Saturday, December 18, 2010

Water pact could help Lake Mead

Henry Brean in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Federal officials are wrapping up negotiations with Mexico on a water deal that could provide a much-needed boost to Lake Mead. In a speech on Friday in Las Vegas , Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will travel to Mexico on Sunday to discuss the international water agreement and other issues. "We have high hopes. We'll know more within a very few short days," he said.

The details have not been finalized, but the concept is for Mexico to store some of its Colorado River allocation in Lake Mead for use in future years, temporarily lifting the water level in the drought-stricken reservoir. Right now, Mexico can't take its full share of water from the river because of a 7.2 magnitude quake that struck Mexicali on April 4, damaging canals and reservoirs that supply the vast agricultural area just south of the California border.

Salazar said the expected agreement with Mexico would benefit the U.S. by keeping additional water in storage "so we can help address lake levels at Lake Mead." The surface of the reservoir has dropped 130 vertical feet since drought took hold on the Colorado River in 1999. If the lake falls another 9 feet, it will trigger the first-ever shortage declaration on the river that supplies water and power to about 25 million people across the West.

Under shortage rules, Nevada and Arizona would be forced to reduce their combined use by 400,000 acre-feet a year. Nevada's share of those cuts would start at 13,000 acre-feet and increase incrementally as Lake Mead continues to drop. One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average Las Vegas Valley homes for a year. Nevada gets 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, one-fifth of Mexico's allocation.

Local water managers worry that Lake Mead will drop far enough to shut down one of the two intake pipes that supply the Las Vegas Valley with about 90 percent of its drinking water. "Obviously it's a priority to keep Lake Mead levels as high as possible," said Scott Huntley, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. "Keeping those lake levels up is a top priority."…

Lake Mead from space, via NASA

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