From The Pueblo Chieftain
Drought is nothing new to the arid West. It’s just never been witnessed by this many people. Vast swatches of Colorado burned in 2012-13, and California, Oregon and Washington are experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in history this year. In the Colorado River basin, Lake Mead is at the lowest levels since it first filled, while Lake Powell is approaching levels too low to generate power. So Western states, like Colorado, are emphasizing drought planning.
“What happens if the drought continues?” asked John McClow, president of the Colorado Water Congress.
To answer the question, water planners from other states in the Colorado River basin were invited to address the group’s summer conference.
“We have to come together as a basin to decide what happens after 2026,” said Tom McCann, assistant director of the Central Arizona Project. “The first thing is the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) need to reduce their use.”
CAP stands to lose one-fifth of its supply in a continued drought under temporary guidelines agreed to by states in 2007. To cope, Arizona has implemented conservation, underground storage and weather modification programs.
“We’ve been in a drought emergency since January,” said Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, where more than 4,000 fires have occurred this year.
California voters will decide whether the state will issue $7.5 billion in bonds for water projects in this year’s elections. Already, the state has fallowed 800,000 acres of farm ground and imposed mandatory water restrictions statewide.
Utah is alarmed by the reduction in levels in Lake Powell that threaten power production, said Eric Millis of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The state is contemplating a project that would build a pipeline from Lake Powell to serve municipal needs.
“If you look at the 14-year drought, Lake Powell has performed well,” Millis said.
But the downward trend in lake levels has continued after a brief spike in the record wet year of 2011.
In Wyoming, a cloud-seeding research program has been kept alive by donations from other states in the Colorado River Basin, said Steve Wolff, of the Wyoming engineer’s office.
The state is looking for the first time at using water from Fontenelle Reservoir — part of the storage system built to protect the obligation of upper states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) under the Colorado River Compact — as a protection against drought.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
A three-year drought is nothing compared with the damage Los Angeles did to Mono Lake. But people are trying to fix that. Los Angeles expects to get just a fraction of the water it usually brings down off the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains this year, James Yannotta, manager of Los Angeles aqueduct system, told the Colorado Water Congress last week.
“We average 250,000 acre-feet,” he explained, adding that the city has other sources of water. “This year, it will be 40,000 acre-feet. This is horrible.”
The aqueduct system for the Owens Valley was completed prior to state environmental laws, and dried up agriculture in the area. But the extension to Mono Lake extension completed in 1940, 338 miles north of Los Angeles, became a lightning rod of environmental concern.
The level of the lake dropped 40 feet by 1989, and court cases and agreements in the 1990s required Los Angeles to restore it. The lake is three times saltier than the ocean, but Los Angeles captures the water from feeder streams in the closed system before it reaches the lake, Yannotta explained.
Half of the water Los Angeles used to take now stays in the Mono basin to address environmental needs. Formerly, 30,000-150,000 acre-feet annually were taken from Mono basin, but the level now is regulated by the level of Mono Lake. For the past few years, only 16,000 acre-feet have been pumped. That could be reduced to 4,500 acre-feet if the drought continues next year, Yannotta said. To make up for shortfalls in its traditional supplies, Los Angeles is looking at cleaning its contaminated groundwater supplies, reusing more water, capturing stormwater and conservation — strategies that will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.
Conservation efforts have kept water use steady, even though the population served grew by 1 million people in the past 20 years.
Meanwhile, Mono Lake is filling again, and streams in the Owens Valley below it are flowing as the giant city to the south reins in its thirst.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here.