Southwest In a Water Juggling Act as Supplies Dry Up

lake mead low water level photo

Photo by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos of Lake Mead's low water levels as of July, 2010. Via Flickr Creative Commons

Lake Mead, one of the major basins along the Colorado river system, is used to supply water to people in the southwest everywhere from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. However, it is at its lowest 11-year average in its 100 year history and is about to cross below a critical mark of 1,075 feet. If it goes below that level -- and all signs point that it will without miraculous rainfall -- it will mean less water making it to Arizona and Nevada as a new distribution plan is enacted, as we pointed out last month as the lake hit the lowest level since 1956. Or instead of redistribution, the low levels could mean launching a plan for sending extra water down river from Lake Powell in Utah to Lake Mead. Either way, the southwest is about to do a water juggling act as supplies dwindle. It's no surprise that the southwest is in water trouble. The dry area experienced a population boom (there were only 9.5 million people dependent on Lake Mead when the basin reached its all-time low in 1956, and there are about 28 million people dependent on the supplies now), which leans heavily on the already tight supplies. Earlier in the summer, we noted that many areas of the US are in danger of extreme water shortages over the next 40 years -- the bulk of which are in the southwest:

water shortages map image

Image: NRDC

So juggling the resources is no small task, especially with a pressing water crisis. According to the New York Times, it looks as if the Bureau of Reclamation is leaning toward the plan to flow water from Lake Powell, which has 50% more water than Lake Mead, down river to the struggling basin. However, this is a first for the bureau so there is no 100% guarantee the plan will work. Because not only are water supplies threatened but also electricity supplies generated by turbines in the lake, it's worth a try.

READ MORE: Nevada Water Authority Executive Proposes High-Stakes Mississippi River Floodwater Diversion

It's a problem the managers will become more familiar with as population rises and climate change brings on more prolonged droughts. Cities across the southwest, despite all conservation plans, will feel the consequences.

"If the river flow continues downward and we can't build back up supply, Las Vegas is in big trouble," Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said in an interview with the New York Times.

READ MORE: Colorado River Reservoirs Could Have 50-50 Chance of Running Dry Due to Climate Change by 2057 : TreeHugger

It comes down to the fact that we have a limited supply of fresh water which we are notorious for abusing. Without serious changes to how we live, from our consumption of goods to our food choices, from smart metering our water consumption to our water-dependent electricity use, this problem of disappearing supplies will continue.

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More on Water in the Southwest
Higher Water Shortage Risks in One Third of US Counties Due to Climate Change: NRDC Report
American Southwest: The Dust Bowl & The Burn Belt
What the Water Crisis Really Means for You and the Planet

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