By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
Lake Mead was built to be a jewel in the desert.
With the construction of Boulder Dam (later Hoover Dam), it would be an oasis in a parched land.
Hoover Dam would protect downstream lands from having their hardscrabble farms and farmsteads swept bare by the raging Colorado River.
Lake Mead would save up the river’s water to grow crops, to make the desert bloom, to attract people to marvel at the island of blue in the ocean of brown.
It would slake thirst, cool and light homes, power industries and make possible a pocket of civilization in the wilderness.
Construction was supposed to take seven years, from building the tunnels that would reroute the river to closing the gates, but because men in the Great Depression were eager for the $4-a-day jobs, the work was finished in just five.
Once its waters were impounded, the Colorado grew from a channel of muddy water at the bottom of Black Canyon to a silty pool, then a clearing pond, then a brilliant lake that eventually stretched 110 miles upstream.
But then the mindset of more took over.
The towers and wires that crisscross the desert in every direction from Hoover Dam tell of the demand for power and water by fast-growing dryland communities across the Southwest.
Eventually, the demand outstripped what the Colorado could supply. Some people warned that letting out more water from behind the dam than is replenished would make Lake Mead smaller. Every foot of drop means it takes more water has to generate every kilowatt-hour of electricity.
Some people warned that using up the water already impounded was unsustainable, but people living in the desert wanted ever larger quantities of power and water, and apparently no leaders were willing and able to tell them no.
Today there’s a big whitish ring more than 130 feet high around Lake Mead that designates where its waterline used to reach. It represents 130 feet of unused generating capacity and thousands of acres of shrinkage.
What seems most alarming is that, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Mead now holds only 43 percent of its potential water storage. People demanded, and leaders acquiesced to, using tomorrow’s resources today.
The saga sounds an awful lot like the story of deficit spending, where each billion borrowed means that much more interest to pay, which means borrowing more, ad infinitum.
So whether we tout more taxes, less spending or a combination of both, maybe Tax Day is a good time to ponder Lake Mead’s fate and what it tells us about our nation’s.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter E<b>rrol Castens </b>at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.