Dawn Pisturino's Blog

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A Case Study in Drought: Bullhead City, Arizona

on September 4, 2021
New York Post – Lake Mead at Hoover Dam

Bullhead City, Arizona Primary Hazard: Drought

According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, drought is considered a creeping natural hazard because it has no “clear beginning and end like tornadoes or hurricanes or floods” (National Drought Mitigation Center, 2019, para. 19).  It can develop over many months or years as the climate in a region changes.  This is called “natural climate variability . . . we consider drought to be a normal part of climate just like floods, hurricanes, blizzards, and tornadoes” (National Drought Mitigation Center, 201, para. 7).

Why Bullhead City has the Highest Probability of Drought

Bullhead City, Arizona is a desert community on the Colorado River which sits at an elevation of 566 feet above sea level.  Roughly 40,000 people call it home (City Data, 2017).  Due to an abundance of rain and snow during the 2018-2019 winter season, the U.S. Drought Monitor determined in June, 2019 that Bullhead City had graduated from drought to an abnormally dry area (Associated Press, 2019).  As of this writing, however, the monsoon season—which normally dumps a lot of rain in the area—has been sparse, and Bullhead City is in danger of falling back into drought if the 2019-2020 winter season does not produce adequate precipitation.

Lack of precipitation affects water levels in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.  Lake Mead, which is held in place by the Hoover Dam, supplies the bulk of water used by residents in Bullhead City and other populated areas along the Colorado River (Associated Press, 2019).

In April, 2019, Congress passed an updated Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan which affects Arizona, California, Nevada, and other states dependent on the Colorado River for water and hydroelectric power.  If Arizona loses its Colorado River allotment, communities will have to pump groundwater, which can be contaminated with natural nitrate and arsenic, or find other alternatives, such as the unpopular use of recycled water (Whitman, 2019).                                                                                                                                         

Removing contaminants raises the cost of water to consumers.  The ideal situation is “to pump only as much groundwater as flows back underground, a balance known as safe yield, by 2025” (Whitman, 2019, para. 13).  But that is a tough goal to implement.  Water conservation measures can stifle growth, an unpopular idea in high-growth areas.

Currently, the Colorado River supplies water to more than 30 million people in seven states, with 70% of that water used for agriculture (Zielinski, 2010).  When government officials designated water allotments to these states in 1922, there were far fewer people living in the region.  And the strain is showing: “the Colorado River no longer regularly reaches the sea” (Zielinski, 2010, para.10).  In fact, it turns into a pathetic mud puddle 50 miles north of the Pacific Ocean.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) plans to build a solar-powered pump station south of Hoover Dam on the Colorado River that would continually refill Lake Mead and produce a continuous supply of hydroelectric power to millions of people in California.  The fear is that this project would shrink water supplies to communities farther down the Colorado River—such as Bullhead City (Grossman, 2018).

Shrinking water supplies, smaller water allotments, and increased demand have fueled tensions between the states dependent on the Colorado River—especially, between Arizona and California.  And those tensions are not going away anytime soon (Runyon & Jaspers, 2019).

Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery

Bullhead City has its own Drought/Water Shortage Contingency Plan.  The Arizona State Legislature passed House bill 2277 in 2005 which requires communities to develop and maintain a system water plan that includes three parts: a water supply plan, a water conservation plan, and a drought preparedness plan.  This requirement has become part of the State’s water resource management plan to develop preparedness and mitigation strategies at both the local and state level (City of Bullhead City, 2016).

The United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) also requires local communities to develop drought/water shortage contingency plans to conserve water.  These plans outline community response to reductions in the water supply due to drought, infrastructure failure, or other causes (City of Bullhead City, 2016).

Bullhead City depends solely on the Colorado River for its water supply.  Arizona’s water allotment was designated in the 1922 Colorado River Compact.  “The city of Bullhead City diverts its Colorado River surface water allocation through groundwater wells” (City of Bullhead City, 2016, p. 5).  This is possible because of the Colorado River aquifer that exists.

The Secretary of the Interior can declare a shortage of Colorado River water.  All states dependent on the Colorado River would be forced to share in the water shortage as determined  by the 2007 Record of Decision – Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.  Bullhead City’s right to Colorado River water is fourth priority, which means that communities with higher priority will get their Colorado River water first.  The Mohave County Water Authority (MCWA) has set aside 107, 239 acre-feet of long-term water credits for Bullhead City.  Bullhead City, along with other Colorado River communities, has been given until 2026 to put preparedness plans in place to respond to drought and water shortages (City of Bullhead City, 2016).

If the water credits are eventually used, Bullhead City has a contract with the Central Arizona Project water canal to use groundwater pumping to recover their allotted water.  The use of such credits would incur extra costs that would be passed on to consumers (City of Bullhead City, 2016).

Bullhead City has developed plans to respond to a 20% and a 40% reduction in water supplies.  Both plans call for the unpopular use of reclaimed (recycled) water.  The extensive use of reclaimed water would require the building of extra infrastructure (City of Bullhead City, 2016). 

The response plan for Bullhead City has been developed as a staged response with the following components: water use reduction; priority users and water reduction; water rates/financial incentives; the role of private water companies; preparedness and mitigation plans for private water companies sub-contracted by Bullhead City; voluntary versus mandatory water reduction; agricultural irrigation versus drinking water; water conservation; public education; stored water recovery and delivery; scenarios of probable water shortage conditions; the use of reclaimed water; demand versus supply evaluation.  These plans would be implemented according to the water level in Lake Mead.  The strictest water management plans would be enforced when the level in Lake Mead is at or below 1,025 feet (City of Bullhead City, 2016).

In the meantime, Bullhead City has waged a public education campaign about the use of xeriscaping using low-water plants and trees; drip irrigation; and harvesting rainwater for landscape use (Water Resources Research Center, 2019).  Tips on conserving water are freely available on the city’s website.  Water rebates are available to consumers.  Water usage reports are available for public perusal.  And water development fees have been imposed to improve water services in the city (City of Bullhead City, 2019).

Bullhead City receives an average of 3 to12 inches of rain a year (Arizona Water Facts, 2019).  Epcor, a private water company, has raised consumer water rates 25% to 35% during the drought.  This situation has prompted Bullhead City to introduce Proposition 415, which would approve a bond up to $130 million to buy out the company (City of Bullhead City, 2019).  If approved, the city will own another source of water and provide water services at a lower cost to consumers.

Identify Gaps and Suggest Expansion of Preparedness, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery Plans

Bullhead City has not done enough to control population growth.  The city advertises itself as the lowest cost of living city in the state based on a 2015 study done by the Council for Community and Economic Research (Merrill, 2015).  This draws more people on fixed incomes from within and outside of the state.  These people can ill afford to pay higher water rates and development fees.  And if water supplies are, indeed, shrinking, Bullhead City can ill afford to add more people to its population.

Furthermore, if Bullhead City plans to use reclaimed water in the future, it needs to build the infrastructure now, and not wait for an emergency situation to arise.

Initial Evaluation and Emergency Management Procedures

Drought is the main hazard facing Bullhead City, Arizona.  It is dependent on water supplied by the Colorado River and the allotment it receives based on the Colorado River Compact of 1922.  Although it has plans in place for a 20% and 40% reduction in water supplies, it has not planned for anything more severe.  At the very worst, the governor of the State of Arizona would declare a disaster and water would have to be trucked in for residential and business use.  A lack of water would lead to social chaos and fighting among citizens.  There would be a mass exodus of people out of town.  Law enforcement would be heavily involved to control the situation. EMS personnel and local hospitals would have to deal with people who were severely dehydrated.  Animals would be abandoned and left to die from thirst.  City officials would be overwhelmed by demands for water.

Interrelationships among the Core Components of the Emergency Management Phases

Drought and water shortages can vary from season to season.  Preparedness plans to deal with these problems and to mitigate the costs and impacts are essential to protect the vital resource of water.  Well-conceived plans must be in place to respond to serious shortages of water for the sake of the community.  If the problem becomes serious enough, there might not be a recovery phase.

Conclusion

The desert was never meant to support millions of people.  Water is a precious resource that has not been taken seriously enough by government officials, city planners, and members of the real estate and development professions.  Bullhead City is dependent on a river it cannot control, weather and climate it cannot control, and State politicians it cannot control.  The city must do whatever it takes to protect its water supply.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

September 24, 2019

References

Arizona Water Facts. (2019). Bullhead City, Arizona. Retrieved from

       http://www.arizonawaterfacts.com/mtw/bullhead-city.

Associated Press. (2019. June). Arizona out of short-term drought. Mohave Daily News.

       Retrieved from http://www.mohavedailynews.com/news/arizona-out-of-short-term-

       drought/article_8c36c50a-9259-11e9-ab41-9b4eacdd7bd1.html

City Data. (2017). Bullhead City, Arizona. Retrieved from

       http://www.city-data.com/city/Bullhead-City-Arizona.html

City of Bullhead City. (2019). City of Bullhead City. Retrieved from

       http://www.bullheadcity.com

City of Bullhead City. (2016). City of bullhead city drought/water shortage contingency

       plan. Retrieved fromhttp://www.bullheadcity.com/home/showdocument?id=7546

Grossman, D. (2018, July). The hoover dam changed america – And it might do it again.

       Popular Mechanics. Retrieved from

https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/infrastructure/922539919/the-hoover-dam-

       changed-americaand-it-might-do-it-again.

Merrill, Laurie. (2015, June). Which arizona cities will cost you the least. AZ Central.

       Retrieved from https://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2015/06/17/bullhead-

       city-cheapest-arizona-city/28899239.

National Drought Mitigation Center. (2019). What is drought. Retrieved from

       http://www.drought.unl.edu/Education/Drought forKids/What is Drought.aspx.

Runyon, L. & Jaspers, B. (2019, February). What is happening with the colorado river drought

       plans. KPBS. Retrieved from

https://www.kpbs.org/news/2019/feb/07/what-is-happening-colorado-river-drought-plans.

Water Resources Research Center. (2019). Low-Water tree and plant guide. Retrieved from

       http://www.wrrc.arizona.edu

Whitman, E. (2019, April). After colorado river drought plan, what’s next for water in arizona.

       Retrieved from https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/content/print/view/11268880.

Zielinski, S. (2010, October). The colorado river runs dry. Smithsonian Magazine.

       Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-colorado-river-runs-

       dry-61427169.


7 responses to “A Case Study in Drought: Bullhead City, Arizona

  1. Hi Dawn! Good input here on what’s occurring in that locale. In my science studies from high school on through college and then my own personally directed search for truth I had never stopped thinking how the main event going on with regard to effecting our planets climate is of course the Sun and the massive electromagnetic radiation pouring down through earth’s atmosphere and deep into the surface, as well oceans, which is a huge regulating factor.

    Then of course the earth’s molten core and enormous pressure creating powerful kinetic and potential energies and resultant geothermal forces at work that effect surface and atmospheric events. Weather or climatological patterns are not a constant or static system in any way, they are more shifting and fluctuating all the time overall. Solid evidence as you know exists proving that Ice Ages come and go and will continue to as long as this planet exists as part of the solar system in the Milky Way Galaxy

    A scientist who definitely speaks truth and offers volumes of Real Science with Facts and not the Junk variety that has been a modern day anomaly mainly to maintain those grants and funding for liberal universities and others with political agendas or governments with major polical purposes as a tool/weapon to manipulate public opinion along the way to further many Leftist scatterbrained ideas that also help to promote the Globalists plan of dominance and totalitarian control.

    This man is Marc Morano, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change, climate skeptic Marc Morano ; who along with other straightforward experts like PATRICK MICHAELS, SENIOR FELLOW IN ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES AT THE CATO INSTITUTE who was introduced on the Mark Levin Fox Network show as Expert on all things climate and environment, as far as I’m concerned. A little bit of your background. You’re the Director of the Center for Study of Science at the Cato Institute. You hold an AB and SM, you hold those degrees in Biology, Sciences and Plant Ecology from the University of Chicago – pretty good school. PhD in Ecological Climatology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, 1979. You’re past President of the American Association of State Climatologists. You were Program Chairman for the Committee on Applied Climatology at the American Meteorological Society. Please watch this man and his factual interview explanation! https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/dr-patrick-michaels-on-the-truth-about-global-warming
    And more recently another great expert with his book release on Apr 5, 2021 The ‘Weaponization’ of Weather: Meteorologist Joe Bastardi Challenges the ‘Phony’ Climate War!

    I hope this helps get the ball rolling for some folks in the right direction rather than people being sheeple like they just were for the Plan-Demic! Here are a couple of my previous blog postings that scratch the surface of this subject.

    https://lawrencemorra.com/2019/09/11/it-was-global-warming-now-its-climate-change/

    https://lawrencemorra.com/2021/07/27/climate-change-an-excuse-for-political-incompetence/

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Priti says:

    Another informative blog about Bullhead city . You do lots of research before writing. Very well written . I just loved to read your information. Well shared ☺️🌹❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for this comprehensive and informative post! Many points equally apply to the situation in my hometown in Australia. I will incorporate them into my next letter to the local paper.

    Liked by 1 person

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