Snowpack news: Reclamation’s current forecast for Fry-Ark deliveries = 63,000 acre-feet #ColoradoRiver

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Bureau of Reclamation has estimated a banner year for Fryingpan-Arkansas flows — with a disclaimer.

“The forecast is based on average conditions for the rest of the spring,” said Roy Vaughan, Reclamation’s manager for the Fry-Ark Project. “We’ve seen it continue to snow and rain, and we’ve seen everything stop in March.”

Vaughan spoke at Wednesday’s meeting of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

Based on snowpack of 140 percent of median in the Fry-Ark collection area on the other side of the Continental Divide on Feb. 1, Reclamation predicts 63,800 acre-feet of water could be imported this year. If it holds, that would be about 20 percent higher than normal. But that number could be influenced by when and how quickly the snow melts in May and June. It also depends on whether snows continue during March and April, when the mountains typically get the largest accumulation of snow.

While the Arkansas River basin is reporting storage levels of 64 percent of average, Fry-Ark reservoirs are 85-105 percent of average for this time of year, Vaughan said. Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, is at 105 percent, while Twin Lakes and Pueblo are about 85 percent of average.

Reclamation wants to move about 30,000 acre-feet of water out of Turquoise Lake, but can’t because it is making repairs on the turbines at the Mount Elbert hydroelectric plant. Most of the water moved between Turquoise and Twin Lakes goes through a large tunnel that feeds the Mount Elbert forebay. Repairs should be completed in early March, Vaughan said.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will allocate water from the Fry-Ark Project in May. About 53 percent goes to cities and 47 percent to farms under the district’s allocation principles.

From the USDA:

Limited water supplies are predicted in many areas west of the Continental Divide, according to this year’s second forecast by the National Water and Climate Center of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Right now, snow measuring stations in California, Nevada and Oregon that currently don’t have any snow, and a full recovery isn’t likely, the center’s staff said.

USDA is partnering with states, including those in the West, to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture.

USDA announced last week that $15 million was available for conservation assistance to farmers and ranchers in affected areas in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. As part of the announcement, $5 million was also made available to California communities through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Earlier this month, USDA made another $20 million available to farmers and ranchers in California. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack joined President Obama in California on February 14th to announce those and other drought relief measures.

Parts of eastern California are now in a state of emergency because of drought. This area is suffering one of the lowest snow years on record. Meanwhile, in Oregon, mountain snowpack is far below normal.

“The chances of making up this deficit are so small that at this point we’re just hoping for a mediocre snowpack,” said NRCS Hydrologist Melissa Webb for Oregon. “We’d need months of record-breaking storms to return to normal. There’s a strong chance we’ll have water supply shortages across most of Oregon this summer.”

Most Oregonians don’t have access to water from other states and depend on local sources for water supply.

Across the Continental Divide, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado are mostly near normal. The one exception is New Mexico, which is extremely dry.

Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.

NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts since 1935 and operates SNOTEL, a high-elevation automated system that collects snowpack and related climatic data in the western United States and Alaska. These data help farmers, ranchers, water managers, hydroelectric companies, communities and recreational users make informed, science-based decisions about future water availability.

View February’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecasts map or view information by state.

Webinar: Colorado River Myths and Realities — The Coming Conflict (Brad Udall) #ColoradoRiver

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Click here to go to the Interior website to register. Here’s the pitch:

Colorado River Myths and Realities: The Coming Conflict
FEBRUARY 27; 12pm Mountain
Brad Udall, University of Colorado and SW CSC Investigator

The Colorado River is currently in the midst of a 14-year drought nearly unrivaled in over 1250 years. The river’s two massive reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell, are now less than half full. Due to the drought, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation projects that the first delivery shortages are likely to occur in two years. Further, scientists believe that climate change will reduce Colorado River runoff by 2050. Water managers also believe that water demand will increase because of increased population and warmer temperatures. The current legal system for operating this critical system is not tenable in the face of these pressures. Given that the entire American Southwest including all of its major population centers are dependent on the reliable supply of Colorado River water, what solutions in basin are likely in the near and distant future?

HB14-1030 passes House 63-2 #COleg

Barker Meadows Dam Construction
Barker Meadows Dam Construction

From The Denver Post (Hugh Johnson):

House Bill 14-1030 mitigates the complexities of the permitting process for hydroelectric facilities that produce 10 megawatts of energy or less. Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, believe their bill will create more jobs in rural communities.

Mitsch Bush said she knows a rancher living in Meeker who lowered his utility bill $10,000 a year by using hydroelectric systems.

“It creates jobs, it increases renewables and it enables rural households to lower their electric bill,” Mitsch Bush said of the measure.

Mitsch Bush believes the bill will make it easier for rural communities to harness the power of hydroelectric facilities by cutting some of the red tape that hinders their creation. She also said in a news release that the bill came about as a result of an inclusive stakeholder process between utilities, small hydroelectric producers, electric contractors and conservation groups.

House Bill 1030, which passed 63-2, now goes to the Senate.

More 2014 Colorado Legislation coverage here.

CDOT will be working on Fountain Creek flood mitigation for a month or so #COflood

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

Travelers using U.S. 24 west of Manitou Springs will face some severe delays over the next month as the Colorado Department of Transportation upgrades a culvert under the highway near the mouth of Waldo Canyon.

According to CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson, the $1.4 million flood mitigation work began Wednesday. Wilson said one lane in each direction will be closed until 6 p.m. daily through Friday. Crews will work full force beginning Saturday, when CDOT will shut down both eastbound lanes around the clock. The westbound side of the divided highway will have one lane open in each direction.

“People will have to add a little extra time for their travels,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, the eastbound lanes will be closed for about two weeks. Once the culvert is installed under that side of the highway, the project will shift and the westbound lanes will be closed.

Wilson said CDOT will install a 24-foot wide and 10-foot high culvert that will be “10 times larger than the pipe that’s under the highway right now.” He said the current 72-inch pipe is a choke point when heavy rains hit the more than 18,000 acre Waldo Canyon burn area. The fire that began June 23, 2012, destroyed 347 homes in western Colorado Springs and killed two people.

CDOT estimates the culvert project will be finished by the end of April.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Eighteen Conservation Groups Give Gov. Hickenlooper Input on State Water Plan #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

Here’s the release from Earth Justice:

Today, eighteen Colorado conservation and citizen groups sent a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper with recommendations for the Colorado Water Plan. The local, regional, and statewide groups pointed out that the Governor’s Executive Order creating the Water Plan called for “Healthy Watersheds, Rivers and Streams, and Wildlife,” and asked the Governor to prioritize these values in the Plan…

The groups’ recommendations include three “actions” for the Plan to implement:

  • Focus on “Healthy Alternative Water Supplies” including conservation and other measures that are cheaper, faster, and easier to implement.
  • Do not support any new diversions from Colorado’s rivers.
  • Prioritize river restoration.
  • “This is the time to act,” said McCrystie Adams, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “River flows are expected to plunge in the coming years as our climate grows warmer and the mountain snowpack is disrupted. What will happen to our rivers and the life they support if we are already diverting all of the flows that we physically can?”

    The groups’ letter highlights that seven extremely controversial projects are going through state and federal permitting processes, including the Halligan Project, Seaman Project, Bellvue Pipeline, Northern Integrated Supply Project, Windy Gap Firming Project, Moffat Project, and Chatfield Project.

    The groups recommend that these projects be put “on hold” and that “Healthy Alternatives” be prepared that don’t divert more water out of Colorado’s rivers. The groups also point out that some of the participants in these projects are selling increasing amounts of water for fracking which is further degrading Colorado’s rivers.

    One of the projects, Denver Water’s “Moffat Collection System Project,” is scheduled to have its “Final Environmental Impact Statement” released in April. The groups are especially concerned about the Moffat Project.

    “With so much of our clean, treated, drinking water being sprayed on non-native grass in a semi-arid climate, the opportunity for tremendous advances in meeting future supply needs through simple conservation seems a no-brainer,” said Chris Garre of The Environmental Group which is addressing the threat of the Moffat Project. “Nevertheless, Denver Water is proposing to divert still more water off the Fraser River—85% of its natural flows—effectively killing the river.”

    The groups are responding to a call for input by the Governor, Colorado Water Conservation Board, and Interbasin Compact Committee. The Water Plan is supposed to be “grassroots” and “bottom up.” By focusing on these citizen groups’ recommendations, which represent tens-of-thousands of Coloradans, the State Water Plan can protect and restore Colorado’s rivers and meet the needs of local communities.

    Groups signing the letter include Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, Clean Energy Action, Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Earth Works Action, Environment Colorado, Frack Free Colorado,, Plains Alliance for Clean Air and Water, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Save Chatfield, Save The Colorado River Campaign, Save The Poudre: Poudre Waterkeeper, Sheep Mountain Alliance, Sierra Club – Poudre Canyon Group, The Environmental Group of Colorado, and WildEarth Guardians.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

    AWRA: Water Policy is No Longer a Luxury for the United States

    Projected supply gap for 2030 via the Colorado Water Conservation Board
    Projected supply gap for 2030 via the Colorado Water Conservation Board

    Here’s the release from the American Water Resources Association via PRWeb:

    In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) is offering free downloads of the January issue of Water Resources IMPACT Magazine featuring articles on The Future of Water Resources in the United States.

    “Water policy is no longer a luxury for the United States; we cannot continue the theatrical spectacle in which academics and water professionals bemoan our lack of progress to be met by the stony silence of political leaders,” writes Denise Fort, Environmental Lawyer and Research Professor of Law, University of New Mexico.

    With cries of a looming U.S. water crisis grabbing headlines daily, Fort gets right to the point in her article ‘The Future is Here: The Nation Can No Longer Avoid Its Water Challenges.’ While her fellow authors may not be so blunt, they don’t disagree.

    “The challenge is to move governments away from simply responding to crises to a more proactive approach that identifies the populations, sectors, and regions most at risk and targets programs to those areas with the goal of reducing the risk,” writes Donald A. Wilhite, Founder, National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska, in his article ‘Changing the Paradigm for Drought Management: Can We Break the Hydro-Illogical Cycle?’

    Already being lauded for its integrated approach and national relevance, the January 2014 issue of Water Resources IMPACT addresses many of the challenges currently facing U.S. water resources managers, including climate change, population shifts, drought, flooding, law, infrastructure, contaminants, agricultural use and economics.

    “Nineteen prominent non-federal water resources professionals from across the United States…were invited to provide essays,” writes Richard Engberg, Guest Editor, in his introduction of the issue. “These writers responded with a remarkable group of essays [that] contain much food for thought, and I believe they will influence the course of water resources over the rest of the first half of the 21st century.”

    While approaching water resources management issues from vastly different backgrounds and with varied approaches, all seem to, again, come to the conclusion reached by Fort in the final lines of her article, “We…actually seem to be in broad agreement about what good water policies are, perhaps with the luxury of so many out years to contemplate them. When policy makers are ready to engage, they will find a wealth of ideas awaiting them.”

    We at AWRA agree, which is why we are providing this issue of Water Resources IMPACT as a free download for anyone with an interest in the successful management of our nation’s water resources. Read it. Circulate it. Discuss it. Then, share your thoughts and ideas with us at #USWaterFuture.

    Tipton: Vital Water Storage Projects Impeded by Federal Red Tape

    Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post
    Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

    Here’s the release from US Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

    Today [February 5, 2014], in a House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee hearing, Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) stressed that federal red tape is blocking needed water storage projects, impeding prudent supply management, and jeopardizing agriculture production, environmental protection and flood control.

    “The importance of prudent water supply management in Colorado for economic and environmental benefits cannot be overstated,” said Tipton. “The ability to store water—the most precious resource in the Western U.S.—enables communities to meet environmental protection needs, support jobs that depend on the availability of water, ensure our food supply, control flooding, afford continued recreational opportunities, and provide water for the development of clean, renewable hydropower. The onerous and duplicative federal permitting process is blocking the construction of needed storage projects and creating unnecessary threats to our water supplies. The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act would clear up some of these duplicative regulatory hurdles by establishing a coordinated permitting process, significantly reducing the time and cost of building these needed projects.”

    In an October 2013 hearing on water storage, Tipton underscored that with the exception of the Animas-La Plata project in Southwestern Colorado, the Bureau of Reclamation has not built any large multi-purpose dams or reservoirs over the last generation. Without new water storage and continued conservation as many as 700,000 acres of agriculture land could dry up in Colorado by 2050 due to urbanization and urban water transfers.

    During today’s hearing, Patrick O’Toole, president of Family Farm Alliance, with farming operations in the 3rd District, testified on the extreme length of the federal permitting process for water storage projects.

    “As you are all aware, actually developing new storage projects is much easier said than done. I testified before this Subcommittee two years ago about the permitting challenges I encountered in building the Little Snake Supplemental Irrigation Supply Project (High Savery Project) in Wyoming. That project was built in less than two years, but took more than 14 years to permit,” said O’Toole. “My experience with the High Savery Project showed me that cooperative efforts are important for moving projects through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other permitting processes. On the High Savery Project, the lead federal agency wasted a great deal of time making decisions on the project and at times seemed unable to make decisions. These delays not only postponed the project, they resulted in wasted time and money.”

    Read O’Toole’s full testimony here.

    H.R. 3980, The Water Supply Permitting Coordination Act, would establish a “one-stop-shop” permitting process through the Bureau of Reclamation, rather than requiring projects to undergo numerous duplicative and lengthy environmental reviews separately. The idea of a coordinated permitting process has received bipartisan support. By coordinating the permitting process, H.R. 3980 would expedite needed water storage projects without sacrificing responsible environmental review of those projects.

    “The administration has already acknowledged the benefit of coordinated agency review in several contexts including large scale transmission projects,” said Tipton. “It’s time we move forward in a bipartisan way to implement coordinated review for the development of increased water supplies for American farms, communities and families.”

    Say hello to High Desert Dories: ‘Dories are the inverse of rafts’ — Andy Hutchinson

    Photo via High Desert Dories

    From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    An eclectic gang of river runners, Grand Canyon guides, and boating purists take refuge in Dolores during the winter off-season.The amicable group never strays too far from their coveted rivers, skiing backcountry powder that will soon transform into whitewater rapids, and then quaffing pints of craft beer made from the same water at the Dolores River Brewery.

    In between, they gather for thousands of hours to talk rivers, play bluegrass, and build custom boats in the shop of local legend Andy Hutchinson, owner of High Desert Dories.

    A master craftsman and Grand Canyon guide, Hutchinson’s humble and casual demeanor masks his enthusiastic life passion for building custom dories and piloting them through river country.

    “In 1982, I was on a beach at Nankoweap Canyon when I first saw a flotilla of these classic boats coming down the Colorado River,” Hutchinson, 57, recalls. “It was like the heavens called down to me, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.”

    Dories are wooden oar boats originally used on the great rivers of the West by pioneers including Civil war veteran John Wesley Powell, who completed the first-ever trip down the rapid-choked Grand Canyon rowing a dory in 1869.

    Replaced by less aesthetic plastic and rubber rafts that are more forgiving against river rocks, but also more cumbersome, dories fell out of mainstream favor in the 1970s.

    But the dory’s classic rocker shape, turn-on-a-dime maneuverability, and ample waterproof storage compartments always stayed popular for the old-school crowd, and today they are attracting more converts.

    “Dories are the inverse of rafts, so they turn easily with a stroke of the oar, but they do not bounce of rocks very well, so you carry a good-size repair kit, or better yet miss the rocks!” Hutchinson said. “What’s nice too is that they’re like giant coolers with lots of compartments to take everything along.”

    More whitewater coverage here.

    USGS: Characterization of Hydrodynamic and Sediment Conditions in the Lower Yampa River at Deerlodge Park, East Entrance to Dinosaur National Monument, Northwest Colorado, 2011

    Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey
    Yampa/White/Green river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Here’s the abstract from the USGS (Cory A. Williams):

    The Yampa River in northwestern Colorado is the largest, relatively unregulated river system in the upper Colorado River Basin. Water from the Yampa River Basin continues to be sought for a number of municipal, industrial, and energy uses. It is anticipated that future water development within the Yampa River Basin above the amount of water development identified under the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Implementation Program and the Programmatic Biological Opinion may require additional analysis in order to understand the effects on habitat and river function. Water development in the Yampa River Basin could alter the streamflow regime and, consequently, could lead to changes in the transport and storage of sediment in the Yampa River at Deerlodge Park. These changes could affect the physical form of the reach and may impact aquatic and riparian habitat in and downstream from Deerlodge Park.

    The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, began a study in 2011 to characterize the current hydrodynamic and sediment-transport conditions for a 2-kilometer reach of the Yampa River in Deerlodge Park. Characterization of channel conditions in the Deerlodge Park reach was completed through topographic surveying, grain-size analysis of streambed sediment, and characterization of streamflow properties. This characterization provides (1) a basis for comparisons of current stream functions (channel geometry, sediment transport, and stream hydraulics) to future conditions and (2) a dataset that can be used to assess channel response to streamflow alteration scenarios indicated from computer modeling of streamflow and sediment-transport conditions.

    More USGS coverage here.

    Conversation with James Newberry (Colorado River District @ColoradoWater) via Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013
    Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

    James Newberry is starting his second year as the Colorado River District board president, and has represented Grand County on the board since 2004. Through his time on the board and serving as a county commissioner, Newberry has made protecting the area’s valuable water resources a high priority.

    Chief among water concerns are developing Colorado’s first water plan, which is currently being drafted, and obligations from the 1922 Colorado River Compact. As drought menaces water supplies in downstream states, those obligations could spell trouble for those living at the Colorado River’s headwaters in Grand County. Newberry spoke about the challenges facing the state’s water supply and thoughts about our water future.

    What are you goals as president of the Colorado River District board for the coming year?

    I don’t know it’s a goal, but what’s been laid out in front of us is the Colorado water plan, and we as a district have been involved in formulation of that plan. We’re also looking into compact calls to lower basin states, and how that integrates into the Colorado water plan. For example, how do we match up being able to divide up water on the East and West slopes within Colorado, while still managing those compact agreements? I think the Colorado River District will be a leader in advocating for different methods, such as water banking and risk-management in the different river basins. Statewide, we’re looking at what it means to develop a water plan while meeting a compact call, should it go into place. As a river district, we don’t believe it’s just a West Slope issue.

    Explain the problems Grand County could face from drought issues farther downstream.

    That truly is the problem with a compact call. The only water rights that wouldn’t be subjected to a compact call are those made before 1922, the very senior water rights. Some people say if we get compact calls it’s great for Grand County, because not as much water will go to the Front Range as we send it down river to meet our obligations. But there are going to be a lot of junior rights that people wouldn’t be able to use.

    The bottom line is, it works in all water users’ interests to work on a water plan. That way if there is a call, we’ll have water stored up or credited, and we can work out those preexisting diversions.

    One thing the Colorado River District is fighting for is to make sure whatever the risk of that future that call is, it’s not just going to be the West Slope bearing the brunt of meeting compact obligations downstream.

    The West’s water future is looking grim. Is there anything that makes you feel optimistic?

    We’re now taking a hard look at the water situation we’ll have in the future. When they decided the Colorado River Compact, it was one of the wettest periods in the history of the Colorado River. I don’t think that model is viable. Whether you believe in climate change and its effects or not, maybe this is making us aware of the amount of water we really do have, and it’s getting us to do a better job of managing it. Is that optimism? Maybe not, but it’s the reality we’re facing.

    What projects are you advocating to increase conservation of Colorado River water?

    We’re always looking at ways of conservation. In the next 30 years or so, the state projects we’re going to have a 500,000-acre-foot water shortage. One of our engineers looked at the study (the Statewide Water Supply Initiative 2010), then turned around and said we could address that gap without further diversions from the West Slope, some of that through conservation. There is no ‘new water,’ and we’ll have to go back to conservation, like installing low-flow faucets and lining irrigating ditches. We’re always backing ways to better use water we have.

    Are there any accomplishments you’re proud of during your time on the Colorado River District board?

    I think the involvement with the Windy Gap firming project in Grand County. Without the river district, I don’t know how far we would’ve gotten back at the federal level and the Bureau of Reclamation, the heavy hitters, without their help.

    The Colorado River District has also been heavily involved in Vail Ditch water shares and trying to move water to the upper Fraser River. And they’ve done a huge amount of work on the Colorado River here. The river district basically came into existence to be a watchdog on the Colorado-Big Thompson project. That’s truly the root of their existence, and we have held true to that. For example, we’re working on water clarity in Grand Lake, and the river district is helping hand-in-hand.

    More Colorado River Water Conservancy District coverage here.

    The drying of the West — The Economist #ColoradoRiver

    US Drought Monitor February 18, 2014
    US Drought Monitor February 18, 2014

    Click here to read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    On January 17th Governor Jerry Brown urged Californians to cut water use by 20% and issued a drought declaration, which loosens the rules restricting in-state water transfers. Last week Barack Obama visited Fresno, in California’s fecund Central Valley, to announce $183m of federal aid before spending three days golfing on well-watered courses in the desert. This week California’s leaders pledged a further $687m in drought relief…

    Drought is also afflicting California’s neighbours to the east (see map). But they, along with California, are grappling with a longer-term problem: the Colorado river, which waters seven states (plus part of Mexico), is struggling to service its clients. Thanks to declining flows, last year the Federal Bureau of Reclamation (FBR), which oversees its use, cut the release of water from Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border to Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir. It has never done this before…

    Traditionally the West has tried to engineer its way out of water problems, and that approach is not dead in Nevada. Greater Las Vegas, where most Nevadans live, depends on Lake Mead for 90% of its water, but before long the lake is expected to fall below the level of the first of two pipes that connect it to the city. So officials are building a deeper $816m “third straw” to maintain supply. They also want to lay a 300-mile pipeline to bring water from Nevada’s sparsely populated north to Las Vegas, a controversial plan some compare to Los Angeles’s removal of water from the Owens Valley 100 years ago (as fictionalised in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown”)…

    Douglas Kenney of the University of Colorado Law School predicts “a new era” of water management. One still occasionally hears grand talk of transporting water from the Missouri river, or of ferrying icebergs from Alaska, but these pipe dreams are giving way to a focus on conservation and reform. Thanks to careful planning by water authorities many cities in the West have slashed per-capita water use; in the past 12 years Las Vegas has cut consumption by one-third as its population grew by a fifth. Its successful “cash-for-grass” programme (since renamed after grumbles from the Drug Enforcement Administration), which pays residents to tear up lawns, has been imitated elsewhere. All water used indoors is recycled.

    But more can be done, says Michael Cohen at the Pacific Institute, a think-tank. Cities in dry places like Israel and Australia still consume far less water than Las Vegas. Other cities in the West have a long way to go: half the houses in Sacramento do not meter water; Palm Springs, close to where Mr Obama teed off this weekend, still peddles the old illusions of desert verdancy. As for water trading, it is underdeveloped within states, let alone between them.

    Most of the future growth in water demand is likely to come from cities. Some therefore argue that urbanites should bear the burden of reducing demand. This is too kind to farmers, who waste far more. Crops that cannot be grown without subsidies should not be grown. It should not take a drought to make people stop building paddy fields in the sand.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.