Thinking about water in the Southwest

Lake Mead now very near its lowest level in history
[Via CEJournal]

Eleven years of low flows and growing consumption are draining the reservoir. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the West is slowly aridifying too.

Lake Mead shimmers in this photo shot by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, with thirsty Las Vegas sprawled across the desert at upper right.

In as little as the next few days, Lake Mead, the giant reservoir on the Colorado River that serves millions of water users, will drop to record low levels.

To be more precise, it is all but inevitable that its elevation above sea level will drop below 1,083.19 feet, the historic low reached in 1956. And when that happens, the reservoir will be at a level that has not been seen since the reservoir was filling up in the 1930s. (For the current level of Lake Mead, click here.)

Lake Mead is, in essence, a giant hydrological bank account from which California, Nevada and Arizona — the “lower basin” states of the Colorado River — make withdrawals to slake the thirst of cities like Las Vegas, and millions of acres of farmland. But 11 years of dry conditions, combined with ever growing demand, have steadily drained Lake Mead.

During the next century,  one of the most pressing environmental issues we’ll face will be “the intersection of carbon and climate change with all these other problems. And water is one of the first ones that’s arising. The Colorado River Basin is the classic case in the United States.”


Almost every week brings new research regarding the altering water cycle in our world. There will have to be some changes in the laws governing water management.

Even with a changing climate, there have been periods in the past where these drought conditions lasted 60 years, instead of the current 11 years.

Because this is the sort of projection that does not inspire a lot of hope:


It shows the relative changes in water runoff of the 2090-2099 period compared to 1990-1999. Looks like the Columbia and Frasier flows will be doing okay but the Southwest will not be doing so good.

Making good decisions about water use will be critical for even making it to 2090 in any sort of reasonable shape.