Recently, historic record-low water volume in Lake Mead and Lake Powell has been While the trend of dropping water levels at two of the nation’s largest water reservoirs has been widely recognized for years (perhaps decades), a discussion about what it truly means for those who rely on its source for water and electricity downstream is rarely heard.
Lake Mead’s water level continues to fall to historic lows, bringing the reservoir less than 150 feet away from “dead pool so low that water cannot flow downstream from the dam. The loss of water entirely from this source would be catastrophic. Eliminating the hydroelectric power source that supplies 29 million people in the Southwest with a portion of their electricity would only compound the problem.
Such an event would have an enormous impact on San Diego County where half of the region’s total water supply relies on the Colorado River. Other areas of the Southwest could also be severely affected. Regional agricultural use of water could be eliminated, impacting the nation’s food supply. Skyrocketing costs for urban users of what little water and power is still available could cause mass migrational population shifts. Real estate values could plummet. The “dead pool” of Lake Mead could transform parts of the Southwest into “dead zones.
Think it could never happen? It already has on a smaller scale. Although the circumstances surrounding the fate of the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley are different, the results could be the same for larger areas of Southern California and Arizona that rely on the Colorado River.
The loss of water from this “vacation getaway” destination has transformed the Salton Sea and surrounding area to its current near-caustic state.
In a with CNBC, the Audubon Society’s Salton Sea program director, Frank Ruiz, said, “People here used to fish, swim, bring their boats. They went from living in paradise to living in hell.
The lake that once covered 400 square miles has shrunk 90 percent, leaving behind oxygen-deprived, highly salinized water with a rotten-egg odor that permeates the surrounding area.
Many of the 400 species of birds that once thrived are dying on this critical migrational stop
All but one species of fish has died off and toxins like arsenic and selenium are carried away in the breeze, potentially affecting the health of more than 650,000 nearby residents.
Indeed, California has had remarkable success in managing its water resources, realizing a drop in overall agricultural and urban water use since 1995, despite its growing population over those same years.
In the end, however, water usage rates could drop to zero and it would still not solve the problem for some areas where nearly 100 percent of the water used comes from the Colorado River. “Nothin’ from nothin’ still leaves nothin’.”
The need for greater water storage capacity in California is not new. New storage reservoirs throughout the state could provide more water to the parched southern areas, especially through drought years, and help reduce water importation from the overdrawn Colorado River.
In 2014, Californians voted to do just that with the passage of Proposition 1 — the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act. $7.5 billion was borrowed by the state to construct half-a-dozen water storage projects. Eight years later, nothing has been built.
In March, with the current drought raging, $2.2 billion, or about half the money needed to build the largest of the proposed reservoirs near the unincorporated community of Sites in Northern California, became available from the federal government as a loan.
The balance will come from another loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and funding from Proposition.
The reservoir would hold enough water to supply about 3 million households for one year — although much of the water would be for agricultural purposes.
It seems a shame that $9 billion of the nearly $100 billion California budget surplus can be handed out as shortsighted “inflation relief” when real solutions to long-term problems could be funded — without any public debt at all.
Shouldn’t we be more concerned about putting Californians to work on a project that will leave it a better place for our children — instead of putting a few dollars in our pockets that will have no real-long term economic impact?.
I can only surmise there is no short-term political gain on long-term, meaningful projects for those politicians handing out the cash.
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