Woes on the Colorado: Lake Mead hits a new low.

Colorado River from Grand Canyon

Colorado River from the Grand Canyon.

Since the early 2000s, Lake Mead–the massive reservoir created by Colorado River as it backs up behind the 1960s vintage Glenn Canyon Dam–has been slowly draining to a point where white bathtub rings are visible along the canyon walls. But now the level of those exposed surfaces are getting close to the point where the Bureau of Reclamation (who runs the dam for the U.S. Department of Interior) must declare drought and force cut-backs in users in both the upper and lower Colorado River Basin states.

The issue is as complex as decades of negotiations between lawyers and water using interests (like the cities of Southern California, Phoenix, Las Vegas and thousands of farmers along with Indian tribes and environmental organizations) permit. But now it could get even more complicated as the decades-long decline of water flows into this lifeblood of the Southwest have taken their toll on the river, the system that delivers it, and its huge physical plumbing which includes dams like Hoover, Glenn Canyon and Havasu. If the lake levels continue to drop in this particular lynch-pin dam, the turbines that generate electricity for the Southwest energy grid will also need to stop, or else the Bureau will need to stop allowing flows to leave the dam before the water level is replenished by winter rain and spring snowmelt.

While it may feel like the Colorado River and the tribulations of people dependent upon its flows are a long long way from Oregon consider for a moment the obvious economic and demographic linkages between the Southwest and the Northwest. For this reason (among many others), I pay attention to this issue. I hope H2ONCoast readers will too.

Check out the story from the Arizona Republic here.


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