Could Nevada use L.A. proposal for Hoover Dam to its benefit?

Turbines inside Hoover Dam. (Pix via NYT)

OK, what’s in it is for us?

Today the Las Vegas Sun insert carried a six-day old New York Times story outlining a proposal by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations that would use that excess power to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needed power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery.

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses, especially boating in Lake Mohave? What about the economics?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious.

Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada, which would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances?

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps a greater share of power or water could be wrested in such a negotiation.

New York Times video of Hoover Dam.

You’ll just have to drink less, even if you are willing to pay more

Hoover Dam and the ‘bathtub ring’ (NY Times photo)

Water is in the news, especially its scarcity.

Recently The New York Times published a 1,500-word article on this topic, datelined Lake Mead, Nev.

Never mind the credibility of the author, Michael Wines, was blown to hell by his second paragraph in which he says of the Colorado River: “The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle,” though everyone in the West knows that pioneers used to say of the silt-laden river: “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” Never broad nor blue.

The article meanders through a series of factoids about drought, attempts to tap lower into Lake Mead for Las Vegas water, conservation, the historic pact that divvied up the river water, recycling and much more.

The article quotes John Entsminger, newly appointed head of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and likely heir to head the Southern Nevada Water Authority, as saying, “The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end. It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

The Wall Street Journal has a column talking about the shortage of water from one end of California to the other and how it is affecting homeowners, farmers and ranchers.

Jane Ann Morrison had a Review-Journal column about Entsminger’s qualifications to head up the water agencies. She too quoted Entsminger on the likelihood of Las Vegas having to get by with less. “The next chapter is not a discussion of how can we get more water, but how can we all co-exist with less.”

Everyone is wearing blinders. It is all about government allocating existing water supplies, building huge infrastructure, conservation and recycling sewage effluent.

No one but no ever suggests the one and only means of fairly allocating water to willing users: the free market.

I’ve quoted columnist and economist Thomas Sowell on this a couple of times before, but it bears repeating:

“There is no need for government officials to decide arbitrarily – and categorically – whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for particular crops to be grown in California with water artificially supplied below cost from federal irrigation projects. Such questions can be decided incrementally, by those directly confronting the alternatives, through price competition in a free market.”

No bureaucrat who wants to keep his job would ever suggest such a wild and crazy thing.