Thursday, February 26, 2009

LAKE MEAD: THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS COMES HOME

Bloomberg - On a cloudless December day in the Nevada desert, workers in white hard hats descend into a 30- foot-wide shaft next to Lake Mead. . . The crew is in a hurry. They're battling the worst 10-year drought in recorded history along the Colorado River, which feeds the 110-mile-long reservoir. Since 1999, Lake Mead has dropped about 1 percent a year. By 2012, the lake's surface could fall below the existing pipe that delivers 40 percent of the city's water. . .

Even before the now decade-long drought began punishing Las Vegas, people used more than 75 percent of the water in northern Africa and western Asia that they could get their hands on in 2000, according to the United Nations.

In 2002, 8 percent of the world suffered chronic shortages. By 2050, 40 percent of the projected world population, or about 4 billion people, will lack adequate water as entire regions turn dry, the UN predicts. . .

Over the Sierra Mountains from Las Vegas, Shasta Lake, California's biggest reservoir, is less than a third full because melting snow that fed it for six decades is dwindling. A winter as dry as the previous two may mean rationing for 18 million people in Southern California this year, says Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District.

Across the Pacific Ocean, wildfires fueled by a 10-year drought and fanned by 60-mile-per-hour winds around Melbourne killed more than 200 people in February.

In Asia, developing giants are battling pollution as their populations grow. China, home to 21 percent of the world's people last year, has just 7 percent of the water. Nine in 10 Chinese-city groundwater systems are fouled by industrial toxins, pesticides and human waste, says Maude Barlow, the first senior adviser on water to the UN and author of "Blue Covenant".

In India, with 1.2 billion people, three-quarters of the surface water is contaminated, that country's government said in September.

In the Mideast, where the Dead Sea is dropping 3 feet a year, Israel, Jordan and Syria are diverting water upstream from the Jordan River. That's adding another source of discord to an already volatile region. . .

Finding the water for casinos is one reason crews are working around the clock at Lake Mead.

In 2002 alone, lack of rainfall lowered the deep-blue waters by 24.6 feet, leaving white bathtub-ring-like marks on the brown cliffs and stranding docks half a mile from shore.

Today, the lake is 1,112 feet above sea level. Should it fall to 1,075 feet, the federal government would cut the water to seven states that depend on the Colorado River, according to an agreement they all signed in 2007. . . .