Posts Tagged With: Colorado River


Life in Las Vegas is highly indicative of how people prioritize their major concerns. Indicative of the psychology of how people tend to focus on matters of little temporary consequence, while failing to address events that can have huge impacts on their very existences in the long run. For example, the local rag that passes for a newspaper in Las Vegas has been running front-page headline stories for over a week, about how a nearby cattle rancher has defied the federal government by letting his cattle graze on government-owned land. Which is okay as long as the rancher is willing to pay the grazing fees owed to the government for allowing his cattle to trespass. Which the rancher and his rather extensive family has refused to do for over 10 years so that he now owes the government over $1 million. This, in turn, led to the government attempting to round up the rancher’s cattle and repossess them, so to speak. Not a very smart move, since repossessing cows is not quite as simple as repossessing furniture.

In any event, the story made national headlines, prompting a horde of government haters calling themselves militiamen, armed to the teeth, to rush to the aid of the cattle rancher from supposedly every state of the union, including Alaska. They came for an armed confrontation with those nasty feds who were trying to take everyone’s rights away. Never mind that the rancher was under a court order to pay the all those grazing fees going back 10 years. It suddenly became the patriotic thing to do, i.e. defying the tyrannical federal government. Sort of like not paying your income taxes because everyone knows what a despised agency IRS is. The feds finally came to their senses and realized that this ensuing confrontation, which could have led to loss of life, was just not worth it. Even though they were legally justified in their actions. So the feds stood down, released the rounded up cattle back to the rancher, and left the scene. The entire kerfuffle was supposedly over. Except that every right-wing whacko radio talk show host, as well as Fox News, lionized the scofflaw rancher for defying the federal government and getting away with it. Including our local paper who, as I’ve said, is still running with the story although the confrontation in now long over.

After all, why examine real and entrenched problems that Las Vegas faces when you can sensationalize meaningless drivel like the cattle story. For example, the Las Vegas economy is still one of the worst in the country, with the unemployment rate being well above the national average. The LV public school system is continually, year-after-year, rated in the bottom worst 5 among the 50 states. Now it’s true that good chunk of the LV population is comprised of seniors who have retired here, and whose kids have long been well past public school age. But there are also a lot of young families living here who are employed in the hotel/casino or construction industries, and who have a lot at stake in the quality of the LV public education system. And lastly, there is the most intractable problem of all; the severity of the on-going drought in LV which has led to plunging water reserves for 2 million people living in the LV valley.

While this morning’s local newspaper was still carrying on about the cattle rancher, it took the Los Angles Times to publish a front page story about how critical the water shortage is here in Las Vegas. As the Times put it, Lake Mead from whence LV obtains 90% of its water supply, has shrunk to its lowest level in generations. “The reservoir…is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain,” as the Times put it. Readers of this blog know that I’ve written many times about the criticality of the LV water situation. Las Vegas is one of the driest places on this planet, getting less than 4 inches of rain in a good year. It has been in a prolonged 15 year drought, with no end in sight. As I’ve said, it gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn, gets its water from the Colorado River, which runs from Northern Nevada all the way to Mexico. Only now, it should more properly be called the Colorado Streamlet, since the river is also drying up. Seems that the Colorado water level is heavily dependent on the snow accumulations in the northern Nevada mountains. The melting snow in the Spring is what replenishes the river every year. Only snow accumulations have also been decreasing each year, thereby adversely affecting the river’s flow.

By the way, central and southern California has also been caught up in this prolonged drought. This area produces a prodigious amount of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, as well as meat from cattle ranches. California farmers and ranchers are already having a very tough time combatting the drought, so it may be more than just the Southwest that will be devastated by this lack of water. Maybe it’s time to start being concerned about real rather than phony issues.

So, 2 million people have decided to settle in LV, one of the driest places on Earth, with little concern about whether there will be enough water to go around. This doesn’t include the millions of tourists that pour in here every year, expecting that when they turn their showers on every morning in their $500 plus per night hotel rooms, water will actually come out. Soon, the summer will be here, with daytime temperatures in the 110-115 degree range, which will further dry out Lake Mead. The city’s water authority knows how critical the water situation is, and has already spent a bundle trying to build lower intake pipes running from Lake Mead to LV. The fear is that by next year, the water level in Lake Mead will have dropped below where the current intake pipes suck it in like a giant straw. But it’s a slow and grueling, and very costly project, and it’s questionable whether the new straw will be ready on time. If it’s not, won’t we have fun then.

I often have said that the only benefit I saw to getting old is that I don’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. But maybe there’s an additional benefit in that I don’t have to be around when LV residents, and tourists in their overpriced hotel rooms, turn on the facets one morning and nothing comes out.

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As waterways go, the Colorado River doesn’t get anywhere near the publicity it deserves. Great todo is made over both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers on a continual basis. They are revered in songs and poems as well as in movies and on stage. Mark Twain based almost his entire literary career on writing about life along the Mississippi. Yet the Colorado gets hardly mentioned. Which is unfortunate because the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people living in the Western United States, indeed their very existences, depend upon the clear, cool waters of the Colorado River.

The Colorado begins in the northern Rockies and wends its way through 7 states-Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado to the north, and New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California to the south- and then flows into northern Mexico, and finally empties into the Gulf of California. Some 30 million people along the way, are dependent upon its waters. Major cities like Las Vegas (almost 2 million people in the Las Vegas valley) and Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego and Los Angles (population almost 13 million in the greater L.A. area) depend almost solely on the Colorado for their drinking water. Los Angles and Phoenix use the river’s waters to generate much of their electricity. And of course, vast ranches, farmlands, industries and hotels along the way would not exist if not for the Colorado’s life-sustaining flow. The vast Central Valley in California from whence most of the nation’s produce and beef comes, would soon become a desert without the Colorado’s waters. So why is this noteworthy at this time? Because the Colorado River is slowly but steadily beginning to run dry, and a time will come in the not too distant future, when it can no longer sustain life in the west, or for our country, as we know it.

A good example of the water problems we face in the west (except for the Pacific Northwest) is right here in Las Vegas, which is one of the driest places on the entire planet. In a good year, the sky may dribble out about 3.5 inches of rain. Basically Las Vegas is a desert, and was certainly never meant to sustain life for almost 2 million people. About 200 would be more like it. Technically, L.V. gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn gets it from the Colorado River. But water levels in Lake Mead have been dropping faster than Michele Bachman’s popularity ratings when she ventured into presidential politics. Besides over-population, a good part of the problem is the severe drought that the southwestern U.S. has been experiencing for over 15 years, with no end in sight. Droughts can sometimes last for 25-50 years or longer, and this one shows no sign of abating. Nevertheless, people party-on in Las Vegas as if the water-scarcity problem never existed. I guess they will do so until one day, they’ll  turn on the water facet and nothing will come out. It’s just human nature to live for the short term.

The Colorado gets most of its flow from the winter snowfall in the Northern Rockies. In the spring, when a heavy snow accumulation from the winter starts melting, the river’s waters are replenished. Unfortunately, snowfalls in most recent winters have been paltry, leading to a continual reduction in river flows. The most immediate problem for those of us living in Las Vegas, is the fact that water levels in Lake Mead have been dropping so rapidly, that the intake piping that transports the water to the city will be above sea level. So the county has been feverishly trying to build new intake piping at a far lower sea level, and have it completed by 2013, when it’s estimated that water levels will go below today’s water intake system. Meanwhile, this fall’s weather in the northern Rockies, as well as here inLas Vegas, has been exceptionally mild, with nary a snow flake in sight. But, as I’ve said, everyone continues to party-on, without a care in the world. Living for the short term.

Compacts have been written and signed by the 7 states involved, allocating to each, as well as to Mexico, its share of the Colorado’s precious waters. But these allocations become more difficult with each passing year as the river flows become less. There is a new book out called “River Notes” by Wade Davis explaining all this in much greater detail, for those of you that may be interested. In the book the author goes into other factors that are draining the river’s water supply, such as the 100-plus golf courses in Phoenix ( plenty of them here in Las Vegas too), and the 250 million western acres devoted toward raising 500 million head of cattle. It takes mind-boggling amounts of water to grow alfalfa fields for the cattle to feed on. Even my own development here in L.V. wastes considerable water. Private lawns, as well as common areas, still grow grass which necessitates an enormous amount of watering in 110-115 degree summer heat. The author concludes that unless there is a drastic shift in western life and industry, the Colorado River will decline to a point where it can no longer sustain that life style.

There are only 2 good things that I can find about growing old. One is, that past the age of 70 you normally don’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. ( You may laugh, but for us seniors, that’s huge.) The other is that past a certain point in age, one doesn’t have to make long range plans. Thus, if the Colorado runs out of water one day, there’s a good chance I may not be around to experience the ensuing hardships. As for my children and grandchildren, they all live on the East Coast or the Pacific Northwest where water is not a problem. So let’s party-on like there’s no tomorrow which there won’t be sometime in the future. Hopefully past my time on this planet.




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