You mean we have to pay for our own water?

It’s easy to blame climate change when you’re in DC begging for money to subsidize your water problems. OK, maybe not easy, on account of DC not believing in climate change and stuff. Also not having any money even if it did.

But the dynamic in this Steve Tetreault story as Pat Mulroy visits our nation’s capital hat in hand is fascinating.

I’m not sure if the LVRJ has called off their copyright attack dogs yet, so I won’t blockquote the key passages. Go read it and come back. (Can I link without getting sued? Hope so.)

Basically, Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, was in DC arguing that a changing climate has hammered Las Vegas’s water supply such that the rapidly growing southwestern city (at least it was rapidly growing until recently) needs the feds to chip in to somehow help fund the “third straw” intake to ensure continued supplies to Vegas even as Lake Mead drops.

Here’s the problem, which I’ve argued until I’m blue in the face. During the great drought of the ’00s, as Lake Mead dropped and Vegas stared a catastrophe in the face, the great reservoir continued to get its entire legally mandated allotment. The drought cut into surpluses that Vegas and other Lower Basin water uses have come to depend on. But over the decade of drought, the river never missed a payment to Lake Mead. It did this in two ways – because upper basin states aren’t using their full allotments, and because Lake Powell, upstream, was relatively full when the whole mess started. Vegas and the other downstream users survived on bonus water that they can’t count on in the long run.

So sure, blame climate change on the supply side if you want. But there’s a demand side issue here too.


  1. Hi Jon,

    Actually the whole Righthaven thing is just about done, except for the shouting.

    Righthaven has been handed legal setbacks continuously for months; their domain name was auctioned off to pay for defendant’s lawyers fees that they were ordered to pay. Attorneys are not showing up in court … no need to stick a fork in ’em, they’re done.

    The whole campaign has weakened copyright protections instead of strengthening them. One ruling said that it was fair use for a non-profit organization to have posted an entire LVRJ story – that decision I don’t agree with. The courts also ruled that excerpting four paragraphs of a 34 paragraph story with a link to the full version was considered fair use.

    After much deliberation, I have begun posting LVRJ stories, as I used to – a small excerpt with a link.

  2. Maven – Thanks. I suspected, based on a couple of stories I’d read but mainly on the fact that you’re now excerpting LVRJ stories, that all was safe, but wasn’t sure enough to take the risk without more due diligence.

  3. January 17, 2009
    ( Over 3 years ago … seriously stubborn ! )

    Southern Nevada Water Authority

    Dear Ms. Mulroy and SNWA,

    As we all know, Obama’s administration is investigating projects for the upcoming Stimulus Bill of $825 billion.

    Development of a non-tributary fresh water Source that, on average, could yield a million acre feet for the region and be utilized to keep Lake Mead reasonably FULL is worthy of consideration.

    Development of the Source is not outrageous, but I agree when Ms. Mulroy said, “Policymakers will need to become creative, even ‘outrageous’.”

    The SNWA should make the following known to the Obama administration:

    Lake Mead holds 28.5 million acre feet and when FULL can produce 2075 megawatts of renewable energy each year.

    By comparison, 21,000 desalination plants in 120 countries around the world produce 3.4 million acre feet a year. A $300 million dollar wind farm will only produce 150 megawatts !

    Lake Mead ’s Hoover Dam and 17 generators are already built, paid for and fully functioning!

    To appreciate a new Source solution to keep Lake Mead reasonably FULL, it is important to understand that all of the present tributary water flowing into and/or stored in Lake Mead already belongs to others and is subject to The Law of the (Colorado) River which is an accumulation of court decrees, compacts and case law stretching back to when the indigenous tribes first inhabited the desert Southwest.

    In other words, “don’t even think about touching one drop of the present Colorado River water supply; it already legally belongs to someone else” !

    Such non-tributary water must be fresh water which is under no circumstances any part of any tributary or groundwater that would drain into or possibly be connected to or eventually ever reach (and never has reached) any part of the Colorado River or any of its tributaries in any state.

    Delivery of non-tributary water from the new Source would not be subject to the provisions of the Law of the River because such water was never part of the Colorado River or its tributaries when the Laws of the River were set in stone.

    More importantly, non-tributary water from the new Source could be stored in Lake Mead WITHOUT DAMAGE to the existing water rights of those who already own and control all of the presently existing Colorado River water.

    If water from the new Source were to be stored in Lake Mead, the surface area of Lake Mead would increase. That surface area increase would cause more evaporation. The increase in evaporation would have to be subtracted off of the amount of non-tributary water stored.

    For example, Lake Mead presently has in storage approximately 15 million acre feet and has a surface area of 93,000 acres. If one million acre feet of non-tributary water were to be added, the surface area would increase to 97345 acres. The additional 4345 acres would cause the evaporation losses( +-7 ft/yr) to increase by 30,415 acre feet per year. In order to keep the non-tributary water in Lake Mead without damage to the water rights of others, 30,415 acre feet (3%) would have to be subtracted off of the million acre feet of non-tributary water accumulated. Each year, the evaporation loss would be re-evaluated and accounted for.

    The increase in renewable energy production due to the increase in reservoir depth could more than pay for the rental of the available air space in Lake Mead .

    If an extra million acre feet of non-tributary water could be accumulated in Lake Mead EACH YEAR, Lake Mead could, in a few years, be kept reasonably FULL and functioning rather than going DRY as predicted.

    Utilizing the million acre feet to keep Lake Mead full is only one option available. It may not be desirable to put all the fresh water in one shopping basket.

    Some of this million acre feet a year could be used by Las Vegas (SNWA) and the cities of California .

    Large instantaneous releases could be made to seasonally flood & restore the Colorado River Delta, worth $2.4 billion a year.

    75,000 acre feet a year could be released for diversion into the old All American Canal for groundwater recharge purposes to keep the 1.3 million people of Mexicali , Mexico from being without water in exchange for Mexico ’s cooperation with the drug and immigration issues.

    Non-tributary water in storage is rather amazing in that it can be utilized for exchanges. There are instances where owners of the non-tributary water can simply trade/exchange their non-tributary water for the natural flow water and thus put water to various beneficial uses in geographic areas where previously it would have not been allowed.

    All exchanges have to approved, properly measured and administered for by those in authority to avoid damage to existing water rights.

    The legal concepts associated with the movement and storage of non-tributary water are certainly not new to Bureau of Reclamation projects and private ventures throughout the west.

    Vast networks of diversion, storage, delivery and re-use of non-tributary waters enable the Colorado Big Thompson, Fryingpan-Arkansas, San Juan-Chama and scores of other projects to function on a daily basis in the desert Southwest.

    Being from Colorado , the new Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar knows a great deal about these projects and can verify how they function.

    With communication, cooperation and coordination, exchanges may be possible which would help solve the issues surrounding Las Vegas , but also the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta .

    As an interesting example for evaluation, at times on a space available basis conveyance structures could receive the stored non-tributary water IN EXCHANGE for leaving an equal amount in northern California .

    Such an exchange could be a win-win trade.

    Point being that a water exchange can be made hundreds of miles away and can involve sometimes several totally separate river basins simultaneously without damage to anyone’s legal water entitlements.

    Nevada , Las Vegas and California need “WATER INSURANCE”.

    A totally versatile supply of millions of acre feet of non-tributary fresh water stored in numerous reservoirs may very well mean the difference between financial life or death for thousands of Nevadans & Californians in the event of severe drought, earthquakes, terrorism or even guagga mussel attacks.

    For all entities/agencies/municpalities/bureaus/states a readily available supply of fresh water for mitigation would certainly beat the millions of dollars spent for litigation, which never creates one new drop of fresh water !

    The best laid plans to mine the groundwater of the deserts for Las Vegas and the cities of Southern California may not turn out as designed.

    A water insurance policy to avoid the devastation & disappointment when all does not go well could avoid an avalance of cease and desist orders which might very well curtail the communities of the future.

    I would appreciate it if the SNWA would let me know that they have received this communique’.

    As always, I am open to all suggestions that enable a complete confidential disclosure to occur so that the SNWA and others can evaluate the merits of developing the Source and pass the information on to the Obama administration.

    Ray Walker (Retired Water Rights Analyst)
    “The laughter of fools has always been the reward of any man who comes up with a new thought.” Stephen Lister

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