The Water Crisis in the Southwest

Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “The Coming Crisis on the Colorado River,” by Daniel Rothberg (Sunday Opinion, Aug. 7):

The difference between 33 degrees Fahrenheit and 31 degrees Fahrenheit is the difference between rain and snow. The two-degree increase in ambient temperature in many parts of the Southwest, already recorded, has had a critical effect on the dwindling water levels of the Colorado River.

The spigot that turns on water for Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs resides high in the mountains of Colorado where dense snowpack builds up during the winter and melts slowly during the summer.

Snowmelt runoff, unlike rainfall that becomes widely dispersed, is channeled into creeks and small streams that eventually combine and funnel into the Colorado River. The snowpack is disappearing.

Ten years ago I was at Lake Mead’s now-disappeared Overton Beach Marina and read a sign on a palm tree that said, “Boat Slips Available.” Behind it was a vast landscape of dry and cracked lake bed. The “coming crisis on the Colorado River” has been arriving for some time now.

For decades people in the urban Southwest have been living off federal money for subsidized water, with dams, aqueducts and pumping systems watering hundreds of golf courses, a swimming pool for every house and citrus groves in the desert.

When the water level of Lake Mead reaches 1,042 feet above sea level, as it did recently, this false idea of a “desert miracle” confronts the true reality of a “dead pool” and the meaning of climate change.

Judith Nies
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is the author of “Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa and the Fate of the West.”

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