As Lake Mead drops, who is really vulnerable?

As Lake Mead drops toward a Lower Colorado River Basin shortage declaration, a group of UC Santa Barbara students have done an excellent analysis (pdf of their summary results) that shows where the real vulnerabilities are. They conclude that Las Vegas and the municipal areas of Central Arizona are on solid ground. Arizona farmers won’t do so well, and Southern California has some potential problems at the margin:

vulnerability as Lake Mead drops

vulnerability as Lake Mead drops


Recreation at Lake Mead will take a hit, they found, as will power generation. Their full report is here.


  1. How might good water policy make all water users equally vulnerable and not put most of the burden on a few folks who ‘aren’t us. So we don’t care.’?

  2. Eric –

    I’d argue it’s not possible for political reasons, but it’s probably also not desirable. The people who are vulnerable are vulnerable because they overreached. The people who are not vulnerable lived within their means. To shift the rules now would essentially reward the profligate at the expense of the frugal.

  3. I don’t think it’s as mechanistic as most vulnerability = least planning ahead. That would assume that there is a level playing field with totally rational actors. Institutions put in place prevent there from being a level playing field, and many water users are probably left with few choices to adapt or totally live within their means because of that.

    As cliché as it sounds, education is a strong solution. When folks know what it means and how to live within their means, plan ahead and understand water availability/drought, and know who is indeed overreaching despite that information, I think it will sort itself out.

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