For most of the 1900s, the bureau’s [of Reclamation] system — which grew into the largest wholesale water utility in the country — worked. But the West of the 21st century is not the West of Roosevelt.
It took $817 million, two starts, more than six years and one worker’s life to drill a so-called “Third Straw” to make sure glittery casinos and sprawling suburbs of Las Vegas can keep getting drinking water from near the bottom of drought-stricken Lake Mead.
For many Californians, the state’s long drought has meant small inconveniences such as shorter showers and restrictions on watering lawns. But in two rural valleys, the Coachella southeast of Los Angeles and the San Joaquin to the north, farmworkers and other poor residents are feeling its impact in a far more serious and personal way.
Bruce Nelson was just a baby when Lake Mead was at its mightiest. That was 1983 — ancient history to the 32-year-old whose family has run marinas here for three generations — when the lake gushed over Hoover Dam like a desert Niagara Falls.
He’s a fifth-generation cattle farmer, who bought land in the 1960’s — with water rights that were granted before 1914. But two weeks ago, the pumps were turned off and there’s no water now in his irrigation canal.
Strands of silver hair fell into Annie Costanzo’s face as she wielded a sledgehammer against the brick walkway in her backyard. Plumes of dust and debris filled the air, and reddish-pink shards scattered in the wake of the 64-year-old sculptor’s latest water conservation project.
Californians trembled two years ago as 200-foot flames from the Rim fire sent up pyrocumulus clouds visible 100 miles away from the central Sierra Nevada. Burning from August to October, it left a charred footprint nearly the size of Los Angeles — a reminder that the state had just passed through two dry winters.
Billboards and TV commercials, living room visits, guess-your-water-use booths, and awards for water stinginess – a wealthy swath of Orange County that once had one of the worst records for water conservation in drought-stricken California is turning things around, proving it’s possible to get people to change their ways.
San Diego’s plan to meet state-mandated water conservation targets includes parching dog parks and “nonessential” grass, but officials plan to continue pumping some 57 million gallons of tap water per year into recreational ponds.
Caltrans intends to plant more than 1 million square feet of freeway landscaping through Riverside that will be irrigated with overhead sprinklers, despite a drought-driven state crackdown on water use.
Cracked pipes and burst water mains cost the residents of Yosemite Lakes Park in Madera County over 40 million gallons of water each year. With no help coming from the county or state, the private community is finding ways to make repairs on a budget.