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Lake Mead Before and After the Epic Drought

Move the rod back and forth across the page to see before and after in its full context. 

"Using a satellite designed to track changes in groundwater, the research team found that the Colorado River basin—which supplies water to 40 million people in seven states—lost 15.6 cubic miles of freshwater in the last 10 years. More than 75 percent of that loss came due to excessive groundwater pumping. It’s the first study to quantify just how big a role the overuse of groundwater plays in dwindling water resources out West."

new study jointly released Thursday by NASA and the University of California at Irvine

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000, we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada.” 

~ John Entsminger

 "Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico."

~ Jay Famiglietti, 

"In the seven years between these images, desert shrubs have reclaimed part of what was once Lake Mead. Image: Ethan Miller/Getty Images"

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Comment by Randall Smith on August 25, 2014 at 7:17am

Thanks Joan for the story and Tom for the behind-the-scenes comment.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on August 25, 2014 at 3:57am

PS. Water in the western US has long been a serious problem. Those Arizona land developers were so desperate for water so much that their minons in government proposed two alternatives: a canal to bring water from the Mississippi River, and a canal to bring water from the Columbia River. Paid for, of course, by taxpayers.

Comment by Tom Sarbeck on August 25, 2014 at 3:45am

The responsible folks -- the state water resources bureaucrats -- knew fifty years ago that tree ring studies had shown that the water allocations had been based on the wettest period in four centuries. They were taking their orders from legislators who'd been bought by land developers who wanted to put homes on land with too little water.

In the early 1970s, while employed by a computer manufacturer, I was the Sierra Club's State Water Resources Coordinator in Arizona and worked with a civil engineer who'd been hired by the City of Tempe to study its water needs. He had truthfully reported that the City did not need water from the Colorado River and the mayor fired him. He and I did a lot of public speaking in the Phoenix area. 

The claimed water shortage was as illusory as mankind's gods -- created by using 90+% of the state's water to irrigate alfalfa, which was fed to cattle and returned about two percent of the state's income. What made that possible? The residents of Phoenix, of whom I was one, were paying for that water in our electric bills.

Of the seven people I knew who were working to change water pricing, only two -- myself and a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Arizona -- were not suddenly fired.

The June 1976 murder by car bomb of the investigative reporter Don Bolles was the result of his years of work on land fraud. (Wikipedia has his story, with a few lines from a newspaper article added by me.)

My efforts, which included running in a primary election for the state legislature, were one hell of an education in “real-politik” (Henry Kissinger’s term) and the most exciting four years of my life.

I quit my job, moved to San Francisco intending to go to law school and start a second career. Four years later I was delighted to read of the sting the FBI did on state legislators. Several of them went to prison. I was delighted again when the San Jose Mercury News ran a multi-page story on the refusal of Arizona's alfalfa growers to buy the Colorado River water because it cost more than they could afford.

Also happily, the small Fort MacDowell Indian community kept their land. The dam wasn't built that would have inundated their beautiful river valley and resulted in their moving to a dry desert location.

Environmentalists won too. Instead of water being stored in lakes behind dams, where much of it would evaporate, it's being stored in the massive natural reservoir under central Arizona.

Perhaps the funniest thing to happen? My kid brother, then a quality control chemist in Palo Alto, told me he was thinking of going to work for a company in Arizona. I had made the newspapers twice, not counting my letters to editors, and told him "Change your name; they know it there."

The later book "Cadillac Desert" described well the disaster in Western water policy.

A few politicians worked hard for the business folk who financed their re-election efforts. They corrupted themselves and deserve some fame; their names are attached to several Central Arizona Project structures.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on August 24, 2014 at 10:08pm

Thanks, Joan. The CA drought is serious desertification.

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