Interior Releases Report Highlighting Impacts of Climate Change to Western Water

Escalation of Western Water Wars Loom

The finite availability of western water is part of the reason Ralph Maughan previously posed the question : Will the resource sucking “sin city” be reclaimed by the desert ?  Perhaps eventually, but in the meantime – despite setbacks, the Southern Nevada Water Authority keeps stretching its tentacles in a continuing effort to draw-down surrounding water resources:

Hundreds Protest Las Vegas Water GrabGreat Basin Water Network Press Release

Nevadans and Utahns made it clear once again that Las Vegas won’t take water from rural Nevada without a fight.

This at a time when the Interior Department has announced a report commissioned by the Bureau of Reclamation – which has presumably brushed up on its 9th grade math – highlighting the impacts of climate change to western water resources – including a projection of an 8 to 20 percent decrease in average annual stream flow in several river basins, including the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and the San Joaquin.

Interior Releases Report Highlighting Impacts of Climate Change to Western Water ResourcesInterior Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released a report that assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydropower, flood control, and fish and wildlife in the western United States. The report to Congress, prepared by Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, represents the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major Reclamation river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri river basins.

Upper Colorado River Basin snowfall gives Lake Mead some replenishment

Wet winter and spring will raise the reservoir for the first time in a decade-

Recently we posted an article how Lake Mead would soon fall to a level that it would no longer be able to generate power. I recently visited (see photo). The drawdown was amazing, but the extreme wet winter and spring upriver will raise the lake for a year for the first time in a decade. The future is still probably bleak for the river’s many water consumers and the downriver wildlife.

Lake Mead replenished by snowfall. Arizona Republic. By Shaun McKinnon.

"Bathtub ring" at Hoover Dam shows the water level of Lake Mead in March 2011. Photo copyright Ralph Maughan

Will dryup of Lake Mead prompt Western conservatives to think of climate change?

Secretary of Interior Salazar thinks so-

I don’t think it will, not as the so-called conservatives in office today look at the world.  However, back in the world of facts where Lake Mead isn’t far from the level of “dead pool,” there will be enormous consequences for all the Colorado River Basin states: Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California.

Salazar: Colorado River issue could push conservatives to face climate change. By Karoun Demirjian. Las Vegas Sun

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego places Lake Mead at a 50% chance to run dry by 2020, with its enormous power production inoperative by 2017.  They gave a 10% chance it would be  inoperable by 2014.

Not much support for rebuilding the Teton Dam

Survey of Eastern Idaho residents shows them generally against rebuilding-

The deadly collapse of the Teton Dam east of Rexburg, Idaho, in June 1976 was one of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s worst moments. Conservationists had been fighting the dam as a waste of money and destruction of a beautiful fishing stream.  The canyon was also filled with wildlife, especially in the winter.

No one thought it would collapse, but the dam fell apart as soon as they filled it. Eleven people drowned and there was a billion dollars damage. Incredible as it my seem, some local irrigators started agitating to rebuild. It was an unpleasant joke, but most forgot about it until recently when some “penny pinching” members of the Idaho legislature starting saying it should be rebuilt, hopefully by Uncle Sucker.

American Rivers commissioned a poll in the area. They found a slight majority in favored of rebuilding the dam, but when presented with an alternative, greater efficiency of water use, the number were strongly against it.

Given the economic climate it is hard to see how Congress would appropriate a billion dollars to rebuild this structure. Rocky Barker has a full story on his blog in the Idaho Statesman.

Diesel Use in Gas Drilling Cited as Violation of Safe-Water Law

The practice of fracking, or hydraulic fracture drilling has been a highly damaging practice wherever it is used and now Congress is asking the EPA to take a harder look.

Diesel Use in Gas Drilling Cited as Violation of Safe-Water Law.
New York Times

Supporters of new dam on upper Green River don’t give up

Despite public outcry and negative vote by WY Water Development Commission, cattle assn, county commissions continue to push dam-

Few people seem to like the proposal to build a dam on the upper Green River above Warren Bridge. The state Water Development Commission voted 7-1 against it, but powerful interest groups are trying sidestep public opinion and push the unpopular prop0sal in the Wyoming state legislature.

Legislators to have next say on Green River dam. So far, project is not in bill to be considered by committee Dec. 15. By Cory Hatch. Jackson Hole News and Guide.

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Here is our earlier story on this proposed dam. Wyoming Water Development Commission against proposed Green River dam. November 11, 2010. Commission calls it “too expensive, unnecessary and bad for recreation and the environment”-

Western Fly Fishing Journal doesn’t like this dam. A Dam On The Green River?

Dust cuts water flow into upper Colorado River

Dust from livestock grazing in the southwest reduces water runoff in the Colorado River Basin by 5%

An interesting study has been released by the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies which explains that spring runoff from the Colorado Rockies has been compressed into a shorter period of time due to high levels of dust found on the mountain’s snowbanks.

“Runoff comes from the mountains in a more compressed period, which makes water management more difficult than if the water came more slowly out of the mountains.”

Evaporation and sublimation of the warmer snow itself–then transpiration from the earlier-exposed vegetation–results in water losses to the atmosphere, losses that then don’t go into runoff.

According to the study, the dust loading is five times greater than normal due to human activities such as livestock grazing, activities associated to livestock grazing such as vegetation treatments like these pictured in Nevada, and other disturbances.

After the Mower/Chopper Cave Valley, Nevada © Ken Cole

After the Mower/Chopper Cave Valley, Nevada © Ken Cole


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