Category Archives: Decision Making

Colorado River Supply Issues: A Glimpse of Things to Come in the Long-Term?

Last week, Rod Smith wrote about the changing elevations of both Lake Powell and Lake Mead. You can view his piece here. In his post, he delved into the mystery of why the elevation of both lakes is not as tightly correlated in the last ten or so years as they were in the past. It is an interesting issue-, and I am looking forward to an answer as to why. What is not nearly as much of a mystery, however, is the fact that the Colorado River Basin is providing less and less water to more and more end users. In this piece, I would like to explore the implications of the decrease in water supplies across the entire Colorado River Basin, and the potential long-term implications this change has on the cities, agriculture and citizens in the Western United States that closely rely on the river’s water. Continue reading

The Implications of Climate Change on Water Supply in Utah: A Sign of Things to Come in the Western United States?

Last week, the National Security Administration’s often-maligned surveillance programs received headlines for quite an unusual reason: Protesters and civil rights activists in Utah are trying to use a local municipality’s control over water supplies to stop the construction of a new NSA “data mining center”. The NSA plans to open a new data analysis center in Bluffdale, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City. The data center will need a steady supply of water to cool its massive computers that presumably scan everything from terrorists’ communications to this blog piece about the NSA’s facilities.

According to a December 4th edition of Time Magazine, opponents of the NSA’s surveillance program have formed a coalition called OffNow to urge lawmakers in the state and the local water district to rescind their agreement with the NSA to supply the project with water. Beyond the civil rights controversy that the NSA programs bring up, OffNow takes exception to the fact that this facility will receive below-market rate water prices in order to help spur economic development and construction in the surrounding areas. Why do I bring this story up? Water is an absolutely crucial component to the economic development of any economy, and some recent studies suggest that areas of the country like Salt Lake City may face reduced water supplies in the years to come. As in this situation, state and local governments will have to face the reality of finding a balance between the need for economic development and long-term water conservation. In this piece, I will address the current water supply trends in the State of Utah, and how the state can better plan for its future water needs. Continue reading

Drilling and North Dakota’s Energy Boom: Is Fracking Sustainable for the State’s Water Supply in the Long-Term?

This week, I was looking at a curious set of pictures of the United States at night from space (see the pictures here). The pictures show heavy concentrations of lights around the places you would expect – New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles – and in a place where you would not expect. There is a mass of lights up near the Canadian border, in a place where you would not expect large populations. In fact these lights do not mainly come from people’s houses but rather from the huge numbers of oil rigs that now dot the Bakken Shale Formation in Western North Dakota.

Proponents of drilling in the Bakken Shale cite the economic growth that oil drilling has brought this once quiet region. They also point to the fact that an increase in drilling in the United States reduces our dependence on foreign oil and increases our national security. However, while the pluses are certainly tangible, there are some real tradeoffs to the practice. In this article, I would like to look at the critical role that water plays in drilling in North Dakota, and if there is a way to keep the drilling sustainable without depleting the state’s water resources. Continue reading

Blind Men, Elephants, and Zen – Approaching Basin Evaluation Like a Cup of Tea

This post presents a point of view that I have found tremendously useful when approaching basin evaluation, and evaluating behavior of water resources.  In particular, it applies to approaching relatively complex structural basins.  Within these types of reservoirs – water is often significantly controlled by structural geology.  Geologic structure and its underlying driving tectonics impart a rock “fabric” – or “grain” – that is not a function of sedimentation.  This “fabric” is in the form of faulting, jointing, fracturing, and other phenomena, and can facilitate, re-direct, or impede groundwater.  Small, let alone large, variations in stratigraphy and sedimentary development can have orders of magnitude influences on storage and transmissivity.  As important as these factors are – however it is my experience that they are so often ignored for the sake of modeling and “conservatism” – and/or because of a lack of recognition, appreciation and understanding of these phenomena for whatever reason.  Continue reading