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Colorado river cutbacks in Arizona

Colorado Expat

Active Member
FB...Buzzfeednews? It must true then.😉
The article is factual. This same dynamic played out in California during the past half decade, when drought greatly reduced surface water supplies, leading to a massive shift to groundwater pumping. The depletion of the California groundwater resources was visible by satellite from space using an instrument package called GRACE, which measures changes in gravity (soil containing water has higher mass and thus higher gravity, while depleted aquifers show declining gravity readings, which is what GRACE recorded). Now that deliveries from the CAP are being cut back due to the current drought, Arizona is repeating this same history. This is more of a Lake Mead problem than a Lake Powell problem, for now, since the CAP water comes out of the Lower Basin river allotment. But if things get any drier, then it will not be just Arizona agriculture that gets squeezed, but suburban development as well. At that point, we really will see a battle between Upper Basin and Lower Basin states as to who gets how much water, because it is unlikely that anyone is going to let the taps in the suburbs of Phoenix run dry. Quite a lot hinges on how the coming winter plays out.
 

airford1

Well-Known Member
So we are going to let the Old proven plan of, "Hope it Rains" instead of changing the way we use our water?
California has collapsed the aquifer in central California and we drain the Lakes each year. I would think that would be a signal that something is failing.
 

Bill Sampson

Escalante-Class Member
I live in Prescott Valley Arizona. We get our water from a aquifer. A few years ago residents started cutting back their water use, and the city of Prescott and Prescott Valleys response was "we now have extra water, let's build some more houses." City officials see tax dollars, and don't want to address future water shortages. One of our large developers here added (2) 1 million gallon storage tanks, stating that it would ease water usage. Guess where he gets the water for these tanks, our aquifer. Greedy developers don't care if the water source dries out, they will just move on to another area. Sooner or later, we need to quit adding homes that will pull water rom our aquifer.
 

Colorado Expat

Active Member
If you are familiar with the history of water in the West, you can see how the Lower Basin states will end up using the Upper Basin the way that Los Angeles used the Owens Valley. Already, the combined populations of Arizona and Nevada are nearly equivalent to those of all four of the upper basin states, largely driven by urban growth in Las Vegas and Phoenix. And that does not even take into account Los Angeles, which has that many people again. The Lower Basin states have already locked in uses for water on an over-allocated Colorado River that will be very hard to walk back. The simple truth of it is that the Upper Basin states will never really be able to claim their full Compact shares, because there was never that much water to begin with, and the Lower Basin states have already utilized a fair bit of it. The problem for Lake Powell in a dynamic like this is that except for hydropower, which is looking increasingly tenuous, its other touted purpose is in stabilizing the river flows, which is really a benefit to water users in the Lower Basin, not the Upper. As the Upper Basin states start to wake up to the fact that the Lower Basin has stolen their lunch and is eating it, they will probably seek to store their water shares further upstream, where they can see more direct benefits from what is still left. The loser in such a tug of war will be Lake Powell, which lies too far downstream to do the Upper Basin states any good, with the exception of Utah and its proposed St. George pipeline. So Arizona’s rapidly increasing appetite for water, even though it constitutes a Lower Basin use, really does have a bearing on what happens to Lake Powell in the future.
 

210 FSH

Active Member
And still no plan to build da sal plants along the coast…

There was also a plan a few decades back to build a pipeline that would take water out of the Columbia river right before it goes into the ocean. The plan was to run the pipelines down the I-5 corridor and dump that water into the top of the aqueduct system. But, as with politicians the messed it up spectacularly. Its always about using a crisis.. I believe that was sal alinsky’s mantra. This was inevitable, therefore it was predictable.
 
I see the just passed federal infrastructure bill contains $50M for the Central Utah Project. Is this the pipeline to St George from Lake Powell??
 

Colorado Expat

Active Member
The Central Utah Project is in northern Utah, so is not the same as the proposed pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George. The project as authorized in 1956 originally consisted of 6 units, 2 of which have still not been constructed, but remain approved and on the books. Of these, the Ute Indian Unit has significant engineering challenges and may never be completed. The other, the Bonneville Unit, is a major trans-basin diversion that would take water from the Green River in the Uintah Basin, south of both the Uintah Mountains and Flaming Gorge dam, and transfer it a set of reservoirs on rivers such as the Provo, which flow into the Great Basin. As such, its completion would have the potential to reduce annual inflows into Lake Powell. Although I have not read the text of the new infrastructure bill just passed yesterday, I would presume that it is this Bonneville Unit of the CUP that has now been funded.
 

Colorado Expat

Active Member
And still no plan to build da sal plants along the coast…

There was also a plan a few decades back to build a pipeline that would take water out of the Columbia river right before it goes into the ocean. The plan was to run the pipelines down the I-5 corridor and dump that water into the top of the aqueduct system. But, as with politicians the messed it up spectacularly. Its always about using a crisis.. I believe that was sal alinsky’s mantra. This was inevitable, therefore it was predictable.
As it turns out, there are already a couple of coastal desalinization plants up and running in coastal California, but they are very energetically expensive to operate, and one of the byproducts is a nasty brine that is difficult to dispose of. More to the point, though, is that California now has over 35 million municipal water users, so any contribution desalinization makes will simply augment, not replace, Colorado River water. Plus, as a condition the Central Arizona project being authorized, California locked up its 4.4 million acre feet of the Colorado as the senior right in the whole system, which comes out before anyone else gets anything, and they certainly have no intention of giving that up, ever.

There was also a serious proposal being hatched by the Bureau of Reclamation back in the early 1960s to divert Columbia River water southward to California and Arizona, and thereby take pressure off uses on the Colorado. But in 1965, a law was passed requiring any Bureau of Reclamation feasibility studies for new new projects to secure congressional approval before moving forward. Given that the states in the Pacific Northwest are now a bit possessive of their water, and fully aware that California and Arizona will take all they can get, any proposal for such a study would these days be dead on arrival in the relevant committees. Perhaps even more problematic for this scheme, which included construction of several large new dams on the Trinity River in northern California, is its huge cost, which was going to be covered by hydropower sales from a pair of giant dams, Marble Gorge and Bridge Canyon, that would have been built on the Colorado River at either end of the Grand Canyon. That may have seemed like a feasible idea to float in 1963, but in our current world those Grand Canyon dams would be massively opposed by a wide coalition of groups, and would never make it past the Environmental Impact Statement stage. So the Colorado Basin is going to have to live with the water its has got, for better or worse.
 
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210 FSH

Active Member
As it turns out, there are already a couple of coastal desalinization plants up and running in coastal California, but they are very energetically expensive to operate, and one of the byproducts is a nasty brine that is difficult to dispose of. More to the point, though, is that California now has over 35 million municipal water users, so any contribution desalinization makes will simply augment, not replace, Colorado River water. Plus, as a condition the Central Arizona project being authorized, California locked up its 4.4 million acre feet of the Colorado as the senior right in the whole system, which comes out before anyone else gets anything, and they certainly have no intention of giving that up, ever.

There was also a serious proposal being hatched by the Bureau of Reclamation back in the early 1960s to divert Columbia River water southward to California and Arizona, and thereby take pressure off uses on the Colorado. But in 1965, a law was passed requiring any Bureau of Reclamation feasibility studies for new new projects to secure congressional approval before moving forward. Given that the states in the Pacific Northwest are now a bit possessive of their water, and fully aware that California and Arizona will take all they can get, any proposal for such a study would these days be dead on arrival in the relevant committees. Perhaps even more problematic for this scheme, which included construction of several large new dams on the Trinity River in northern California, is its huge cost, which was going to be covered by hydropower sales from a pair of giant dams, Marble Gorge and Bridge Canyon, that would have been built on the Colorado River at either end of the Grand Canyon. That may have seemed like a feasible idea to float in 1963, but in our current world those Grand Canyon dams would be massively opposed by a wide coalition of groups, and would never make it past the Environmental Impact Statement stage. So the Colorado Basin is going to have to live with the water its has got, for better or worse.
I appreciate your post, it is informed and well written.

However, once ca runs out of water a new “crisis” will emerge and all bets will be off as it will be political wrangling the likes of which has yet to be seen. Ca has for decades been trying to conserve their way out of this problem, but, despite the best and heroic efforts of the residents, ca has no growth plan and new housing developments have sprung up like crazy over the last few decades thereby negating any long term benefits the residents achieved through conservation. In the meantime they have gutted their once very profitable farming industry by taking away the farmers water. Its going to be a bit like the irresistible force hits the immovable object. This problem is inevitable and therefore predictable.

I hear the same old arguments about de sal and Columbia river water where it hits the ocean. It is true that de sal plants are expensive, the brine problem is really not a problem just an excuse. The two plants you mentioned are small, and yes they are energy intensive, which is a huge problem for ca‘s 35M residents as ca cannot even handle the electrical load it has now, not to mention what is going to happen if their pipe dream of electric cars comes true. (With just one half of the cars going to electric in ca it will more than double ca‘s all time historical load (50,205MW set in 2005)-with just car chargers(59,000MW’s & 236,000MWh’s)-each and everyday). The biggest problem ca has with its electrical system is not just the lack of generation, it is the transmission and distribution system, those systems are also maxed out and have been for years with no real projects coming along because of all the hand wringing. Electrically, ca has backed itself into a box canyon, and it will be a very difficult climb up and out of the canyon.

This whole water issue is just one of the things that I sit back and really laugh when I hear these people talk about ca succeeding from the union, where is their water going to come from?

It will be pretty difficult for Oregon and Washington to fight a future battle regarding the Columbia river as the proposed water draw would be right where the river hits the ocean.

The only solution ca has, and this really is a ca problem, is to make use of all the water that is available to them off the coast.. should be an interesting time when all that comes to a head.
 
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Colorado Expat

Active Member
Taking water from the Columbia River near its mouth would have several major issues to overcome, most specifically gravity, topography, and economics. You would need to move a large volume of water back uphill from sea level, which entails a rather substantial energetic cost. To deal with that, you would need to build another Grand Coulee dam just to capture and pump away a portion of the river just before it reaches the ocean. Because Astoria lies a long way from even the border of northern California, you would then have to move the water south for over 400 miles, through and across the entire actively volcanic Cascade Range, before it even reached the first potential users south of Redding. At that point, the cost of the water would be so expensive that no one could afford it. And as noted before, there is no way that the congressional delegations in Oregon and Washington are ever going to go along with such a plan, even if the money was somehow there to finance it. Finally, given that we are having a separate discussion thread on NEPA in relation to the proposed closure of Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell, it is worth noting that a discussion like that shrinks to trivial insignificance compared to the NEPA battle you would have in trying to divert a big chunk of the Columbia River to California's central valley. So all this is really just a fantasy, floated by folks who realize that their glass is now way more than half empty.

The Lower Basin is suddenly facing the era of limits when it comes to water, and the easiest target when the current management guidelines under the Compact come up for renegotiation in 2025 will be Lake Powell. The Lower Basin states will argue that the reservoir can demonstrably be operated at a level well below full pool, and that the water formerly held there can be used to sustain rapidly escalating uses in California and Arizona, since Upper Basin consumption has been fairly flat for decades. It is rather ironic in a way that in order to prevent Denver and other cities on the Eastern Slope of Colorado from diverting water away from Western Slope agriculture, former congressman Wayne Aspinal and his cohorts, who had an iron grip on the House Interior Committee in the 1960s, deliberately sited projects in western Colorado in places that would be topographically impossible for urban interests to raid. But there was only so much viable agricultural land in that rugged landscape, so the water that Denver could not reach eventually went to Phoenix instead. Western Colorado beyond Vail still looks much like it did when I was a kid, I-70 notwithstanding. Phoenix not so much.
 
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210 FSH

Active Member
Taking water from the Columbia River near its mouth would have several major issues to overcome, most specifically gravity, topography, and economics. You would need to move a large volume of water back uphill from sea level, which entails a rather substantial energetic cost. To deal with that, you would need to build another Grand Coulee dam just to capture and pump away a portion of the river just before it reaches the ocean. Because Astoria lies a long way from even the border of northern California, you would then have to move the water south for over 400 miles, through and across the entire actively volcanic Cascade Range, before it even reached the first potential users south of Redding. At that point, the cost of the water would be so expensive the no one could afford it. And as noted before, there is no way that the congressional delegations in Oregon and Washington are ever going to go along with such a plan, even if the money was somehow there to finance it. Finally, given that we are having a separate discussion thread on NEPA in relation to the proposed closure of Dangling Rope Marina at Lake Powell, it is worth noting that a discussion like that shrinks to trivial insignificance compared to the NEPA battle you would have in trying to divert a big chunk of the Columbia River to California's central valley. So all this is really just a fantasy, floated by folks who realize that their glass is now way more than half empty.

The Lower Basin is suddenly facing the era of limits when it comes to water, and the easiest target when the current management guidelines under the Compact come up for renegotiation in 2025 will be Lake Powell. The Lower Basin states will argue that the reservoir can demonstrably be operated at a level well below full pool, and that the water formerly held there can be used to sustain rapidly escalating uses in California and Arizona, since Upper Basin consumption has been fairly flat for decades. It is rather ironic in a way that in order to prevent Denver and other cities on the Eastern Slope of Colorado from diverting water away from Western Slope agriculture, former congressman Wayne Aspinal and his cohorts, who had an iron grip on the House Interior Committee in the 1960s, deliberately sited projects in western Colorado in places that would be topographically impossible for urban interests to raid. But there was only so much viable agricultural land in that rugged landscape, so the water that Denver could not reach eventually went to Phoenix instead. Western Colorado beyond Vail still looks much like it did when I was a kid, I-70 notwithstanding. Phoenix not so much.

Again great post!

Question, what is the solution going to be?
 

lakepowellnut

Well-Known Member
Seems pretty simple to me. People who choose to live in the desert will have learn to live with less water and use it more efficiently! Grand engineering schemes to pipe more water are not the solution.
I hear that argument frequently and I really don’t think it passes the smell test. If the three states that are the source of all the water that Arizona, California and Nevada use, it would be safe to argue that those states could keep that water. But to be fare, sharing that water worked for many years. It’s just been recently (the past 20 or so years) that we’ve had a significant shortage. Some good years and some bad years, but mostly sub-par. This is a complex issue and yes, I do live on the western side of the Rockies (some desert and some not so much), but to use blanket terms regarding the use of the water, I don’t think if flies. I could say that since we live in a desert, farmers shouldn’t farm since they use most of our local water, but that isn’t reasonable or prudent. I believe that we should be smarter than the weather patterns. How? That’s a good question, but I don’t think being smarter than the weather is being considered. It feels like water managers are reactionary and that‘s not a good combination.
 

Colorado Expat

Active Member
Part of the solution here might be adopt the old business axiom of paying ourselves first. The Imperial Valley and areas around Yuma now grow a significant portion of the winter produce consumed in the United States, so the investment in water infrastructure there arguably has benefits for the country as a whole. By contrast, if you read the articles that started this thread off, many of the more recent wells in Arizona that are chasing receding groundwater deeper and deeper are funded by offshore corporations, including a significant number from Saudi Arabia, who are using the water to grow thirsty crops like alfalfa that are then exported to their own foreign markets as livestock feed. In contrast to the Imperial Valley, this is an agricultural water use that benefits a very few. Problem is, local and state governments are loathe to step in and implement proper controls on aquifers to make sure their waters are directed to highest and best uses, and with carefully regulated rates of withdrawal. Nebraska has bucked this trend, and is the only state in the Central Plains where the Ogallala Aquifer is actually stable or rebounding. Arizona and Texas, by contrast, have not learned this lesson, or simply do not want to take it to heart.

In the long run, the expansion of the desert city suburbs will create a dynamic in which agriculture will lose out, both because houses will continue to sprawl across what used to be fields, and because the metros can always pay a higher price for water when the bidding war breaks out. So LA, Phoenix and Las Vegas will still grow at the expense of agriculture, but the overall aggregate water demand will still be the same. There is no equivalent to the Colorado River Compact that I am aware of when it comes to comprehensive and rational federal management of ground water resources, but there probably should be, since aquifers and surface flows are all linked at some level. But just like the news, all aquifers are local, and local interests have a long history of chasing short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability. Potential limits to growth are never considered until they end up being imposed by default when the water runs out.

Water resource management in the Colorado River Basin is basically at this point a zero-sum game. The real question is not whether there is enough water for additional future uses, because there basically isn’t. It is instead a question of which uses will be prioritized over others, and what balance will be struck among those competing sectors. Unless the current climate cycle in the Southwest takes a dramatic turn for the better, 2025 promises to be a very interesting year as the Compact states come back to the table and have to agree, or not, on who gets what. And that is where Lake Powell will definitely be a bargaining chip.
 
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