What I said was that Lake Mead is at historically low levels, which is absolutely accurate. Lake Mead is normally a lot deeper than it is now--this is also absolutely accurate. There's a lot of space between "deeper than it is now" and "full pool." It's the same as the difference between "nearly full" and "half full." You don't instantly go from one to the other; you have to fill up the glass (or the lake) for a while before you get from "half full" to "overflowing." So when you claimed that I said that "full pool" is the same as "normal elevation," you were not accurate.

So much for where we disagree.

We do have some common ground, though. I completely agree that folks here in the Midwest (and pretty much everywhere) need to eat locally produced food, and preserve it for use in the wintertime. Amen, brother! My own family and I are doing more and more of this, and I also work to encourage others to eat locally, shop at farmers' markets, and preserve food. Even in the relatively water-rich Midwest, lawns are a foolish waste of water (and other resources). We would be much better served to grow vegetables and/or raise chickens in that space.

Now, as for your comment of three days ago, the /only/ inaccuracy above was a minor one, where I mistakenly implied that electricity production was a more important purpose of Hoover Dam than it is. I'm not embarrassed to have been mistaken and corrected. I like to be right. In fact, I like being right so much that I change my mind when I find that I'm wrong. I now know that Hoover Dam's main purpose is flood control, and that it functions as a resevoir second, and a generator third. That's fine--I learned something from you, so, thanks for that. But it's still true that Hoover Dam does in fact function as a resevoir and as a power plant, so not only are there no actual inaccuracies in the article, none of this in /any/ way invalidates the overall point.

I don't know where you got the idea that I was trying to "hide" a political agenda in this article. The agenda is pretty up-front. You can't get much more up-front than to come right out and say "I will do everything in my power to keep the Great Lakes from becoming America’s Aral Sea." Take the agenda into consideration, sure, and certainly there's room for argument about whether my conclusions are the correct ones. But the facts that I've presented are true, and my conclusions follow from them.

Next, I take issue with your characterization of what is in fact a minor mistake about the primary purpose of Hoover Dam as either a "complete lack of truthfulness" (that is, you're calling me a liar, to which I take personal offense) or an "amazing lack of knowledge" (in fact, I made a relatively minor mistake, the correction of which doesn't weaken the point of this article at all).

Finally, the time that passed between your previous comment and your most recent one has nothing to do with any imagined embarrassment but rather two things: one, when I first saw your previous comment, I was about to start work on other projects. The comment was a good and a thoughtful one, and deserved a good and thoughtful response. I didn't have time enough to craft that response before starting on the other projects, which took up rather a lot of time (I do other things in life besides writing on HubPages). When I came back to write this reply, I saw your most recent--and frankly insulting--comment, and seriously considered deleting it. But given that your previous response was so thoughtful, I decided to reply to it instead.


Nathan Orf profile image

Nathan Orf 2 years ago from Virginia

Hi Jeff, and what a thought provoking hub. I never gave much thought to the South-West's water issues before, but it does seem a bit dense to grow a lawn in the desert. And I so loved your "Dear Stupid" letter. It gave me quite a laugh. Great hub, voted up and awesome.


Sanxuary 2 years ago

This nightmare is going to catch up to everyone real soon and be a huge disaster. The current drought is going to empty what is already depleted real quick if the weather does not change real soon.


londonaccountants profile image

londonaccountants 2 years ago from London, UK

Great write up! To me it's simple, there are too many people on this planet - and drinking water is going to be one of the first things to run out!

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