Lake Mead: Crisis or Climate Change?

The conditions at Lake Mead seem to get worse each year. It is the largest reservoir in the United States and it supplies water to 20 million people living in 3 states in the Southwest.


The water level in the lake is dangerously low and is anticipated to drop another 20 feet this year, which would place the water level perilously close to drought stage levels. This change in water levels would require the implementation of water conservation protocols throughout the region.


Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States and the 16th largest man-made lake in the entire world. It is located 24 miles southeast of Las Vegas, and it is responsible for supplying 90% of the water supply for the internationally renowned tourist resort.


The reservoir is supplied water through the Hoover Dam and the adjoining Lake Powell via the Colorado River through snow melt in the Rocky Mountains and rainfall as well. The water level decrease is due to less snow fall in those mountain areas and shifts in rainfall patterns.


An Ongoing Problem


The water level decrease has been a consistent and ongoing problem over the past several years at Lake Mead. Since the year 2000, the reservoir has lost 4 trillion gallons of water. The Southern Nevada Water Authority which oversees the site, has significant concerns about the disruption in the water supply to Las Vegas and the surrounding areas served by Lake Mead.

Any disruption in the water supply would have a negative effect on tourism and for the residents of the resort city. The tourism dollars generated by Las Vegas and the other resort areas, fuel the economy for the entire state of Nevada, so the consequences here are steep.


The Southern Nevada Water Authority concedes that they have moved dangerously close to the drought stage water level before, but the weather pattern shifts have them very concerned at this juncture for the potential of a drought this summer.


Therefore, all of this data presents a central question: is this shift in water levels tied to climate change or is it a crisis? What steps can be taken to avert the potential for drought or water supply disruption? What role can technology or advancements in engineering play in this situation?


Las Vegas Misconception


The misconception about Las Vegas with regard to water use is that the city is excessive and wasteful when, in fact, the city recycles 93% of their water supply. The government also offers incentives for residents who remove their lawns to reduce the consumption of water.


These steps towards conservation leave very little more that the resort city can do to decrease their burden on the water supply system. In fact, the Las Vegas metropolitan area actually grew in population and decreased their overall use of water according to a report from CBS News.


In California, the government has placed restrictions on water use in several regions which are supplied by the reservoir in Lake Mead. So the effort toward water conservation is unified throughout the multi-state area supplied by this important reservoir.


Despite all of these efforts, the increasingly likely event of a drought persists to the south at Lake Mead, and the Colorado River which feeds the reservoir also shows signs of drying up. These are alarming events and the government is looking to take measures to avoid this situation.


Evasive Action


The way that the reservoir surrounding the Hoover Dam is constructed allows for the diversion of water from Lake Powell over to Lake Mead, so that is the first evasive action that will take place in order to avert a drought level event from occurring.


The water levels in Lake Mead coupled with the choked supply of resources from the Colorado River have left the water plummeting toward falling below the intake tunnels, which would be a disastrous situation.


In response to these shifts in water level, climate patterns, and “snow pack” in the Rockies, the government is drilling a new intake tunnel to feed Lake Mead which is further down below the surface than the other intake system.


According to a report by CBS News and information provided by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, they have a massive drill working on the new intake which will be completed in 2015 at a total cost of approximately $800 million.


Climate Change


What if this situation is driven solely by climate change? What if the levels of snow continue to vary and the rainfall patterns continue to shift? How will these factors impact the future of Lake Mead, and thereby the future of Las Vegas?


The National Park Service estimates that 96% of the water in Lake Mead is supplied by melting snow from the Upper Rockies region. What if the snow fall amounts in that region decrease over a sustained period of years? That would spell a catastrophe for the water supply in those areas of the American West.


The flow of the Colorado River has been slowing down over the course of several years. It is obvious that warmer temperatures will lead to more evaporation and a decrease in flow from the river. In the area of water management that decrease in water flow from the river is a big problem because the water is already over allocated.


Therefore, any decrease in water flow will have drastic consequences and result in some form of disruption to the water supply. Climate change in the form of rising air temperatures will result in higher ozone levels which will impact power plant emissions which would be limited by the government to comply with ozone level regulations.


Higher air temperatures and drought conditions would cause increased health problems such as asthma, stroke, heart attack, and other respiratory or cardiovascular issues throughout Nevada. That would put the elderly population there at high risk and also drive up the cost of health care.




The future of Lake Mead and consequently, the water supply for people living in three states in the region, is uncertain. The experts admit they have no idea what impact this new intake will yield in 2015.


Many groups have suggested solutions to the water supply issues with the Colorado River and the reservoir at Lake Mead. It remains to be seen whether this situation will be isolated or if it is a crisis that will plague the region in the future.


Some people have called for the building of more dams, others have suggested the implementation of other systems to retain more water flow from the Rockies and contain the amount currently lost in runoff.


However, still other groups believe that the world is changing and that water conservation and other steps will only take the region so far; that life with water restrictions is going to be the rule rather than the exception. The future will be a lifestyle where the limitations on water will be an everyday part of living in that region.


I was struck by the amount of information that predicts a very bleak future for the water supply in Nevada and parts of Southern California. I have worked in the past with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and they are very open minded about solutions and highly committed to providing the best quality water that they can in the conditions they are functioning within.


The future of this matter may be uncertain, but some aspects remain clear. A solution to this water level problem is needed before it reaches a crisis level. I hope that solution is found before it reaches that point. The future of Las Vegas depends upon it.   


(Statistics and background information courtesy of CBS News, Science World Report, Las Vegas Sun, National Park Service, Sierra Club, Southern Nevada Water Authority,  and NBC News)

Opening Day Versus Muscular Dystrophy: White House Petitions and the Flaws in Society

The recent push by Budweiser and Major League Baseball to have Opening Day of the baseball season declared a national holiday or national day of observance hit a new milestone, as was widely reported in the media yesterday, the petition to The White House hit 100,000 signatures.


This number was reached well ahead of the 30 days required to attain the threshold for White House consideration. The background description for the petition references the notion that Opening Day is also the start of Spring and a time of renewal for the American people, and that creates further merit to that day being a day of observance for the nation.


Now, I enjoy watching Major League Baseball just as much, if not more, than the average American. I attend games, listen on the radio, and watch a great deal of out-of-market games as well. I find the pace of the game relaxing, and the battles between the pitcher and batter fascinating.


However, I do not feel that the Opening Day of the professional baseball season should be a national holiday, and I have made this opinion well known on social media, where MLB and Budweiser have promoted this effort heavily, especially on Facebook.


This is a blatant attempt by Budweiser to sell even more beer by having a captive audience of Americans for Opening Day games, many of which are played in the afternoon during regular working hours. The interest by MLB is clear, while the attendance level and ticket sales demand has always been robust across all the markets in the league on Opening Day; they will have a new audience of TV viewers if everyone is home from work that day. The ratings will drive up as well the advertising revenues for these first games.


An additional benefit for Budweiser will be heavier bar and restaurant traffic on Opening Day if it is a national holiday. That will mean increased profits for the beer making giant.


A Stalled Cure


In the meantime, this month also featured another petition to The White House that my sister alerted me to recently regarding the potential cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.


This petition seeks help from The White House in gaining Accelerated Approval for a drug that has shown incredible progress in the reversal of symptoms for patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who are suffering tremendously.


Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy effects 1 in every 3,500 boys in the United States. The condition results in muscle degeneration and over the course of time, death. The average life expectancy is 25, and the disease rapidly deteriorates the muscle mass in the legs and pelvis and progresses up the spine and neck.


The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has been reluctant to mark this important drug with even limited approval despite promising data from successful clinical trials with the drug. The parents and relatives of those suffering with the disease are pushing this effort for Accelerated Approval forward.


However, through no fault of their effort, the promotion for this petition has been largely through grassroots e-mail distribution and has far less social media exposure than the promotion that Budweiser is committing toward the Opening Day holiday petition.


This petition is trying to solve a critical issue, what can mean literally life or death for people, and the cure is being delayed and stalled in the FDA. Their petition is struggling in the month of March to gain even a few thousand signatures while the Opening Day petition has 100,000 names on it.


A Flawed Society


This whole situation is a microcosm of our flawed society in America. The effort is there behind something rather trivial in having Opening Day as a national day of observance, while the effort to gain approval of a drug to deal with a horrible disease is not on anybody’s radar screen.


The effort behind getting the petition for the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy drug approval accelerated is called “The Race to Yes” and further information can be found on their site: where you can also access the link to the petition for this critically important effort.


I also wonder how the victims and families of those lost on 9/11 feel about the Opening Day situation. I expressed on social media their prior attempts for federal government support for 9/11 to be a national day of observance, a day where people would be off from work and would be requested to perform an act of service to the community on that day.


I think we all can take a very educated guess on how the victims and families of those lost on 9/11 feel about this situation. Could you imagine working on getting this type of recognition for 9/11 and the Opening Day petition gets to 100K signatures, being pretty upset would be an understatement, that is what is wrong with American society: the emphasis on things that are not important.




In fair balance, MLB does an incredible amount of charitable work and community service, particularly in the markets where the league has franchises, which is essentially all of the major cities of the United States. I am sure that Budweiser, and their parent company, AB InBev, conduct a large amount of community service and charitable giving as well.


In addition, Major League Baseball was and still is a very generous supporter to 9/11 related charities for the families of the victims and for the police, firemen, and other first responders and their families. Those games of baseball played just after that tragedy helped myself and many others return to normalcy after such a horrible and traumatic event.


Budweiser is looking to enhance baseball which is an incredible profit generator for their company, and they are well within their rights to do so. It just does not mean that I have to agree with their pursuit of this Opening Day petition.


In fairness, the rationale behind the FDA not providing at least a limited approval of the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy drug could be indicative of a potential issue with the drug. Although I could not find any reports of adverse events, side effects, or discontinuations regarding the drug in my review of the clinical study data.


Regardless of the rationale, the fact remains that the FDA has not moved on a drug that could represent the best opportunity for these children to have a better quality of life with a horrible disease. An explanation from the FDA to the families of those afflicted regarding the reason for the delay would probably be a good idea for someone at the FDA to pursue at this point.





In the end analysis, the petition process via The White House web site has plenty of worthwhile causes vying to receive some sort of assistance from the federal government to progress their respective cause.


I feel that these issues I mentioned and others deserve some merit and attention and that the Opening Day holiday petition is completely unnecessary. The American society has holidays in place where we can all sit around drink Budweiser and watch baseball already which are called Memorial Day and Labor Day. We have days off of work where we can watch baseball and have a beer too: it is called the weekend. Another holiday for baseball is not needed.


A cure for a disease effecting children is vitally needed, and others days of observance or service such as 9/11 would enhance our society. To borrow a phrase from baseball it is time for Americans to “keep their eye on the ball” and focus on the issues that really necessitate federal government support.


(Statistics and background info courtesy of NIH, and  Opening Day info courtesy of UPI and Facebook)




Fast Food Wage Wars

The news cycle recently has been littered with stories on the domestic front regarding the labor strife within the major fast food chains. The news today featured footage of workers protesting peacefully in front of a Burger King restaurant.


The central issue here is wages, and this labor turbulence follows a spirited, and at times, heated national debate over the raise in the minimum wage. The political spectrum and the general public are largely divided over the issue, and in my home state of New Jersey, the public referendum on the last ballot dealt with the minimum wage. The people in New Jersey overwhelmingly voted to raise the minimum wage, though in a state with a high standard of living, it still may not be enough to help some workers.


Some politicians believe that the raise in the minimum wage is going to slow or halt part time job growth. Some business leaders share this view as well, and have made the new minimum wage standards the scapegoat for a sputtering economy.


Fast Food Wage War


The wage issues in the fast food industry impact all the major industry players: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC/Yum Brands. The workers in this case are looking primarily for the following:


  • Wage increase to $15.00 per hour
  • Ability to unionize


These two goals may seem reasonable to some people, but the reality here is that both objectives are problematic, and will probably be difficult to achieve.


In most states that voted for a minimum wage increase, the wage went from $7.25 or $7.40 per hour to around $10.00 per hour. These workers are seeking an additional $5.00 per hour increase. That is going to be met with resistance by the respective corporations they are employed by in the coming weeks.


The second issue is the ability to unionize, some people do not realize that the ability of Wal-Mart to be so competitive on pricing for the products they carry is because the corporation does not allow unionized labor of any kind.


This allows Wal-Mart to be very competitive in all products but particularly in the grocery segment because their competition: the national/ regional grocery store chains have unionized labor forces. The unionized work forces do not allow the grocery stores to stay open as late as Wal-Mart. In addition, the unions involved creates a wage threshold for these grocery store chains where they cannot compete on price with Wal-Mart and remain profitable.


In fairness to Wal-Mart, they maintain that while not allowing unionized workers, they pay a good wage and provide their employees with great opportunities to grow within the company.


The same profitability scenario with fast food is not a reliable comparison because the profit margins within fast food and the entire business model is completely different.


I am also unsure of the potential impact unionized workers could have on the fast food business or if it would impact the ability for the respective corporation to continue providing low cost products such as a “dollar menu” or “value menu” with the same margins for profitability. I have read that it is a price sensitive business, though I am not sure what that actually means in terms of dollar figures.


The restaurant and fast food industry groups are pushing back with great force regarding the idea of a raise to $15.00 per hour. Their rationale is again that the fast food industry is price sensitive and cost sensitive and that the $15.00 figure is too steep for them to meet at this point.



Wage Theft


There are currently three different states involved with cases in their respective judicial systems involving McDonald’s and allegations of wage theft by their employees.


The workers here claim that the fast food giant has deprived them of wages through a variety of ways. The company has not formally responded to the allegations.


The workers are using these lawsuits as further leverage for the increase in wages they seek as well as the ability to unionize.


The cost to McDonald’s is numerous unhappy employees which disrupts company morale on the restaurant level, and bad publicity which could hurt their sales.




In my view, nobody should have to try to survive on $7.25 an hour or even $10.00 per hour. This issue is not going away without a resolution that is concrete to improve conditions for these workers in some way.


I also reject the notion by some politicians that the raise in the minimum wage has negatively impacted job growth. It is a very sad state of affairs in our world if multi-billion dollar corporations are going to haggle with people over a few dollars more per hour.


The situation here comes down to multi-billion dollar companies that want to keep more of their profits and not pay their workers on the ground level. It is greed driven activity, and it sends a very negative message by these corporations to the general public, which for a fast food company is also their target customer base.


I have read accounts of protesting workers today throughout this country who were told by their manager that they would no longer be on the schedule to work if they participated in the protests.


In fair balance, reports have stated that McDonald’s is looking into some of the wage theft claims more closely and is going to take action on franchise owners who may have violated certain policies.


In the end, these people work very hard on the restaurant level to provide customer service or cook our fast food. Many of these workers have families or dependents. All of them deserve to be paid a fair wage for the work that they do each day.



(background information and statistics courtesy of USA Today, The Washington Post,, and CBS

Return of the Cold War? Russia, USA, and the Ukraine Crisis

The news out of Ukraine has dominated the news headlines and for good reason, the situation there is troubling to describe it lightly. The use of aggression by the Russian military is worrisome for the stability of the region and for the potential response of the United States in this situation. It reminds me of a return of the Cold War days, a stand-off between the United States and Russia which is not a scenario any of us want to see a reprisal of at any point.


Yesterday, AFP reported that members of the Russian cabinet are threatening to sanction the U.S. if sanctions are placed on Russia regarding the situation in Ukraine. These members are threatening to stop using the U.S. dollar in their international banking transactions, and Russian banks would not return loans from American financial companies.


These steps would be taken by Russia, the dignitaries have stated in order to attempt to “crash” the U.S. financial markets. In effect, that would create volatility throughout the global financial system.


The Russian response would not be limited to just the U.S., this same report claims that the Russian cabinet has discussed actions against the E.U. which include stopping the exports of gasoline and other energy resources.


The E.U. has not been willing to institute real sanctions because they are reluctant to risk the loss of the gasoline exports they rely so heavily upon. According to Reuters, the major players in the E.U. have a lot at stake with Russia: France has a proposed deal with Russia to sell warships to Moscow, British banks are heavily involved in Russian investments which have provided increased profitability, and German owned companies have $22 billion invested in Russia.


Same strategy


Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the same strategy he employed in the invasion of the Republic of Georgia in 2008 to legitimize his actions in Ukraine by claiming “threats to Russian citizens”. The Russian military occupation of the Crimean peninsula has major international repercussions.


Moscow’s interest in Crimea is largely driven by the access to the Black Sea. The news reports today are that the Crimean parliament has voted to join the Russian Federation, effectively splitting Ukraine in two pieces. The current Ukrainian government has not recognized this vote in Crimea.


President Obama called the events today in Crimea a violation of international law. Both the President and Secretary of State John Kerry are hopeful that they can maneuver Russia into peace talks with the current government in Ukraine to settle this matter diplomatically.


End Game


I am deeply concerned about the situation in Ukraine at this point, and I feel that the vote today in the Crimean parliament, whether legitimate or not, raises the tensions in the region. The region of Crimea is largely populated by Russian nationals who tend to be loyal to Moscow. The rest of Ukraine tends to a large degree to be inclined toward achieving greatness in a Ukraine that joins the European Union in order to bolster its future.


These dividing lines were of course the same rift which caused the weeks of street protests which culminated in the ouster of former Ukrainian President Yanukovich on February 22. One path toward staying with Russia, and the other path toward joining the European Union.


Some people would say the path toward staying closely aligned with Russia is the way of the past, and that the path to E.U. membership is the way of the future. All I know is that a country that severely divided either ends up in a civil war, or ends up fracturing into smaller pieces. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, they had the civil war, and then broke apart into smaller independent states. I fear that Ukraine is headed on this same course, and then complicating matters, Russia is directly involved in this scenario as well.


The Russian economy has already seen a backlash to the activity in Ukraine. Some experts believe that Putin’s strategy there will backfire, and others believe that he has put the international community in a very precarious position. This is shaping up to become the biggest issue between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.


In the event that Russia continues to push further into Ukrainian territory, I fear the consequences of that activity could lead to U.S. involvement in the region. I have consulted with others on this issue in the past few days, and the consensus is that Russia cannot afford to alienate the U.S. or the West at this point with the state of their economy currently. The ruble continues to be negatively affected by the events in Ukraine.


However, I hope that a diplomatic and peaceful solution can be achieved which will recognize the sovereignty of the new government in Ukraine and provide those people with what all people deserve: the right to determine their own future. Only time will tell whether that peaceful resolution can be obtained.