Friday, April 9, 2010

Not Nice to Abuse Mother Nature

This is a picture of the Rhyolite-Cook Bank a major feature of a ghost town a nice day trip from Las Vegas, Nevada. The town of Rhyolite was a gold boom town that as quickly busted for lack of gold. It existed as a town from 1905 to 1920.

Now it seems that its neighbor, Las Vegas, may well bust for lack of water. One of those little fluff pieces that USA Today and Yahoo News are so fond of doing says that Lake Mead, built to supply water to Las Vegas will be totally dry by 2021. Yahoo Green bemoans this tragic event as the death of a vacation spot. I thought it needed a more extensive treatment especially since wasted water in the west is one of my soap boxes. I just happened to have this map of the Colorado River Basin on hand.

The watershed of the Colorado River covers 242,900 square miles, parts of seven US States and two Mexican States. Not only does it fill Lake Mead but any water that Las Vegas does not take out from that reservoir is then channeled out by Phoenix to turn the desert green. Those two Mexican states are lucky if they get anything which has been a major sticking point in water treaties between Mexico and the United States.

The Colorado River is dammed above Lake Mead by the Glen Canyon Dam which forms Lake Powell. California gets a large amount of its electrical power from the generators in the Glen Canyon Dam. Droughts in the Four Corners area and increased electrical usage in Los Angeles has significantly lowered the level of Lake Powell where water is released on demand to turn on the lights.

Speaking of lights back to Las Vegas where the lights are on because of the Hoover Dam and water released from Lake Mead to create electricity for the city of lights. Oh, and fountains. Fountains upon fountains lit up like day by spot lights in all colors in the city that never sleeps. But what Las Vegas doesn't waste Phoenix will.

Las Vegas, fearing the worst, has started trying to buy up water rights north of it. Nothing new there. Denver, Colorado, which has exhausted the South Platte and is on the wrong side of the mountain for Colorado River water and too far north of the Rio Grande watershed, has been trying to buy up water rights from New Mexico for decades. We even passed a law forbidding transfer of rights between basins.

This is not a matter of global warming or not. It is about the fact that we are a very wasteful species and our populations have been allowed to grow unchecked. And we are not geckos that can collect the early morning dew of the desert on our skins.