Who Goes Dry First? Vegas or Phoenix?

Lake Meade, water source for Las Vegas and Phoenix, shows its "bathtub ring" marking where its water used to be. It is less than half full and dropping fast. (Wikimedia photo)

Lake Meade, water source for Las Vegas and Phoenix, shows its “bathtub ring” marking where its water used to be. It is less than half full and dropping fast. (Wikimedia photo)

The title of first American city to be abandoned for lack of water will be awarded in the next decade or so, and it’s hard to decide whether to bet on Las Vegas or Phoenix. It could be a tie. Those among us who still like our stories to end with a moral are rooting for Vegas, whose demise would round out a lovely wages-of-sin, Sodom-and-Gomorrah kind of fable. Phoenix seems less blameworthy, but only if you think what’s about to happen is retribution for sin. If you lean more toward the inevitable-consequences-of-stupidity theory, then there’s not much to differentiate between Dumb Phoenix and Dumber Las Vegas. In Vegas, “the situation is as bad as you can imagine,” according to climate scientist Tim Barnett at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Vegas gets its water from Lake Mead, impounded by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. Lake Mead is less than half half full, and is dropping fast, probably by another 20 feet this year. It is lower now than it ever has been since the lake was filled in 1938. Another 37 feet and the Las Vegas intake pipe will be sucking air. (All this was updated thoroughly last week in the London Telegraph. Why are the best stories about America’s environmental problems found in British newspapers?)

Not to worry, there’s another water intake for Las Vegas, 50 feet below the present one. Oh, good, two more years. Assuming drought conditions get no worse than they are now, and that is far from a safe assumption. Then what? Vegas has a plan. A boring machine the size of the Pentagon is chewing through solid rock at the rate of one inch a day to punch a line through to the very deepmost bottom of Lake Meade. Another few years, if they make it in time. The country can’t find the money to fix its roads and bridges, but it found $817 million to keep Las Vegas in flushing water for a few more years.

Then what? According to Rob Mrowka, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, “As the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people (from Las Vegas).”  

Who else gets half its water from the very same lake Mead on the very same Colorado River? Phoenix, Arizona, that’s who. A city that has been in drought conditions for ten years and is expected to remain so for another 20 or 30 years. (To say that Vegas is in a 14-year drought is redundant. It’s in a desert. Four inches of rain a year is normal.) Yet until two weeks ago, no one had told Phoenix, officially, that unless there are substantial (and unexpected) improvements in the flows of the Colorado River and the level of Lake Mead and Lake Powell farther upstream, deliveries of water to Phoenix are going to be curtailed.

Now the Central Arizona Project, which manages the lower Colorado watershed, has said exactly that. “We’re dealing with a very serious issue,” board member Sharon Megdal told the New York Times, “and people need to pay attention to it.”

In other words — Brace for Impact.

See Also: Phoenix FallingFeds Approve Las Vegas Water Grab.

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4 Responses to Who Goes Dry First? Vegas or Phoenix?

  1. colinc says:

    I find it simply amazing what is left out of this story, both at the Telegraph and here. That $817 million dollar project is a very, very bad joke played on “the people” simply to further enrich a few assholes. Once the surface of Lake Mead drops the next 87 feet, below the level of the “2nd straw” and representing less than 1/3 of the volume lost in the past decade, there will be insufficient head pressure to spin the turbines in the base of the damn. Lake Powell is in equally dire condition and when electricity is no longer supplied by those facilities everyone in the Four Corners states, as well as those in several neighboring ones, will go dark and it won’t matter one bit how much silty, super-polluted water remains in either reservoir. I don’t see how those residents have more than 5-6 years to either relocate or die in situ.

  2. Justin says:

    There is no such thing as “sin”. This notion comes from the Old and New Testaments, which if you are SERIOUS about understanding, you would research. What you will discover is both “books” are frauds, containing tens of thousands of errors and contradictions (over 30,000), which most of the stories having no evidence in history (meaning no evidence has been found).

    No evidence has ever been found proving Jesus ever existed (the “Antiquities of the Jews” contains one short passage – but is widely considered a forgery by historians and theologians). Moses is another prominent figure – with no evidence in history. Many of the Old Testament prophets are also considered fabrications. The list is quite large.

    “Sin” is offense against God – also of which there is zero evidence. While widely accepted by believers as being real, there is simply nothing in the known Universe that reveals God ever existed. It’s an absolute known certainty that he did not create the world – or write the Bible or even engrave some stone tablets. A good story to control the sheep, but it’s a fable.

    Some say he is mystical, magical, invisible and unanswering (ie., a fabrication of the imagination), which is an appropriate description.

    So no God, no Jesus, no Moses, no Ten Commandments, tens of thousands of inaccuracies and contradictions in the Bible, every word written by hundreds of different and most unknown men – how can “sin” then “exist”? Sin is yet another imagined “wrong”.

    Las Vegas or Phoenix? Hmmm. I’ve lived in both places. I do not like either of them. My estimation however is not based on a supposed “moral” judgement as mentioned by the author, but on first-hand, real-life, real-world experience.

    It is not God or “judgement” or anything other then “mankind stupidity” which now imperils many of our cities (including all of Florida and all low-lying cities / megapolis). Along with rising sea levels, we’ve drained the major aquifers dry. Too many people demanding too much. It’s not rocket science, just the “rules” you have to play by in an finite world of limited resources.

    Building mega-cities in the dry desert was and always will be just plain stupid. Mankind does not control Nature. Nature does and always has (and always will) control mankind of what he sets out to do.

    I also worked for the Bureau of Reclamation in Boulder City (Hoover Dam). An ambitious project for sure, but doomed to climate impacts. A longer “straw” will only help suck the lake down even further. This does nothing to mitigate climate change – or the silly decision to build a megapolis in the desert.

    Phoenix is no better off. The Colorado “river” is a tiny trickle you can literally step across before in reaches Mexico. Dry desert areas have long been abandoned once they become unihabitable. Modern civilization is not immune to the effects of a warming planet and changing climate.

    If you live anywhere in the south (the entire southwest, which of course includes Texas too) – move. Now. Real estate will become very difficult to obtain as millions flee rising temperatures, fires and lack of water.

    Bottom line – you can’t suck up (more) water that isn’t there. Spend whatever you want, but no amount of spending will solve this.

  3. Calling Elvis says:

    Leave the sin thing out of it – this day and age more and more people are getting what you are saying and I agree with you – but using the word or connotation of sin is just a semantic thing. The issue here, lack of water, which you clearly have knowledge of is truly quite amazing.

    This one event could change the world – literally – the problem is there are so many other potential events that could bring everything down in the mean time. Well, hope your enjoying the weekend if nothing else.

    • Calling Elvis says:

      Justin – it’s kind of like saying “bless you” when somebody sneezes – to some of us that’s just a bad habit

      And Cilinc – no kidding about the power side of things – I haven’t finished the article – but how could they have missed that – I mean really, if we’re gonna go for a doomsay story let’s put the whole story out there – how did they miss that?