Alphabet of Climate Change from A to Z, Now “Z” for Zero

by admin on January 26, 2023

Lake Mead was formed by the Hoover Dam in the Colorado River in AZ & NV

“Z” = Zero …… Lake Mead as Ground Zero of Ground Zero!

>>> From a Compilation of Articles by Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker Magazine, 11/28/22

Not long ago, I rented a car in Las Vegas and drove out to Hoover Dam. There I signed up for a tour that began with an educational video.

Construction of the dam, the narrator of the video intoned while grainy black-and-white footage jittered across the screen, entailed pouring more than three million cubic yards of concrete. Put to a different use, this much concrete could pave “a four-foot-wide sidewalk around the earth’s equator.”

When the dam was completed, in the middle of the Depression, it “gave new life to the desert Southwest” as well as “to the nation’s spirit.” The Colorado River began backing up behind the massive structure to form Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, which can store enough water to “cover the entire state of Pennsylvania to the depth of one foot.”

After the video, my tour group took an elevator down thirty stories, into the dam’s hydroelectric plant. Here we were regaled with more facts: Hoover Dam is equipped with seventeen generators — eight on the Nevada side of the river and nine across the border, in Arizona. Each generator can produce enough electricity — a hundred and thirty (130 MW) megawatts — to power sixty-five thousand homes. Each contains five miles’ worth of copper wire and a hundred and sixty tons’ worth of electromagnets. The tour ended on an observation deck where an audiotape of yet more dam-related facts — the structure weighs 6.6 million tons and is twelve hundred and forty-four feet long — was issuing from a loudspeaker.

The narrator of the audiotape sounded an awful lot like the narrator of the video. “It has been said that in the shadow of Hoover Dam one feels that the future is limitless, that we have in our grasp the power to achieve anything, if we can but summon the will,” he concluded. Then the tape started over.

The Colorado River basin has been called “ground zero for climate change in the United States.” If this is the case, then Hoover Dam might be described as ground zero’s ground zero. Since 1998, the basin has been stuck in a drought; this drought has lasted so long and grown so deep that it’s now routinely referred to as a megadrought.

From the observation deck, the drought’s effects are scarily apparent. An abandoned dock lies, in pieces, high above the lake’s edge. Instead of being submerged, the power plant’s four intake towers stick up into the air, like lighthouses. The steep walls of the reservoir, which in pre-dam days formed Black Canyon, are lined with an enormous white stripe — a geological oddity known as the bathtub ring. The ring, composed of minerals deposited by the retreating water, runs as straight as a ruler, mile after mile. At the start of the drought, the stripe was as high as a giraffe. By 2015, it had grown as tall as the Statue of Liberty. This past summer, it had reached the height of the Tower of Pisa.

I had wanted to talk about the dam, the megadrought, and the future of the Colorado basin with a representative of the Bureau of Reclamation, which built and still operates Hoover Dam. But when I got in touch with the bureau’s office in Boulder City, Nevada, a town created to house the workers who erected the dam, I was told that no one there was giving interviews.

I was, of course, welcome to take a public tour. I ended up taking two. On the first, no mention was made of the drought; on the second, I tried to force the issue. I asked the guide whether she got any questions about Lake Mead, which is now only about a quarter full. She said she did, but she wasn’t supposed to answer them. “We’re not to comment too much on it,” she told me.

“You know, I haven’t been on the lake at all this year,” she added. “It’s just sad when I go out there. It’s a little depressing. To save my sanity, I don’t go.” Lake Mead used to be lined with boat launches; most of these are now closed.

The construction of Hoover Dam was authorized in 1928, just a year after Svante Arrhenius died. The project reflects the same faith in progress that he held to — a faith in humanity’s power to improve on nature. This is still the faith that the Bureau of Reclamation is pushing even as the logic of the dam comes undone.

In April, the reservoir dropped so low that one of the intake pipes for Las Vegas, which gets practically all its water from Lake Mead, poked above the surface. In August, the Interior Department announced what’s officially called a Tier 2a shortage; the shortage means that Arizona’s water allotment for next year will be cut by almost two hundred billion gallons and Nevada’s by eight billion gallons.

Owing to the shortage, the dam’s seventeen turbines operate only sporadically.

Following my second tour, I climbed back up to the observation deck for a last look around. It was almost noon, and the desert sun was high overhead. A couple of tour groups came and went as the tape played in the background: “In the shadow of Hoover Dam, one feels that the future is limitless . . . limitless . . . limitless.” What I felt standing in the dam’s shadow was something different.

Climate change isn’t a problem that can be solved by summoning the “will.” It isn’t a problem that can be “fixed” or “conquered,” though these words are often used. It isn’t going to have a happy ending, or a win-win ending, or, on a human timescale, any ending at all. Whatever we might want to believe about our future, there are limits, and we are up against them.

♦ ~ Published in the print edition of the November 28, 2022, issue of The New Yorker magazine with the headline “A Vast Experiment.”


Subject: Lake Mead & Hoover Dam | Scenic Drive Along Shrinking Lake Mead & Lakeshore Drive to the Hoover Dam 4K – YouTube One hour & ten minutes.

Scenic driving in Nevada and Arizona through Lake Mead National Recreation Area on Lakeshore Drive along the shrinking Lake Mead to the Hoover Dam in 4K/5K. Along the way we stop at the scenic overlooks and beaches, and see how far Lake Mead’s water level has dropped in the last 22 years. We then head to the Hoover Dam, stopping and walking on the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and soaking in the magnificent views of the Hoover Dam and Colorado River, then driving and walking on the Hoover Dam.

(Apologies for the wind noise, filming was done in very windy conditions)

>>> Click here for our complete scenic drive on Northshore Road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area:

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Colton Lochhead January 26, 2023 at 4:43 pm

Lake Mead’s decline may slow, thanks to winter’s wet start

By Colton Lochhead, Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 25, 2023

Hefty snowfalls from a series of atmospheric rivers have brought a slightly rosier outlook for the beleaguered Colorado River.

While not enough to fend off the falling water levels entirely, the snow that has dropped in recent weeks across the mountains that feed the river is expected to slow the decline at Lake Mead, according to the latest federal projections released last week. Forecasters now expect Lake Mead to finish this year around 1,027 feet elevation, about 19 feet lower than its current level. That’s about 7 feet higher than the 2023 end-of-year elevation in the bureau’s forecast from last month.

As for Lake Powell, the reservoir located on the Utah-Arizona border is now expected to finish 2023 at 3,543 feet, or 16 feet higher than last month’s forecast and about 19 feet higher than its current level.

Still in a water shortage

While the projections have improved with the snowpack, the forecasted levels mean that Lake Mead would remain in shortage conditions for at least a third consecutive year.

“I think the big picture is that we’re dealing with some very long-term deficits along the Colorado River system,” said Steph McAfee, the state climatologist and a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “A good year is good news. And I don’t want to diminish that. But it’s not going to fix the problem.”

The basin has been aided heavily by a series of nine atmospheric rivers that battered much of the West over a three-week period that started days after Christmas. Snowpack numbers across the region are far above average, with some parts of California and Nevada currently near or more than 200 percent of average for this point of the year.

For the Colorado River, the majority of the runoff will be snow melting off the Western Rockies where the snowpack currently sits at a healthy 146 percent of average.

The April through July snowmelt runoff is expected to swell the river to 117 percent of its 30-year average as that snow melts and runs downstream to Lake Powell, according to the latest projections from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. That’s a substantial uptick from the 79 percent of average that the center had forecasted for the river last month.

Predictions are very difficult

The question now is whether that wet trend will continue — something that is very difficult to predict for the upper Colorado River basin, McAfee said. One encouraging sign for the basin as a whole has been the cooler-than-normal temperatures, which she said has helped keep the snowpack from melting off too early.

“It’s totally possible we could get more storms. It’s also possible we could not,” she said. “When it comes to drought in the West, I appreciate all good news. But we may have to just wait and see.”

Meanwhile, the seven states that pull water from the Colorado River are scrambling to come up with an agreement for how to cut an unprecedented amount of water use along the river starting this year. Federal officials say the effort is needed to prevent the country’s two largest reservoirs from crashing to levels that would threaten hydropower generation and water delivery operations at Hoover and Glenn Canyon dams.

Bureau of Reclamation officials have given the states until the end of January to agree to a consensus proposal for how to make those cuts, or risk the federal government taking those actions on its own.

“Even if we had enough good years in a row to bring Lake Mead back up to where it was in 1984 and 1985, we would still have to deal with this issue in the future,” McAfee said. “So we might as well figure out how to deal with it now.”



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