Topic: Water Strategy


West must strive for water sustainability

Excerpt: For more than a century, solving the West's water challenges has involved building new dams, pipelines and canals to "make the desert bloom."

Supported by a vast reservoir of federal dollars, the so-called Reclamation Era defined the character of the modern West, with its sprawling cities and agricultural empires. That era ended on Dec. 12, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released the "Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study," a landmark report that gives the 40 million inhabitants of the Colorado River basin a glimpse of a very different future.

Excerpt: The story it tells is one that the American West needs to hear. It starts with the recognition that the human demands on the Colorado River already substantially exceed the naturally-available water supply. What's more, without a significant change in course in the coming decades, demands on the Colorado River will exceed supply by an average of 25 percent -- some 3.2 million acre-feet. That's about eight times the amount of water used each year by Las Vegas.

Christmas trees are a gift for fish

Excerpt: The trees decompose around pipes and concrete, helping them grow a skin of mosses and algae that serve as fish food. The artificial reefs also offer places for young fish to hide from predators.

Excerpt: What nature once provided — a steady source of organic material such as brush and uprooted trees — disappeared when the once wild and muddy river was tamed.

By the late 1980s, Lake Havasu's now crystal clear waters harbored few places where newly spawned fish could find shelter from predators. Fish populations were a fraction of what they had been a generation before.

Excerpt: As the trees and brush decomposed, the pipe and concrete structure grew a biological skin of mosses and algae that was then colonized by insects. In addition to providing shelter, the Christmas tree structures also became a source of fish food.

Scuba divers check sites annually and have found that fish are drawn to Christmas trees as much as Santa is.

"When they started, they could count all of the fish at any spot on their fingers," Koch said. "Progressively, they found more fish — way, way more fish — than they can count."

Plans for controversial pipeline project

Excerpt: Environmental and groundwater management plans for a controversial pipeline project that would siphon roughly 2.5 million acre-feet of groundwater from High Desert aquifers over 50 years is to go before the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Monday.

Excerpt: Opponents of the project allege Cadiz is overestimating the amount of natural precipitation recharging the groundwater basins in the Bristol and Fenner valleys and that springs within the Mojave National Preserve link to the aquifers and could be jeopardized should the project move forward.

How desalination works

Excerpt: Five years ago, the Santa Cruz Water Department and neighboring Soquel Creek Water District formed an alliance to build a seawater desalination plant, one that would provide drought protection for the city and allow the district to reduce pumping from its overdrafted aquifers.

Excerpt: The environmental analysis of the plant, due late this year, will discuss subsurface intakes -- which regulators prefer because of the fewer potential impacts on marine life -- and why studies dating back to 2001 determined there were geological constraints. That has left the city to consider open-ocean intake at one of seven potential sites, each of which will require an offshore pipeline, pump station and new infrastructure for transporting the water to the plant.

Excerpt: Water is brought in from an open-ocean intake system, the design and location of which has yet to be determined. The city has anticipated needing up to 6.3 million gallons of water each day to produce 2.5 million gallons of drinking quality water, according to its intake study.

Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Excerpt: With a price tag in the tens of billions, the proposed Sacramento-San Joaquin water conveyance system is a financial heavyweight of a project. Five years of construction would create an historic new piece of California’s infrastructure that would funnel water from the Sacramento River Delta southward through the city of Tracy and beyond. Ultimately, the project would move water toward the thirsty cities and farmland of southern California.

Excerpt: An independent analysis of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which imports the vast majority of its water from the SWP, estimates that the tunnel project would increase LADWP water rates by $273 to $546 per acre-foot by 2020, or 24 to 48 percent. The same review recommends conservation, water reuse, and even desalination of groundwater as financially favorable alternatives to importing water from a highly expensive SWP.

Excerpt: The continued life of the BDCP depends on finding vastly different alternatives to the current plan, and not just raising the cap on maximum water exports as Brown proposed in a meeting this month. It’s going to take something innovative, something ingenious, and something that’s not exactly the same plan from thirty years ago.

Desalination no panacea for Calif. water woes

Excerpt: In the Central California coastal town of Marina, a $7 million desalination plant that can turn salty ocean waves into fresh drinking water sits idle behind rusty, locked doors, shuttered by water officials because rising energy costs made the plant too expensive.

Excerpt: Squeezing salt from the ocean to make clean drinking water is a worldwide phenomenon that has been embraced in thirsty California, with its cycles of drought and growing population. There are currently 17 desalination proposals in the state, concentrated along the Pacific where people are plentiful and fresh water is not.

Excerpt: Still, desalination will be an important part of the Central Coast's future: the state ordered water suppliers to stop drawing from the Carmel River, its main source of the precious resource, starting in 2017. Even officials in Marina, with its shuttered plant, see a future in which demand will require their current desalination plant to resume operation and are planning another, larger plant to help make up for the expected water loss.

"Water politics in Monterey County is a blood sport," said Jim Heitzman, general manager of the Marina Coast Water District.

Water Conservation On a Philosophical Level

Excerpt: Water is a precious resource for much of the world’s population, but most Americans take it for granted that clean water will flow when they turn the spigot. Joseph Love provides a global perspective on our thirst for water.

Excerpt: Globally, our thirst for water increases by 640 trillion liters every year. Obviously, if the amount of water available is constant but our demand for it increases hugely and regularly, we have to be wise in the way we use it. However, the problem is that how we use water (and how much we use) has little effect on total collective consumption.

Excerpt: Our water use is deeply ingrained in our culture as it is in all cultures. In India, water is available for a couple of hours at a time throughout the day. In Kenya, shallow wells are routinely contaminated and, ultimately, water obtained from many is undrinkable. Less than half the world’s population is within walking distance to clean drinking water. Half that number doesn’t have access to clean water at all. And in terms of dams, the 35 dams on the Euphrates River create reservoirs so vast that they lose nearly two cubic miles of water a year due to evaporation, compared to Lake Mead’s less than one-quarter of a cubic mile.

Excerpt: In America, we’re tremendously lucky to have the infrastructure that we do. We’ve knocked out huge numbers of water-related illnesses by having treated municipal supplies. We’re never far from a water source, and we can always find a local pool to hop in on a hot day. There has to be a shift in perception that this is not the norm, and that it doesn’t necessarily reflect a healthy ecosystem behind the scenes. Water we use everyday comes from a natural supply, and when we use a gallon for ourselves, we take a gallon from another living thing. Water use has to be pre-empted by a simple question: am I treating water like a precious, 4.3 billion year-old artifact?

EPA war on coal threatens Tucson water supply

Excerpt: According to a report from, “Owners of the Navajo Generating Station say an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to clear the air in the region’s national parks may push the plant into an unacceptable financial situation. They’ve indicated it could force a shutdown as early as 2017.” “A shutdown of the plant would put nearly 1,000 people out of work on the Navajo Indian Reservation that is already deeply mired in unemployment and poverty.” “The owners insist they cannot spend more than $1 billion on environmental improvements without a guarantee they’ll be allowed to operate beyond 2019. The owners are several public agencies and utilities, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Tucson Electric Power and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.”

Excerpt: The new “haze” rule from EPA could cause NGS to shut down, eliminating a major contributor to the economy of the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the city of Page, Coconino County, and the state of Arizona. And, a shutdown would stop the pumps supplying water to Southern Arizona. The EPA ‘haze” rule will cause three of five generators at the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant in northwest New Mexico to shut down also.

Sustainable water strategy for business

Excerpt: Slowly but surely the issue of water sustainability is moving up the business agenda, with water strategies set to take their place alongside targets for carbon and energy. This was the overriding message at a recent conference on the global water challenge.

Excerpt: "The main reason water is placed low on a company's sustainability agenda is because the cost is minimal when compared with things like electricity," he explains. "But you can't look at water in isolation; it is intrinsically linked to energy usage and carbon emissions. If you have water-intensive processes, you have to consider the carbon and monetary costs of supplying that water, heating it and treating it after use."

Excerpt: Some companies, mindful that the issue of water scarcity is not one that can be addressed in isolation, are already looking at ways of cutting water use right across their supply chain, while others, most notably big corporations such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, are actively collaborating to find ways of using water more sustainably.


Managing Water in the West
Established in 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation is best known for the dams, powerplants, and canals it constructed in the 17 western states. These water projects led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the West. Reclamation has constructed more than 600 dams and reservoirs including Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and Grand Coulee on the Columbia River.