The American West’s water crisis is a perfect storm of over-promises, over-estimations and overuse during a mega-drought worsened by climate change. This was my major takeaway from a scary and sobering read by photojournalist Caitlan Ochs, via Buzzfeed. "People--Not Just the Megadrought--Are Driving the West's Water Crisis."
There is not a lot new here for observers who have followed this story for years, perhaps even decades. But it's skillfully told and augmented by stunning photography.
The article traces the current crisis back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact that was based on data from an abnormally wet period and never readjusted to reality. It also failed to include water allocations for 30 sovereign Native American tribes (who had been there for centuries), and for Mexico's northernmost states that depend on it for agriculture. Not surprisingly, native plants and animals were not considered in the Compact either.
Exacerbating the problems is a drought that tree ring evidence demonstrates is the worst in over 1,200 years, coupled with the fact that three of the river-reliant states in the compact are among the the top-ten fastest growing in the country.
Highly relevant to readers of Energy Central is the hydroelectric power angle to this story. With Lake Powell and Lake Mead at around 33% of their full capacity they are dangerously close to not being able to supply enough water for the Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams to generate hydropower.
River managers and policy makers are now in the process of developing a long-term plan to replenish reservoirs. It's not at all clear, given the circumstances they have to work with, what they can come up with short of draconian cuts that will have a huge impact on agriculture, urban development, more than 30 Native American tribes and, to add an international element, Mexico.
As stated above, the article does a good job of presenting the state of play regarding western water. It's still hard to get your mind around the magnitude and complexity of the issue. What really brought it home for me was not so much the words, but its juxtaposed photos of a grand Las Vegas resort pool surrounded by lush vegetation, and Lake Mead where the water levels are below 33% of capacity and a huge ring of white dry rock stands where once it was covered by water.