Mar 8 2014
A friend of mine once said, “instead of getting down in the weeds of an issue, first go to 30,000 feet to grasp the whole of it”. The subject of the drought and the complexity of Western States water is a prime example.
The seven Western States, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado all share watersheds. John Wesley Powell, the first chief of the US Geological Survey, once drew a map that defined state boundaries by the watersheds they contained. It would never happen, but it could have resolved many water issues.
In these seven Western States, water sources are the Colorado River and the man-made river called the Great California Aqueduct.
A total potential 21.5 million Acre-feet of water flow every year through the aqueduct and the Colorado River, consumed by the cities and agriculture. Six and a half million acre-feet can flow in the California Aqueduct, seven and a half million in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River and the same amount in the Lower Basin of the River. I say “can” because in these drought years, the flows are less.
This 21.5 million acre-feet supplies life-giving water to over fifty-eight million people as of 2013 and irrigates an area the size of Vermont, or about six million acres. All big numbers and hard to comprehend.
Now, down into the weeds. Administering these watersheds and rivers are literally thousands of water districts, compacts, and agreements to sort out water rights and usage. Layer upon layer of agreements like the recently signed Quantification Settlement Agreement for California’s 4.4 million acre-feet out of the Colorado River, plus fiefdoms called water districts super-complicate the administration of where the water goes, especially during a drought like the one we are currently experiencing. Water officials admit the barriers to efficient administration of the water used by the seven Western States are the districts themselves. A previous blog titled, “We Have Met the Enemy and It Is Us” discusses this matter.
Without even considering the drought, the entire seven state water system is failing. Dams along the Colorado are heading for dead pool where inflows will match outflows, so no power is generated and they are silting up. Lake Mead is a good example. More water is withdrawn than is entering this reservoir. Although the State Water Project was intended to reduce ground water pumping in the Central Valley, the land continues to subside as more and more wells are drilled. The aquifers are being drained, populations are increasing putting even more pressure on a diminishing water supply.
If we continue down this path, the “end game”, a currently over used phrase, is not pretty. So what to do? We can’t get any more than the 21.5 million acre-feet for the seven Western States. That’s all there is, and in this dry century, isn’t even that much. The Osgood File discusses this in the following Link: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-osgood-file/episode/32827663?refid=asa&autoplay=true
First, despite the naysayers, assume it is possible to somehow resolve the mess in which we find ourselves. And then take the following steps:
1. Set up a Seven State Water District, with equal representation regardless of the population size.
2. Raise the price of water to its rightful value to the economic well-being of seven states.
3. Recharge the aquifers and limit ground water pumping in the Central Valley, using part of the flow of the California Aqueduct water .
4. Require, through the state legislatures, indirect and/or direct potable water recycling for all metropolitan areas.
5. Impose on agriculture water rates that reflect the crops being planted. Alfalfa, for example, would have a higher rate, and so would rice.
6. Develop a pool of funds to incentivize homeowners to take out green lawns similar to the subsidies that the Southern Nevada Water District as done.
7. Increase storage capacities similar to what the San Diego County Water Authority has done.
8. Consolidate local water districts.
9. Develop a goal of water usage that would approach per capita usage of 75 gallons per day.
10. Fund all of the above, working from the strength of the combined seven states.
Anyone have any better ideas?