Wither Lake Mead?

September 4, 2012 4 Comments

We cover a lot of different topics here in the blog related to weather and science. Many times it is new interesting data or information about some present weather. Other times it is more controversial issues that intersect the environment, climate, technology, and society. I particularly enjoy discussing some of “tougher” subjects that challenge my thinking. Lately, I have been looking back at our history of development in the U.S. (Cars vs. Trains) and been re-thinking the “great accomplishments” in America, such as the Interstate highway system. It certainly greased the wheels of commerce and progress and increased our sense of freedom for which we should all be thankful, but it also has the terrible environmental legacy of cementing our culture to the automobile and urban sprawl. By some measures the Interstate highway system might have spurred the development of an unsustainable society (look at crumbling Detroit). Only time will tell.

What about other “great accomplishments” in American history not revolving around automobiles, highways, and bridges? What about the Hoover Dam? I noticed this little tidbit in the news the other day: Work continues on the 3rd Lake Mead intake pipe. As I have covered in the blog in the past, it seems the number of people living in the DESERT Southwest has gotten past carrying capacity. Water resources are getting scarce. A couple more years of hot and dry weather and there could be critical shortages. Hopefully, a developing El Nino will bring a little relief to the southwest this Winter.

I have been to the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead recently. I was rather wowed at how low the lake level is. Here is a great article that shows how much the lake is shrinking - just hover your mouse over the pictures to see the changes between 1985 and 2010. Las Vegas has taken it’s toll on the lake. I thought to myself, it is probably about time for Vegas to stop growing or try to conserve more. Instead, they seem to be ignoring the warning signs and are content to suck the lake dry. I used to look at the Aral Sea disappearance and think about how a centrally planned economy like the former USSR was “not very smart”. They irrigated so much previously marginal farmland with Aral Sea source water that the sea dried up. Anyone could plainly see that the sea was shrinking, but they just kept on until it was dry. Are we any smarter here in the U.S.? Lake Mead is disappearing fast!

Was the Hoover Dam the key reason why Las Vegas expanded so much in the first place? Lake Mead also allows for a lot of agriculture in the DESERT Southwest that would normally have no business being there like growing cotton. Were these developments worth it? Setting aside the social implications of Las Vegas (sin city), was it an overall benefit to the country? This was the topic of a recent debate over depression era policies & projects. For the first couple decades after the dam was built, I would have to agree that it was a positive development (a “good deal”) for most people. Then, in typical American fashion, it looks like things got “too big”. Are we now set up for extreme water shortages and a demographic implosion of the southwest? I was surprised to learn that decades ago, famous explorer and naturalist John Wesley Powell said in response to the Hoover Dam “Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land”.

I happen to think that there is still enough water to go around, if the price is allowed to rise. If people have to pay as much for water (out of the tap) as they pay for gas, there will be conservation like never before seen. The problem is that politicians will probably want to meddle and not allow for the price to rise to its natural level.

Besides conservation, I have heard the proposal of building a pipeline from the Great Lakes to the southwest – but that has not gained much traction. Could desalinated ocean water be piped into Phoenix and Las Vegas? Probably not with current technology, but the tech is getting more advanced. It might not be so far-fetched in the near future.

Have a nice Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Jeff says:

    I was recently in Vegas and was amazed at the water pressure in the hotel I was at. I took really long showers to take it all in.

  2. jloew says:

    Sarcasm, perhaps.

  3. Anthony Popple says:

    The proposed pipeline to take water from the Great Lakes isn’t simply losing traction; there has been a significant political effort to stop it:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes_Compact

  4. jloew says:

    Thanks for sharing the link Tony

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