Lake Mead Levels to Drop to Historic Lows

July 9, 2014
Listen to DCDC director, Dave White, discuss the regional impact of the drop in Lake Mead’s water level in his interview with KJZZ’s Here and Now.

July 8, 2014

via Bureau of Reclamation by Rose Davis, 702-293-8421

shutterstock_1692138LakeMead_296BOULDER CITY, Nev. – Lake Mead, the reservoir created by Hoover Dam, is anticipated this week to reach its lowest water level since the lake’s initial filling in the 1930s. The Bureau of Reclamation’s Boulder Canyon Operations Office is projecting the elevation to drop to 1,081.75 feet above sea level during the week of July 7 and to continue to drop, reaching approximately 1,080 feet in November of this year.

Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region annually delivers about 9 million acre-feet (MAF) to homes, businesses, farms, Native American tribes and communities, and Mexico.

“We will meet our water orders this year and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” said Lower Colorado Regional Director Terry Fulp. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”

Annual releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead are determined in accordance with the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Guidelines). Only if Lake Mead is projected to reach elevation 1,075 feet on January 1 of each year would the Secretary of the Interior determine a shortage condition and reduce water deliveries in the Lower Basin.

Lake Mead’s elevation is currently projected to be at approximately 1,083 feet on January 1, 2015.

In Water Year 2014 (ending on September 30, 2014), Lake Powell will have released a record low amount of water, 7.48 MAF into Lake Mead in accordance with the Guidelines. As of July 1, 2014, the forecasted inflow into Lake Powell is 95 percent of average for the water year. In Water Year 2015, Lake Powell’s release to Lake Mead is currently projected to be between 8.23 MAF and 9.0 MAF.

ASU awarded $20M to assess climate change risks and resilience

ASU awarded a $20 million grant by NGA to launch the Foresight Initiative to provide interconnected tools, techniques and environments for decision making for increased global sustainability and resilience.

Arizona State University was selected for a competitive five-year award of $20 million by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to launch a research partnership, effective June 1, 2014, to explore approaches for anticipating and mitigating national security risks associated with climate change.

Known as the Foresight Initiative, the cooperative agreement venture will explore how the effects of climate change on resources, such as water, food, and energy, could contribute to political unrest and instability and gain insights to sustainability and resilience strategies for mitigating the effects.

DCDC will work on incorporating a visual analytics approach to enable policy makers, decision makers, and analysts to anticipate complex behaviors.

This initiative will play a key role in collaborative research efforts to accelerate the evolution of Activity-Based Intelligence addressing system level activities, dynamics, and interdependent network effects in the context of global climate risks to water security. This multi-year research partnership leverages ASU expertise and thought leadership in visual analytics, complex modeling, and transdisciplinary decision making evolving from years of internal and external investments at ASU.

“NGA’s investment and partnership with ASU is a game-changing relationship,” said Michael Crow, ASU president. “This innovative research initiative will develop solutions and be a catalyst for the critical and creative thinking needed to address the complex challenges that come with climate change.”

Leveraging computing and system modeling initiatives at ASU and partner organizations, the Foresight Initiative will apply ubiquitous cloud computing and storage technologies, advances in natural user interfaces, and machine learning to address unique geospatial data handling and visual analytic challenges driven by the volume and character of future persistent data flows. The resulting capabilities will allow analysts and decision makers to dynamically interact with diverse data sets in a real-time modeling and simulation environment. This will help them assess the effectiveness of plans, policies, and decisions; discover second- and third-order causal relationships; and understand spatial and temporal patterns that reveal non-obvious underlying interconnections and dependencies.

“I am very proud to announce our partnership with ASU, a world class research university,” said NGA Director, Letitia Long. “Our partnership is a prime example of the intelligence community working smartly with academia to address strategic global issues and to create capabilities that benefit everyone.”

Dave White - WaterSim in Decision TheaterKey areas at ASU that will be integral to this work include the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Public Programs, Decision Theater Network, and Decision Center for a Desert City.

For example, ASU’s Decision Theater provides advanced modeling and simulation that allows diverse groups of stakeholders to visualize large amounts of data, policy parameters, and environmental uncertainties on panoramic HD displays. Scientists, analysts, and decision makers can easily interact in real-time to tweak the rules and data sets to account for new insights and deeper understanding of relationships, providing a range of outcomes based on the changes. This allows for more effective decision making among people from different backgrounds.

“This is a tremendous partnership and opportunity for a real, tangible impact in addressing strategic security and humanitarian needs,” said Nadya Bliss, principal investigator of the Foresight Initiative and assistant vice president, research strategy with ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “It is also pioneering how the academic and government research communities can leverage each other’s strengths to seek solutions to these global-scale issues while advancing fundamental transdisciplinary research. ASU is the perfect place for this initiative because of the culture of use-inspired research and exceptional quality faculty working across traditional disciplinary boundaries.”

NGA press release.
ASU press release.
GIOS Press Release.

The Last Drop?

By Christopher Vaughan for ASU Magazine. March 2014.

Soaking up knowledge to conserve that most precious of resources – water

ssebe_vivoni_umb-west_9099_wWhen ASU professor Enrique Vivoni brings American students across the border to Mexico, it’s an eye-opener for them. As part of the US/Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training Program, Vivoni works regularly with American and Mexican students on both sides of the border to help them gain a deeper understanding of the water scarcity problems in the Arizona-Sonora desert region. When the students see the many water problems that Phoenix has solved but Mexico is still working on, the common reaction is “I didn’t realize we had it so good,” Vivoni says.

Over the last century, Arizona has created hydrological solutions that have allowed us to populate the desert and made access to water a “soft” problem that most people don’t need to think about, Vivoni says. But that is changing. The needs of agriculture and growing populations will more than drain existing water sources in the state. Historical weather cycles and a changing climate will likely make water supplies even more uncertain. And as hard as things get in the United States, the challenges that populations around the world face in securing adequate water supplies only will grow more dire. Some say that eventually water will be more expensive than oil.

ASU finds itself in a unique position, blessed with the position and resources to address the huge challenges surrounding water access, not only for local communities, but also for cities around the world. Accessing expertise in hydrology, the life sciences, geography, engineering, design and law, ASU researchers are tackling the multifaceted issues involved in solving the problem of water security.

“ASU is well positioned geographically for dealing with many of these problems, and we are leveraging our place along the United States-Mexico border region to understand water issues through many of our faculty members,” Vivoni says.

Making changes in the ‘Cadillac Desert’

Professor John Sabo is one of those faculty members studying the problem. As director of research development and senior sustainability scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability, Sabo knows that communities shouldn’t use more than 40 percent of the renewable water supply to ensure sustainability. “In the region [of the Southwestern United States] known as the ‘Cadillac Desert’ the water use is close to almost 80 percent of the renewable supply,” Sabo says. “We are never going to get to 40 percent; we could get to 60 percent, but it would be costly.”

Just exactly how costly?

“If you cost it out, it’s somewhere between $4.5 billion and $8 billion annually over the next 6-14 years across all seven basin states,” Sabo says. Included in that calculation is an assumption that cities and farms will each become 20 percent more efficient than they are now. “That is not trivial — it works out to between $250 and $875 dollars per year per household,” he notes.

One focus of Sabo’s research is on what amount of water is needed to sustain the natural environment, which is often the neglected third element of the water discussion.

Sabo and his colleagues use the different isotopic profiles of river and groundwater to trace the source of the water on which plants and animals along the river depend for survival. His work has shown the surprising result that it is groundwater, not the surface water that comes down the river, that is providing most of the water for the flora and fauna that exists at the river’s edge.

“It’s said that water always flows toward money, and in the struggle for water between cities and agriculture, the environment always loses out,” he says.

Since water flows toward money, Sabo argues that the only way to protect the river environment is to create new legal and fiscal structures that can protect water for that environment.

“My recent paper is about financing reform that would protect that environment,” he says. He goes on to say that either people will have to rewrite the compact that governs Colorado river water, for instance, or they will have to work within the existing compact to provide the money that buys those water rights and places them in trusts where they are preserved for ecosystems.

“Rewriting compacts is not an option here; trusts are much more tractable,” he says.

Decisions, decisions, decision-making

Balancing the needs of agriculture, cities and the environment will come only from making many such difficult decisions, and each decision will have many “downstream” effects on other human activities. Getting decisions makers the best possible information about water use and future scenarios has been a major reason for creating the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) in the Global Institute of Sustainability.

Patricia Gober, the founding director of the center and a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and in the School of Sustainability, was one of those who decided to use the Phoenix area as a case study of how to help people make better decisions about water management. The effort draws from a wide variety of disciplines. There are currently more than 20 faculty co-investigators from the social, behavioral and physical sciences in addition to hydrology and climatology.

“We created a computerized water simulation model that looked at supply and demand for Central Arizona, community by community,” Gober says. “We made it interactive through the use of slider bars to change levels of population growth and indoor and outdoor water use.”

They exposed elected officials and water managers to the model in the Decision Theater, an immersive audio/visual environment, and worked through various scenarios with them to understand how officials balance needs and make decisions. “We also study ourselves,” Gober says. “We tried to learn how scientists engage with decision makers and how we can improve that interaction.”

The simulation continues to be refined. “We are on WaterSim 5.0 now — it will never be finished,” she said.

Learning from each other

The reins of DCDC now have been taken up by Associate Professor Dave White, the current co-director of the center and its principal investigator. “ASU is producing science and knowledge that is not only the best available, but also because of the close collaboration with the decision-making community, it has relevance and salience” in the world at large, White says.

Of most concern to him now in Arizona are the combination of the state’s growing population and the natural variability of the weather, including cyclical dry periods that can last 30 years, plus the uncertain pressures brought on by climate change.

“On top of that, we could have a catastrophic wildfire in the mountains that prevents the accumulation of the snowpack that usually releases water into summer,” said White, who is also a senior sustainability scientist at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “That scenario is really problematic for me now.”

A key element of the center and its programs is that knowledge flows both ways.

“We learn a lot from the managers of those agencies,” White says. “That knowledge leads to enhanced science on our side.”

Mutual understanding and close cooperation will become vastly more important in the future, White says. Like most researchers working on water projects at ASU, White says he is both pragmatic and realistic about the water challenges we face. Ultimately, the researchers tend to believe that smart research and thoughtful decision-making will head off the worst scenarios and ensure that communities don’t go dry.

“I’m optimistic about our ability to deal with these things,” White says.

Author Christopher Vaughan is a freelance science writer based in Menlo Park, CA

Finding Water in Arizona – 2014

Each year, the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) Community of Graduate Scholars works on an interdisciplinary project that furthers the mission of DCDC. This year’s project expands on the theme of communicating about complexity in water systems and issues of sustainability through participatory photography.

Express and share your views regarding the following four prompts:

  • Sustainable solutions or creative uses of resources
  • Unique aspects of the central Arizona water system
  • Problems or concerns about the water system
  • Aspects of the system that are poorly understood

How to Participate

  • Participation is open to anyone in Arizona.
  • Participants may submit up to four photographs with quick descriptions responding to our theme.
  • Participants will receive detailed prompts and directions via email upon completion of this form.

By submitting a photograph for the project, participants certify the following:

  • The photo was taken by the participant for this project.
  • DCDC’s Community of Graduate Scholars has permission to use the photograph and the written response to the photograph prompt for the purposes of this project, and can contact the participant to share or request additional information about the project.

The last day to submit photos is April 7, 2014. Photographs and findings will be presented at DCDC’s end-of-the-year Water/Climate briefing, April 28, 2014.

Sign Up To Participate

Sign up to participate using the form below!

If you have trouble viewing or submitting his form, you can fill it out online: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1MODGrdeJ-hLGFF0hzkXE74cnigLcIpjaJQ6SOcg0PDY/viewform.

Sustainability: Water Reuse tonight on KAET’s Arizona Horizon

DCDC_WaterReuse_Final_225Check out DCDC co-director, Dave White, tonight Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 5:30pm on KAET Channel 8′s Arizona Horizon. Dave will speak with host Ted Simons about the Decision Center for a Desert City’s recently released technical report, Water Reuse in Central Arizona.

Authored by Ariane Middel, Ray Quay, and Dave White, the report explores issues critical to water reuse, along with challenges and opportunities for the future. This report attempts to inform policy conversations around wastewater use in Arizona.

Covering topics including existing and projected wastewater supply and demand, potential for increased competition and costs, the role of public perceptions, and industrial perspectives, the report highlights issues vital to the water sustainability of Arizona and presents a framework to address public policy issues.

Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability

Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability

January 14, 2014. A press release from Arizona Department of Water Resources.

PHOENIX- The Arizona Department of Water Resources released a report, Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability, that provides a foundation for Arizona’s continued economic prosperity and growth in its next Century. The Strategic Vision assesses current and projected demands and water supplies that have been identified in recent reports and provides potential strategies that will help Arizona meet its future needs. Recent studies have identified the potential for a long-term imbalance between available water supplies and projected water demands over the next 100 years if no action is taken.

lmarquez_MormonFlatDam_011814_296The Strategic Vision creates the framework for addressing future water supply challenges and helps to secure sufficient and dependable water supplies for Arizona. The Strategic Vision has been prepared at the request of Governor Brewer and is identified as part of her January 13, 2014 “The Four Cornerstones of Reform”, building on Arizona’s past successes to meet our future challenges in water supply sustainability.

“While, the State as a whole is not currently facing an immediate water crisis, Arizona is at a point where it must begin to face future water supply and management challenges,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director, Sandy Fabritz-Whitney. “We are at the crossroads of having to decide what actions we will take to face those challenges. Now is the time to begin addressing this challenge. The Strategic Vision for Arizona is a necessary next step in continuing to ensure that Arizona has sufficient and sustainable water supplies.”

Over the next 25 to 100 years, Arizona will need to identify and develop additional water supplies to meet projected growing water demands. While there may be viable local water supplies that have not yet been developed, water supply acquisition and importation will be required for some areas of the State to realize their full growth potential.

“Arizona’s future success depends on how effectively we continue to manage our water resources and develop new water supplies and infrastructure. Our past and present success, while noteworthy and vital to our way of life, cannot sustain Arizona’s economic development forever and we must continue to plan and invest in our water resources” said Director Fabritz-Whitney.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources will begin a statewide outreach tour to present the Strategic Vision and receive input from local stakeholders and other interested parties.

The report and presentation dates are available at: ADWR.

Drought in the West

Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States

By Michael Wines via The New York Times on January 5, 2014

The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years.

DryLowerSaltRiver_Oct2013_LizMarquez_296The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle. Reservoirs have shrunk to less than half their capacities, the canyon walls around them ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped. Seeking to stretch their allotments of the river, regional water agencies are recycling sewage effluent, offering rebates to tear up grass lawns and subsidizing less thirsty appliances from dishwashers to shower heads.

But many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished.

Faced with the shortage, federal authorities this year will for the first time decrease the amount of water that flows into Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, from Lake Powell 180 miles upstream. That will reduce even more the level of Lake Mead, a crucial source of water for cities from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and for millions of acres of farmland.

Reclamation officials say there is a 50-50 chance that by 2015, Lake Mead’s water will be rationed to states downstream. That, too, has never happened before.

“If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000” — 1,000 feet above sea level — “we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada,” said John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Since 2008, Mr. Entsminger’s agency has been drilling an $817 million tunnel under Lake Mead — a third attempt to capture more water as two higher tunnels have become threatened by the lake’s falling level. In September, faced with the prospect that one of the tunnels could run dry before the third one was completed, the authority took emergency measures: still another tunnel, this one to stretch the life of the most threatened intake until construction of the third one is finished.

These new realities are forcing a profound reassessment of how the 1,450-mile Colorado, the Southwest’s only major river, can continue to slake the thirst of one of the nation’s fastest-growing regions. Agriculture, from California’s Imperial Valley to Wyoming’s cattle herds, soaks up about three-quarters of its water, and produces 15 percent of the nation’s food. But 40 million people also depend on the river and its tributaries, and their numbers are rising rapidly.

Continue the article and view multimedia at The New York Times.

Arizona water shortage forecast for next year

From Channel 12 News in Phoenix, watch Brahm Resnik’s interview with DCDC Director, Dave White, to get his take on the recent New York Times article by Michael Wines on drought in the West. Check out the video at AZCentral.com.

Read more about drought in the West from DCDC

Garrity, C.M., R.S. Cerveny, and E.A. Wentz. 2010. Vertical moisture profile characteristics of severe surface drought and surface wetness in the western United States: 1973-2002. International Journal of Climatology 30(6):894-900.

Balling, R.C., and G.B. Goodrich. 2010. Increasing drought in the American Southwest? A continental perspective using a spatial analytical evaluation of recent trends. Physical Geography 31(4):293-306.

Ellis, A.W., G.B. Goodrich, and G.M. Garfin. 2010. A hydroclimatic index for examining patterns of drought in the Colorado River Basin. International Journal of Climatology 32(2):236-255. DOI: 10.1002/joc.1882.

How Will the Current Drought Affect Our Future Water Supply? By Sally Wittlinger, DCDC Research Analyst in Arizona Indicators Policy Points.

Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy

via the EPA.

CAP_RiparianPreserve1EPA is releasing a Synthesis Report on the Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy. This report is intended to help raise the awareness of water’s importance to our national economic welfare, and to summarize information that public and private decision-makers can use to better manage the nation’s water resources. It highlights EPA’s review of the literature and practice on the importance of water to the U.S. economy, identifies key data gaps, and describes the implication of the study’s findings for future research. EPA hopes this report will be a catalyst for a broader discussion about water’s critical role in the U.S. economy.

Water is vital to a productive and growing economy in the United States, and directly affects the production of many goods and services. While some data are available about how important clean and available water is to various economic sectors–including agriculture, tourism, fishing, manufacturing, and energy production — the information is often dispersed and incomplete. Additionally, understanding the economic significance of water is difficult because it depends upon several interacting elements: the volume supplied, where and when it is supplied, whether the supply is reliable, and whether the quality of the water meets the requirements of its intended use.

Download the “The Importance of Water to the U.S. Economy” Synthesis Report.

Visit the EPA website for more information.

The Science Policy Interface: Articles on What Scientists, Politicians, and the Public Need to Know

ucentCheck out these recent articles regarding the science policy interface in Nature and The Guardian.

Policy: Twenty tips for interpreting scientific claims, by William J. Sutherland, David Spiegelhalter, and Mark Burgman. Published November 20,2013. Calls for the closer integration of science in political decision-making have been commonplace for decades. However, there are serious problems in the application of science to policy — from energy to health and environment to education.This list will help non-scientists to interrogate advisers and to grasp the limitations of evidence.

Also, in response to the above article:

  1. Top 20 things politicians need to know about science by Oliver Milman on November 20, 2013.
    British and Australian scientists compile a list of tips to help policy makers better understand the ‘imperfect nature of science’. Politicians lack the skills to properly interpret and analyse science, according to a group of Australian and British scientists who have compiled a list of 20 tips for MPs to ponder. The tips, published in Nature, have been compiled by William Sutherland, a zoologist, and David Spiegelhalter, a mathematician – both are from the University of Cambridge – and Mark Burgman, an ecologist at the University of Melbourne. The trio argue the “immediate priority is to improve policy makers’ understanding of the imperfect nature of science” by suggesting 20 concepts that should be taught to government ministers and public servants.
  2. Top 20 things scientists need to know about policy-making by Chris Tyler from The Guardian on December 2, 2013.
    There are some common misunderstanding among scientists about how governments make their policy decisions. When scientists moan about how little politicians know about science, I usually get annoyed. Such grouching is almost always counterproductive and more often than not betrays how little scientists know about the UK’s governance structures, processes, culture and history. So when the Guardian reported on a Nature article that listed 20 things that politicians should know about science, I started reading it with apprehension, half expecting my head to explode within a few paragraphs.
  3. 12 things policy-makers and scientists should know about the public by Roland Jackson from the blog Political Science hosted by The Guardian.
    We’ve had 20 things politicians need to know about science and 20 things scientists need to know about policy. Where’s the rest of society fit into this? We have had the Top 20 things politicians need to know about science and the Top 20 things scientists need to know about policy-making. But where does the rest of society fit into this? People can easily become invisible in the discourse between policy wonks and scientists, or they are regarded as barriers to ‘acceptance’ of whatever particular policy or technology is the flavour of the moment. That is simplistic of course because there are multiple ways in which people can and do have their voice within our democracy, but in the interest of balance here is a complementary list. There are only 12 of them, because 20 are too many. The evidence for these derives from the public dialogues evaluated by Sciencewise alongside public attitude surveys and direct personal experience of public engagement over many years.

Should We Demolish Glen Canyon Dam?

via AZCentral.com
Glen_Canyon_Dam_WikimediaArizona Republic environmental reporter Brandon Loomis investigates the wicked problem of keeping or destroying Glen Canyon Dam, a decision that seems to have no positive outcomes. Water managers, some scientists, and activists would like to see the dam removed in order to drain Lake Powell and feed a drought-stricken Lake Mead, a water source for major cities including Las Vegas and Phoenix. Draining Lake Powell would also return Glen Canyon to its former, natural glory.

However, some suggest negative consequences if the dam is to be removed. ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City co-director and senior sustainability scientist Dave White says removing Glen Canyon Dam would rid thirsty cities of a captured and stored water supply.

“(Dam removal) would be fairly catastrophic,” White says. “We have too much demand on an annual basis to be met by the natural in-flow of the river.”

He says if anything, Glen Canyon Dam would be re-designed, improved, and repaired.

Continue reading the article at AZCentral.com.