Extremes We’ve not seen


According to Guardian reporter Oliver Milman, the situation at the Hoover dam near Las Vegas is “emblematic of a planet slowly, inexorably overheating. And the catastrophic consequences of the extreme weather this brings.”  Lake Mead that straddles the Arizona and Nevada borders and was created by water backing up from the Hoover Dam, supplies water to 7 western states including my beloved Arizona, is running dry.


Michael Bernardo the river operations manager at the US Bureau of Reclamation, whose job it is to ensure that the reservoir delivers a steady reliable supply of water to nearly 40 million people including tribes from whose lands the river runs and from water is diverted into the reservoir,  said this

“the scarcity of water is out of bounds with historical norms. While there is no “average” year on the Colorado River, Bernardo and his colleagues were always able to estimate its flow within a certain range.

But since 2000, scientists say the river’s flow has dwindled by 20% compared to the previous century’s average. This year is the second driest on record, with the flow into Lake Mead just a quarter of what would be considered normal.”



Bernardo also said this when he pointed out how scenarios they had created had never led them to believe the water in the reservoir would reach such low levels:

“These are scenarios that aren’t necessarily where we expect to be in our models We’re getting those years that are at the extreme ends of the bell curve. We’ve seen extremes we haven’t seen before, we now have scenarios that are very, very dry.”


In June this past year the level of Lake Mead (the name given to the artificial reservoir created by the dam), dropped below 1,075ft, the point that will trigger, for the first time, federally mandated cuts in water allocations next year.

As Oliver Milman reported in the Guardian,

 “The Bureau of Reclamation (the government agency originally tasked with “reclaiming” this arid place for a new utopia of farmland and a booming western population), expects this historic low to spiral further, dropping to about 1,048ft by the end of 2022, a shallowness unprecedented since Lake Mead started filling up in the 1930s following Hoover dam’s completion. This will provoke a second, harsher, round of cuts.”


Those 7 states and tribes will be facing some harsh realities next year, because of what has already happened this year.  Like many Americans, I had heard for years about the levels of water dropping in Lake Mead, but it never really hit home. Now it has hit home.  This has already happened.  The southwest is committed to this. It has already happened though the consequences won’t be felt until next year. Perhaps some people are still living in FantasyLand. Many of us like to live there.

Kathryn Sorensen, a water policy expert at Arizona State University, my second University I have enjoyed so much the last few years with Chris, made things plain:

“We’ve known this point will arrive because we’ve continued to use more water than the river provides for years,” said Kathryn Sorensen, a water policy expert at Arizona State University. “Things look pretty grim. Humans have always been good at moving water around but right now everyone will need to do what it takes to prevent the system from crashing.”


If the second round of cuts occurs as most now expect, Arizona will lose nearly 1/5th of the water it gets from the Colorado River, the greatest source of water in Arizona.  Nevada has a lower cut, based on an agreement made between the states and tribes more than a 100 years ago when few people were crazy enough to live there, only gets a small share to start out with. I think Las Vegas gets most of its water from there. It could be in big doo doo (that’s a technical engineering term).

Some people think that this situation is temporary because when people talk about a 20-year drought in the region that sounds like it won’t last for ever.  These people are not taking climate change into consideration. But this is change that has already occurred. As Colby Pellegrino, deputy general manager of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said to the Guardian, “Everyone’s going to have to do more with less, and that’s really going to be challenging for people,” she said. “‘Drought’ suggests to a lot of people something temporary we have to respond to, but this could permanently be the type of flows we see.” Doing “more with less” is not something North Americans (other than indigenous people) are accustomed to.

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