in Mosul, city residents digging for their own groundwater

A remarkable piece in this morning’s New York Times about urban residents’ drive for water:

MOSUL, Iraq — The water taps are dry in Rashidiya.

The water and sewage system collapsed in this eastern Mosul neighborhood after 100 days of street combat. On Sunday, Haitham Younis Wahab and his neighbor Shamsuldeen Ahmed Saed decided to do something about it.

Out came the sledgehammers, steel pipes and shovels.

The two men pounded and dug for three days. Sixteen feet down. Twenty feet down. Nothing. And then, 26 feet beneath the cracked sidewalk, they struck water. After all, they live just a half mile from the muddy Tigris River, which divides eastern and western Mosul.

It is not drinkable, David Zucchino and Ben Solomon report. But it is something.

No, this water litigation is not “war”

Water is for not fighting over?

From the OED:

war: a. Hostile contention by means of armed forces, carried on between nations, states, or rulers, or between parties in the same nation or state; the employment of armed forces against a foreign power, or against an opposing party in the state. (emphasis added)

Going to court – an institution that provides a peaceful alternative to armed conflict – is pretty much the opposite of “war”.

“The Dam” by Robert Byrne – an Oroville ro·man à clef?

My friend and University of New Mexico water nerd colleague Bruce Thomson has found some timely reading for us – The Dam, a novel by Robert Byrne. Bruce is on UNM’s engineering faculty and taught our engineering ethics course for many years. Quoting Bruce:

It’s a short novel (244 pages) about a young engineer who recognizes there’s a potential failure mode for a large earth filled dam and his efforts to have this flaw recognized and dealt with before the dam fails.  It’s got a very nice description of earth filled dams, their design, construction, and potential vulnerabilities, and ultimately the series of events leading up to and following failure.  It also describes the challenges that a young engineer faces in getting the attention and subsequent action from supervisors, managers, and politicians.  I have used the book in my engineering ethics class as it addresses situations that engineers are likely to encounter, though usually not with such dire consequences.

Worth noting is that, while the dam in the book is not “Oroville”, it’s pretty clearly Oroville:

I read the book again last night.  It’s a fictional earthfill dam, highest in the country,  in Sutter county upstream from Suttonville, 100 miles NE of Sacramento.  It is clearly based on the Oroville dam and lake, though in this book it’s the dam that fails not the spillways.

Timely fiction.

Colorado River Basin snowpack suggests a good runoff year

We’re going to need a bigger graph.

While we were all distracted by the chaos at Oroville Dam, the snowpack above Lake Powell on the Colorado River last week climbed above normal for the year. By this measure from the CBRFC, it’s at 57 percent above average for mid-February. It doesn’t usually peak until early April.

Based on the latest round of forecasts, expect it to keep rising. This is good news for levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two large reservoirs that provide storage for basin water users.

The current model estimate for April – July flow into Lake Powell is a staggering 3.5 million acre feet above the Jan. 1 forecast. To get a sense of the scale of that, Lake Powell currently holds 11.2 million acre feet of water. 3.5 maf is a meaningful increase in storage. The Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly operations report, out today, projects Powell ending September with a surface elevation of 3,640 feet above sea level, 32 feet above the forecast just a month ago.

But beyond gobs of water, what does it mean? First and most importantly, it puts off the risk that Lake Powell could drop to a level that puts at risk the ability of the Upper Colorado River Basin to meet its delivery obligations under the Colorado River Compact. The bureau also has concluded it is likely there will be enough water in the system to release “bonus” water from the Upper Basin to the Lower Basin, helping prop up Lake Mead with a release of 9 million acre feet this year, above the minimum required release of 8.23 maf. (Though as astute Inkstain reader Charles notes, the rules are complicated and we’ll have to wait until April to know for sure about this.)

Wetter wets, drier dries, and the lessons of Oroville Dam

The mess at Oroville Dam will have lots of dam safety lessons, but they will take time to learn. One important lesson, though, is staring us in the face:

Climate change is projected to yield both more extreme flood risks and greater drought risks.

That was Mike Dettinger and colleagues, writing last year in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science.

My thoughts in “this week’s” edition of jfleck’s water news. Avoid missing a single issue of my haphazardly written newsletter (hey, it’s free, eh?) by subscribing here.

Another US-Mexico transboundary water collaboration

The Otay Water District, in California’s San Diego County, is working on a deal to buy water from a desalination plant in Mexico:

Even as California residents debate whether we are free from the drought, local water agencies are looking for ways to increase their water supply.

The Otay Water District is working on a project that would involve desalinated water from a new plant being built in Rosarito, Mexico.

The district wants to build a 3.5 mile pipeline from the U.S-Mexico border to its 36.7 million gallon reservoir in Otay Mesa. The pipeline would transport some of that desalinated water to customers in Spring Valley, La Presa, Rancho San Diego, Jamul and eastern Chula Vista.

The story, by May Tjoa, has a lot of meaty detail on the regulatory and institutional issues involved.

Maite Arce, Mike Connor on the need for collaboration with Mexico on the Colorado River

It is critically important that the new administration reach out to our partners in the Mexican government to seal a new deal on shared water shortages by the 2017 deadline. The agreement will help ensure that adequate water levels are maintained in Lake Mead, thereby protecting the interests of U.S. water users, as well as those in Mexico. Without a completed new agreement, the risk of shortages in the Colorado River’s lower basin will increase, as will the prospect of conflict with Mexico over the 1944 Treaty. Through ongoing cooperation, however, the United States and Mexico can serve as a model for additional agreements throughout the basin that will ensure a secure water future for all who depend on the Colorado River.

That’s Maite Arce of the Hispanic Access Foundation and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor, writing yesterday in The Hill.