National Geographic News

Feds Slash Colorado River Release to Historic Lows

A view of Lake Powell in 2013.

Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Sally Deneen

for National Geographic

Published August 16, 2013

A "No Fishing" sign sits improbably along a dry desert road in Nevada. The largest man-made reservoir in the U.S., Lake Mead, once extended this far—but the watery destination of anglers and boaters has shrunk so much that the lakeshore now is about a half-mile away. (View an interactive map of the region.)

The recession of the massive lake that straddles Nevada and Arizona is symbolic of a long-standing problem that just got a lot worse: The Colorado River's record-low flows and the shrunken reservoirs of lakes Mead and Powell (pictured above) for the first time have triggered big cuts in the amount of water allowed to flow downstream. The loss has prompted one alarmed official to float the idea that Western states ask for federal aid.

A new report has brought a sense of urgency to the slow-moving disaster represented by the shrinking Colorado River.

For days and weeks, water officials fretted that the federal Bureau of Reclamation's anticipated 24-month study would deliver bad news, and it did. The agency—a division of the Department of Interior that provides water and power in the West—announced today it would cut water released from Lake Powell's Glen Canyon Dam by 750,000 acre-feet next year. That's about enough water to serve 1.5 million homes.

"Unprecedented," said Scott Huntley, spokesperson for the Las Vegas-based Southern Nevada Water Authority, whose chief, Pat Mulroy, has mentioned the idea of seeking federal aid.

A business coalition warned of an "unprecedented water crisis within the next few years," thanks to the situation in lakes Mead and Powell, the latter of which straddles Arizona and Utah.

It's the first time in the history of the nearly 50-year-old Glen Canyon Dam that water going downstream would be cut. "This is the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years," said Upper Colorado regional director Larry Walkoviak in a press release.

Among the effects, said Gary Wockner of, are negative impacts on fish, wildlife, and the ecosystem in the Grand Canyon. "The river is already severely endangered due to way too many dams and diversions," said Wockner. "The impact on the health of the Colorado River is unsustainable."

(Learn more about issues affecting the Colorado River.)

The Race for Water Is On

Las Vegas effectively has two straws into Lake Mead, which is roughly 300 miles (480 kilometers) downstream of Lake Powell, to get its water. One of those straws could stop working once the lake drops too far—somewhere between 1,050 feet (320 meters) and 1,075 feet (328 meters) above sea level, it's thought. Perhaps as early as autumn 2014, Lake Mead is expected to drop to 1,075 feet (down 25 feet from the current level).

Anticipating trouble earlier, the city's water authority has been busy installing a third straw to reach a deeper part of Lake Mead.

"It's essentially a race for us," Huntley said, as the lake "is going to drop more precipitously than seen in the past."

If things continue to worsen as climate change brings more evaporation and less rain over time, other issues will come into focus for the seven states and part of Mexico that rely on the Colorado River. Power production at Hoover Dam would stop if the water's elevation drops enough, for example.

"You won't be able to put water through the turbines," Huntley said. "You don't have enough really to be much more than a river at that point, as opposed to a storage reservoir."

(Related: "8 Rivers Run Dry.")

What the Report Means

"It's a kick in the pants or a blow to the head to make us pay attention to both short-term and long-term projections of supply and demand imbalances," Brad Udall said of the Bureau of Reclamation report. Udall is the director of the University of Colorado Law School's Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment.

Record drought and overuse of water from the meager Colorado River have taken a toll. Tree-ring reconstructions of stream flow suggest the past 14 years rank among the lowest stream-flow periods in 1,200 years, according to Udall and Michael Connor, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.

"Something very, very unusual is going on," said Udall, who suspects climate change is playing a part.

It's as if a giant sucked up an astonishing amount of water with a straw. Some 8.23 million acre-feet of water is supposed to flow each year into Lake Mead from Lake Powell to serve Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico, per long-standing interstate and international agreements. But the past 14 years have been tough.

"Basically, Mead has lost the equivalent of one entire year's worth of flow," Udall said. "It's missing 8 million acre-feet of water." (An acre-foot of water is equivalent to one acre with 12 inches of water on it.)

Lake Powell also is missing a year's worth (about 15 million acre-feet). Drought is the main culprit for Lake Powell, Udall said, while Lake Mead's issue is overuse.

The Colorado River Basin "is one of the most critical sources of water in the West," Connor said in written comments submitted to a Senate subcommittee hearing in July. The river and its tributaries quench the thirsts of 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland, plus seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and 11 national parks.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is if big snows and rains come in the next year, the feared short-term crisis would be averted—dams could end up delivering normal amounts of water downstream. And even if the dreaded cuts in water do occur, it probably won't be so bad short term, Udall predicts. That's because Arizona has been banking water underground.

"There would be a belt-tightening by a small group of water users in Arizona and Nevada, a price increase for a larger group in Arizona...and water use would likely remain constant," thanks to groundwater pumping, the website reports. At least for a while.

The bad news is if the water shortage drags on for years, people in Nevada, Arizona, and California "would have to answer some very difficult questions," Udall said.

By current river law, Lake Mead must deliver a certain amount of water downstream, but the lake is draining faster than it's refilling. At some point, if the situation doesn't improve, the fear is it may come to deciding this: Do we cut off water supply to Las Vegas to two million people because the reservoir has dropped too low? Or does someone else pay?

"The [logical] answer is you keep supplying water to Las Vegas and you short someone else," Udall said. But the complicated and often controversial "law of the river" that governs who gets the water from the Colorado isn't always straightforward, and can cause "angst," as Udall puts it.

The law currently says Arizona would have to bear the brunt of any reductions in flow, while Las Vegas could see some more modest restrictions. California, on the other hand, "escapes scot free," said Udall, meaning farmers there would be the last to see any restrictions.

According to a shortage-sharing agreement signed in 2007, if Lake Mead drops below 1075 feet (328 meters), automatic water cuts will kick in for Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico.

(See how water is "embedded" in things we use every day and see how the world's river basins stack up.)

Agriculture...and Climate Change

Most Colorado River water is used for agriculture. That's good in the view of Tina Shields, who manages Colorado River resources for the Imperial Irrigation District in southern California, which mostly serves farmers in a region just above where the Colorado flows into Mexico. (See a series on the Colorado River Delta.)

Shields says people from cities are greedily eyeing farmers' water. "We shouldn't be jeopardizing our food supply to allow urban growth to occur," Shields counters.

To some degree it may feel like the same old fights will wage on. But Udall says water stress may eventually force major changes. He said there are warning signs that climate change is already steering the fight to where it's never been before.

"Climate change has the potential to throw curveballs—to throw extreme events at us the likes of which we've never seen and we're not prepared to deal with," said Udall.

Pictured is Lake Powell in 1999 and 2013, Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

judi donahue
judi donahue

Could it be some entity has anticipated the warming and water shortage and syphoned much of the missing water to a private aquifer? People will try to store water in underground reservoirs when they realise warming is serious and water supplies are in danger...Just a thought

Paul Schott
Paul Schott

Dad look another fish near the top of the water Young Eagle soon there will be many as the water goes down.
Dad and when the water is gone what will we eat Young Eagle that is fortold in Revelation 19:17-18
Have no fear young Eagle, those who are faithful to the end will be saved.

Satan's Sin City “Las Vegas” very soon to die like a fish out of water

World Leaders Pay Close "ATTENTION".

This Planet Earth Cannot And Will Not Support Life As We Know It Without Its FOREST.

Soon all will take note to the sounds and rumbling of Volcanoes and Earthquakes Around Earth
that are Waking Up at a Alarming Rate. Just as they did in 1883 from Krakatoa.


Read well and study on your own after you have read this.

This is not a game or joke our Sun gives off a Solar Wind all day year round. If you live in the State of
Alaska you see it in the sky above what a sight it is going through our Earth’s Magnet Polls of the
North and the South, North Poll. Its Called the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis.

The day will come when you will be able to see it all over Earth as in the year 1859 Solar Flare,
It was the largest in 500 years. Two Astronomer’s Hodgson and Carrington told the World that the
Solar Flare made a Geomagnetic Storm reach Earth in hours not days. Back then it gave new meaning to
"Reach For The Skies" from Telegraph Operators. For hours sparks flew from the key board. Even after
the Batteries were disconnected. Nov 3 and 4, 2003 had a X40+ Class Solar Flare,
Thank GOD it was not coming at Earth this time.

Our Sun’s UV Rays will get stronger as each passing day go's by, read and i will tell you why.

The Great big FOREST have be striped from most of the Earth for Greed of Money by the Wicked.
The trees our are Main Source of Oxygen on this Plant.

The Forest Trees scrubs the Pollution out of the air and makes Oxygen from the rain and dirt that it grows in.

The Forest Trees do more then just make Oxygen they stop Soil Erosion, just Look at the 1930 Dust Bowl. Greed by
our wicked Government leaders to bleed from us as much money as they could out of us tru taxes led farmers to clear cut all their
Forest, and farm all the land they were being Tax on.
They had to farm it to pay for the Taxes. Why leave the Trees when food crop makes Money.

This Did not Help the Depression that effected most all Worldwide. More then 100 million in the coming years will suffer from
Malnutrition and Dehydration. Going without Food and Safe Drinking Water to drink many will die!

One country can see clearly and knows already the World's food and safe drinking water supply is running out at a record pace.
With one of the worlds largest Population it has taking steps to no longer let anyone in its country, export any of its farmland grown
food or grain from INDIA to any other country Nov 2013.

China is trying to buy up all the world's grain it can and the future harvest of framers.
Future Commodities of Food Stocks soon will climb like a rocket because of this.
China is also right now working on passing laws on its farmers. China Rural Reforms On Farming Jan 2014.
It to soon will become a country that will not export any of its food or grain to any other country.

In the United States of America alone more than 46+ Million Americans Received Food Stamps and that number is
going up every day every year since 2009. The number of Homeless is growing world wide in
America 20,000 in the once known to the world as "Motor City" Detroit Michagin.
The bread and food lines are growing World wide. 100 to 300 in
Sioux Falls S.D. Every Friday stand in the cold waiting to get food at the Military Armary. The same once a
month in Hawaii in front of a Stone that drowafs any man That reads.......

it list the names of many

Through the years many of us have help cook and feed the poor and needy in Hawaii and around the World,
most of us USA Military or work or did work or Volteered for Uncle Sam.
And GOD willing may we be able to do so till our LORD returns.

Paul Schott
Paul Schott

The Pollution and CO2 Carbon Dioxide go into the Tree Bark as a shield from most bugs so they do not eat the tree.

Less Forest less Oxygen this is why the Moon. That has no Oxygen is very cold on the side with out Sun Light,
And hot as ever on the side with Sun Light. Way too cold and too hot to live there. You would need at least 10
times the Energy we use on Earth to even live there and life on the Moon would be very short.

With no blank of Oxygen to lessen or reduce the Sun’s UV Rays and Solar Wind they are deadly there on our Moon.
Every Mt. Climber and Aircraft Pilot knows the higher you go the thinner the Oxygen and colder it gets.

Just spend a night on a Mt. top above 13,000 feet with no Sun Light and you will see or should i say feel the
cold stinging any of your exposed skin. If you are new to Mt. Climbing stay below 10,000Ft. The Astronauts and
the Cosmonauts and Fighter Pilots that i have been with for years know this very well, and the Radiation Hazards
to humans at High Altitudes.

Soon the Sun’s Solar Wind and UV rays will be way to strong for most to go out in the Sun Light for even a short time.

The Geomagnetic Storm to come and the Bad Weather Storms well you have not seen nothing yet and the Sea Level is Rising
the Oceans. Many Millions have been affected by Floods in China and Pakistan and around the planet.
Every year there is more storms and they are stronger of greater magnatude and biger.
In 2005 Over a Thousand dead in New Orleans flood, and the list is going on.

GREENLAND Ice sheet took more then 3,000 years to get its mass size and weight.

Greenland'Ice sheet is one of the largest ice sheets
on this Planet Earth it is the second in mass.

People on Earth are putting an end to it in less then 50 years.

There is a very simple point to this. Dams all over the planet have had
a Earthquake when filled too fast or let out alot of water in a short time.

GREENLAND Ice sheet Weight is a unbeliveable amount as it gets lighter,
GREENLAND ICE sheet WILL give a Earthquake no one will forget.
Coastal cities LOOK OUT a Mt. Wall Of Water will come, from one of these Earthquakes.

If you live by the coastline now is a good and smart time to move you might not get
another chance to do so in time.

History has recorded times of coastal towns,
cities and coastline being inandated by sea water 5 to 10 miles inland.

In the past 50 years Earth has had more FLOODING then in the last 1,000 years.


And there shall be Famines, and Pestilences, and Earthquakes, in divers places such as was not from the beginning of the Creation.

Scientist Dr. Katharine Giles had done many experiments investigating "Sea Ice Thickness",
and showed it to governments around the Earth how the Sun rays and winds
affected the newly exposed Arctic Ocean. Some of Scientist Dr. Giles research focused on using satellites to better
understand the physics of the ice covered Polar Oceans.

Scientist Dr. Giles to all Warning Water will warm faster then ICE covered water or water with ice in it.

The last 30 years On Earth we have broke all High Temp Records and the temp it is still going up.
All the Worlds Ice Glacier are melting at an Accelerating Rate. The Glaciers and Polar Ice Caps store more water than
all the Fresh Water Lakes on Earth.

Paul Schott
Paul Schott

Look to the (US Gov web site "USGS U.S. Geological Survey" Repeat Photography of Alaskan Glaciers USGS)

The Bad Weather Storms now are Babies compared to what is to come.

They will get even bigger and worse less Oxygen the more UV Rays to the Earth and more Water molecules will evaporate and go
up into the Earth’s Atmosphere. Less Oxygen the Colder with out sun light and Hotter with it.
Record cold and record hot temps, highs and lows will now be broke every year.

The Sky full of more water vapor molecules, more snow in the winter and more Flash Floods in the Summer. All earth will
see way more fires and the Deserts are growing larger and have been for the last 75+ years.

The water Springs in the desert that once made the place a oasis to support life are long gone.
Satan's Sin City "Las Vegas" very soon to die like a fish out of water.

The Governor of California Jerry Brown has declared a State Of Emergency due to the driest DROUGHT in Califronia's history. Friday January 17, 2014
Lake Mead at record low and soon will not be able to make electric power.

(" If every living person on Earth were to Plant A Tree Today we might have a chance.")

IN PAKISTAN MORE THEN A MILLION TREES IN A DAY, and they did this for days.

NOW WHY CAN WE NOT DO THIS WORLD WIDE? Maybe the UN and leaders on this planet are just a little more then show in the head.

OUR Planets Atmosphere needs Oxygen with the decline of it the world's health will decline, as like some of the
not so smart gov payed Scientist. Some that will do or say anything for $$$$$.
Once the days start gettig shorter the cooler it will get and longer days warmer, most all fifth graders and every framer on Earth knows this.
IF they had know better and had a brain like a Scientist to go with the tital of one they carry they would have known,
that the Sea Ice is going to grow at a Record Pace with Shorter Days. Just as with longer days the summers are going to
brake all records each and every year that OUR Planets Atmosphere Oxygen declines.
Mid Summer Days hot as Hell, Winter Nights POLAR BEAR WEATHER.

("EXPEDITIONS on ships into ice seas many have been done most all know it is safer and wiser to do it as the days are getting
longer not as a fool when the days are getting shorter. You risk yours and the lifes of others that will come to rescue you.
World Leaders and your Scientist be Smart open your eyes most all on Earth can see and want to hear the TRUTH from its leaders.
Stop running your vessel Afoul. If you follow a true course the spirit that gives your heart its life will give you great wisdom
and strength and power to resist the wicked.")

Scientist are you afraid of loseing that fat pay check,
or think that the wicked will end your work like NOBLE BRAVEHEARTED Scientist Dr. Katharine Giles.
Everyone that the wicked think they have stoped its work 100 will replace that NOBLE BRAVEHEARTED one.
By your work shall ye be judged do good help others and always seek and tell the TRUTH.
Every soul will be filled with great fear that don't help others and don't seek the truth and our LORD, JUDGEMENT DAY.

The Earth’s Atmosphere Blanket surrounding it protects life on Earth as Our Lord and GOD will all that seek Him.

Then it is written WHEN THE TREE IS FULL IT IS HARVEST TIME. All the Earth will someday burn away.

This is all Foretold in the Bible Read it
and may our Lord Bless all that do so.

Daniel 12 : 1 - 3

The Lord’s Little Helper
Paul Felix Schott

2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar
and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the Earth and its works will be burned up.

GOD Bless You and Your Love ones
Give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ every day.

Luke 21:20-22
Matthew 24: 30-33

Solar Energy the way to go.
Many States and Countries Are and are Banning Fracking.


Hydraulic Fracturing a Danger to us All.

Archimedes and Albert Einstein
These two are at the top of the list of the Worlds Greatest Scientists,
Viewed by Scientist around the World.

Sad that for the last 25 years or so of every teacher asked no matter what
Grade k through 16. At least 80% of them did not know Archimedes. Even sadder 90%
of them could not tell you what one of the most Brilliant Scientist to ever
live on Earth. Won the Nobel Prize for.

It was for the work Albert Einstein did to show the World it could get
Free Energy, Electric from the SUN. (THE PHOTOVOLTAIC EFFECT).

We still do not Teach this to are young Why?
Churches all over earth are Going Solar why not are schools?
In many cities and more added every day there are more (EV's) Electric Vehicles Charging Stations than gasoline, the UK was one of the first.
Wicked Leaders and many that are in the Dark and Lost wake up it will very soon be too late.

Please go to (Electric Vehicle Charging Station map) Oil CEO's soon to lose more than their shirt.
FREE SOLAR ENERGY FROM THE SUN. Why KEEP sending your TAX $$$$$ to the Middle East.

Canada is next door obama and is one of our Closest Allies. Canada keystone pipeline in January 2012,
President Obama put the brakes on and rejected the application. We should have done all we could, to have completed the project long ago.
Sorry obama i forgot Canada did close the wicked Muslin Islamic Republic Den Of Spies And Espionage in Canada and tell the Terrorist supporting
people working in them to leave Canada in less then 5 days or go straight to jail.
You obama are still trying to send Muslins all the USA tax money you can.

WHY ARE WE STILL SENDING $$$,$$$,$$$,$$$ TO THE Middle East ?

There is enough Energy coming from our SUN to power all are needs and then some.
Albert Einstein

Daniel Rolan
Daniel Rolan

The book "The Great Waves of Change: Navigating the Difficult Times Ahead" lays out ways we can prepare personally for the water shortages, wars and difficulties ahead. I highly recommend you read this book.

Kellie Foster
Kellie Foster

I live in Page, Arizona! Praying for Snow and lot's of it!!!

Peace Seeker
Peace Seeker

Based on the groundbreaking book, "Blue Gold : World Water Wars" explores the conflicts over water today and in the future as governments and corporations vie for control of our most vital resource.

Joe Booze
Joe Booze

What's all the worrying about. The coming higher water bills will solve  the Lake Mead water level problems. Plus a New Master Building Plan is being kicked around which is a sure indicator that the water problem is only our imagination and the elected officials can't wait to get their names on the corner stone when it's built for you to see..

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

Article quote: "Shields says people from cities are greedily eyeing farmers' water. "We shouldn't be jeopardizing our food supply to allow urban growth to occur," Shields counters."

You can't separate those issues so cleanly. Farmers depend on urban people since it's all part of the same Ponzi growth scheme. The whole economy is predicated on more people consuming more "stuff," be it water, food, the housing market or electronic goods.

How about taking that a logical step further and questioning the entire concept of an economy that must "grow or die" like a cluster of cancer cells? All you ever hear in political/business speeches is "grow the economy," which comes down to more people grabbing more stuff from this finite rock. This "growth" can't occur simply as a result of magic money on a spreadsheet. It's a physical process requiring physical elements of land, water and fossil energy. Most people remain ungrateful for where these things come from and their limited nature.

michael spexarth
michael spexarth

The real major change we need, and probably have only about 15 years max to get there, is energy efficient desalination.

Bit of irony, we get rising sea levels when we really need rising fresh water levels. Historically, no civilization that was built on irrigation or could not maintain environmental sustainability has survived.

All nature is in transition. Nothing is fixed, welcome to the Game Board.

Larry Antelope
Larry Antelope

This is incredible. "Unprecedented" really?  Worst 14 years of drought in a hundred years! Water is draining faster than its refilling!  Who still says its NOT global warming? Its right in our faces kids! To be honest its going to be awesome to see what happens!

Alfredo Soto
Alfredo Soto

Vagas is a very dry city it is only obvious that they were going to face water problems; but where there's a will there is a way. Human ingenuity will figure out a solution for those people living there. Vagas could try to restrict how many people could move into its city due to the lack of resources. This could happen as it has happen to some communities in California.

craig hill
craig hill

"Something very, very unusual is going on," said Udall, who suspects climate change is playing a part.

DUHHHH, REALLY?  It is nothing short of the beginning of the end of desert communities.

To save the cities that produce something of value, i vote we cut off the water to worthless Vegas.  It should fade back into sagebrush.  That should buy a little time for Phoenix before that plug needs to be pulled, and then LA. 

IMJO Today
IMJO Today

It's time for Marc Reisner to write Cadillac Desert II

Beto Sabio
Beto Sabio

Hey Hermano Ed........   a great comparison above (you can click on vertical line on sat view and move)

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

@craig hill People should boycott Las Vegas due to their latest planned water grab, which is bound to kill off ecosystems in remote Nevada valleys. Anyone who keeps visiting that city is part of the problem, regardless of the fun factor. But think about it, is losing your money most of the time actually worth the drive?

Alec Sevins
Alec Sevins

@IMJO Today Unfortunately, Mr. Reisner has been gone for 13 years now. But he was right all along.

Resource Cornucopians and growth-addicts are stuck in a fantasy world. The whole notion of coddling endless consumption is THE problem, not a "lack of water." We recognize this easily when a herd of wildebeest encounters a shrinking water hole in Africa. Man's ability to divert or desalinate water only masks the fundamental lack of balance.


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