Feb 10 2014
R.I.P. Lake Mead 1937-2030
In this excerpt, Charlie Reagan the principal character in Water Shock is
giving a team of two hydrologists and two photographers background about
water issues in the Southwest. Keep in mind, this is set in the year 2079.
The team is documenting ghost towns of the Southwest. Lake Mead went to dead
pool in the story in 2071. “Dead Pool” is a technical term defined by James
Lawrence Powell in the book of the same name, when the level of the lake
falls to the level of the outlet works and power production ceases.
“Sixty-eight years ago the City of San Diego Water Policy Task Force
held its organizational meeting on May thirty-first on the twelfth floor of
City Hall. This was the brainchild of City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, who
the previous year put together a Comprehensive Policy for a Sustainable
Water Supply in San Diego. She successfully promoted the policy and had it
adopted by the City Council. This was seminal work and right on target.
After successful operation, the one million gallons per day pilot plant
group issued their report recommending the city proceed with indirect
potable recycling, and the council adopted the report, but the wheels of
bureaucracy moved so slowly she was out of office before she could pry the
politicians loose to spend the funds necessary.i The city was embroiled in a
pension fiasco that had drained the city’s finite resources. Fixing potholes
took precedence over water independence for the city. Too bad. She was
definitely on the right track.”
“What do you mean, exactly?” George asked.
“The records show one member of the task force, Tim Barnett, a PhD
from Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was very blunt about the future of
the Colorado River. .
“How so?” George persisted.
“For one thing, the Bureau of Reclamation screwed up by using river
flow numbers from the early part of the twentieth century for all of their
projections. Tree ring studies by Scripps showed that century was the
wettest in over a thousand years. Wet centuries were always followed by dry
“How bad was it?” George asked.
“Between 1997 and 2008, the storage for Lake Mead and Lake Powell
combined dropped by fifty percent, yet the Bureau continued to deliver all
of the promised water, overdrafting the storage. More water was being
delivered than runoff from the watershed.”
“Was that due to climate change?” Judy asked. “That was a
controversial period among scientists, you know, whether people caused
climate change or if the climate was changing at all.”
“True,” Charlie said, “but Barnett and Pierce took that into account
and did projections with no climate change as well as with. All the climate
change models did was exacerbate an already bad situation. They projected
Lake Mead would go to dead pool by between 2021 and 2050. Dead pool for Lake
Mead and Lake Powell was still a couple of years away when the big quake
happened. That’s why they were dredging a channel.”
Milton N. Burgess, P. E., FASPE
Author of “Water Shock, The Day Southern California Went Dry”
About Alumni at the University of Montana