Waterline on Lake Mead, NV – A Quilt Art Statement

Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Featured Flag, Fibre Art & Quilts Portfolio, Portfolio | 0 comments

Lake Mead Waterline

Waterline on Lake Mead 32.5×28.5″ quilt/fibreart © 2012 Diane Duncan



Waterline on Lake Mead


Quilt  Art / Fibre Art


Waterline on Lake Mead ‘percolated’  for a couple of years before an quilt art exhibition opportunity spurred me into action.  During our almost four years of travel I became acutely aware of how much of the North America continent is ‘desert’.  It also put into perspective the ‘water wars’ that periodically emerge in Canada/USA relations and why Canada is so fortunate in it’s access to this precious resource.  Time spent is southern Alberta made me aware that dry conditions are not limited to the USA.  Not content to settle for ‘just’ an image, on the back of the piece I documented some of the headlines from local media during the ten years prior to creating this piece and how the urgency ‘disappeared’ with only a slight reprieve in the drought conditions.

The Story Behind ‘Waterline on Lake Mead’

© 2012 Diane Duncan

Headlines from Las Vegas Review Journal are used with permission 

Thomas Fuller once said, “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”  I often think of this when I review my blog and pictures of the southwest.  For the past number of years we have traveled extensively throughout the southwest of the USA and have become increasingly aware of the issues surrounding water supply and usage.  I lived most of my life in the ‘Land of Lakes’ area of eastern Ontario where, until recently, water issues focused mainly on the impact on recreational uses of fluctuations in lake levels due to higher or lower levels of the amount of rainfall throughout the season.  Viewing dry lake beds in Texas, vast areas of irrigated desert in California and a trickle of water in once robust riverbeds has made me think more deeply about water.

Lake Mead, a  man-made lake created with the construction of the Hoover dam in 1935,  provides a dramatically beautiful illustration of the current crisis of use versus supply of this critical resource.  The waterline, a white bathtub ring of mineral deposit on the bedrock surrounding this reservoir, indicates a one-time high water level, a hundred and thirty feet above the current level.  Portable docks are moved and boat launches extended yearly, chasing the receding lake in order to allow recreational vehicles to access the water.  Once feasible ‘lakeside’ development and tourism resorts now sit vacant, a half mile or more from the water edge.

The Colorado river basin is a stressed waterway.  After years of relative stability, a graph of the lakes water level looks like a stock market crash since 2000.  In addition to the water and electricity supplied to nearby urban centers such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson, cities as far as San Diego and Los Angeles and farmers in southern California and northern Mexico depend on this reservoir for water.  An 1922 agreement, reached while the river was at an unusually high level, allows seven states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California) in addition to Mexico to draw fixed amounts of water from the river each year.  Today, Lake Mead is at 52% of capacity as a result of  heavy demands on the available water and reduced snow melt in the mountains supplying the Colorado river system.

In spite of the meager 5 inches of annual rainfall currently enjoyed by this area,  a study of tree rings indicates that during the last century the western USA has experienced higher rainfall than during the preceding two centuries.  One model cited in the book ‘A Great Aridness’ (William Debuys) suggests that as the earth’s surface continues to warm, the droughts  in this area will become dryer and the wet cycles less so; while other areas of the continent will become wetter.  The new ‘mean state’ will be closer to the Dust Bowl or the 1950’s, a far cry from the ‘norm’ of  the 1970’s into the 1990’s, making one increasingly aware that this sparkling jewel lies in the desert and the bright blue skies above do not often promise significant amounts of rainfall.

One research paper suggests that Lake Mead has a 50-50 chance of going dry by 2021.  Today canals are being built to channel rainfall into the lake and it has been proposed that flood waters from the Mississippi watershed in the mid-west be piped into Lake Mead and/or a pipeline be built from Canada.  These concepts are said to have joined the ultra-expensive option of desalination in the list of impractical solutions.  However, discussions continue in an effort to reallocate the remaining water resources among the states of the southwest.

The Headlines

2000 – NASA photo after two years of drought

2003 – NASA photo after five years of drought – dramatic change of shoreline

2004 – Water Conservation Authority Rethinks Drought Plan (extracts)

  • It will all depend on how much water that valley residents consume;
  • I think there has been a pattern of denial about long-term water issues in Nevada;
  • Water smart landscape program declared a success (inception January 1999);
  • First-stage drought watch – August 2003 – 25% increase in water rates;
  • Second-stage drought alert January 2004 (ban on lawns at new homes, restrictions on misting systems and washing of cars;
  • Third-stage drought emergency projected for January 2005 (The trigger lake level at 1,125 feet above sea level, water rate hikes, fines, restrictions);
  • Lake Powell at 40% capacity; poer generation at Glen Canyon dam at 60% of capacity;
  • Lake Meade down 87 feet from near capacity in 1998.

2005 – This year is described  as exceptionally wet and no ‘headlines’ were found

2006 – Lake Mead is Ramping Up

  • Lake has dropped 13 feet since July 2005;
  • Callville Bay staff rushing to extend the boat ramp, one of the busiest on the lake;
  • Three Arizona boat ramps closed;
  • Two Nevada ramps no longer reach the water (One foot decline in water can equal 20 feet move of waterline from the end of the boat ramp);
  • 200 miles of shoreline lost since 1998.

2007 – Lake Meade Marina moves to Deeper Water

  • Overton, NV Beach Marina’s docks and covered slips movedto Temple Bar, AZ and Callville Bay Marina, NV.

            – Hopes for Lake Refill Melt Away

  • Spring arrived about two months early in the Colorado River Watershed;
  • First mention of treat to Las Vegas inlet pipes noted, although plans are being developed for a third, deeper pipe;
  • Additional usage conservation discussed.

2008 – Study Gives 50-50 Odds Lake Mead Will Dry Up by 2021

  • … and power generation will stop by 2017;
  • First mention of ‘climate change’ and ‘sustainable development’;
  • New guidelines for managing shortages;
  • Talk of using southern Nevada groundwater;
  • Talk of need to use ‘third straw’ for water for Las Vegas.

2009 – Lake Sinking Near 1965 Levels

  • Approaching 11oo feet above sea level (see note in 2004);

            – Lake Level Trigger to Pipeline Project

  • Trigger is set at 1075 feet – a low water level not seen since 1937 when the reservoir was first filled.

Forecasters Say Lake Mead has 50/50 Chance of Rising

  • … depending on winter snow replenishing Lake Powell.

2010 – Lake Mead: A Record Setting Moment

  • October: The reservoir fell to a historic low – below 1083 feet – a drop of almost 130 feet

           – Water Pact Could Help Lake Mead

  • Mexico agrees to store unused allotment

– Rain Will Lift Lake Mead Water Level

  • 450 million gallons drain into Lake and raise it 2/10th of an inch

2011 – Snow Melt Will Benefit Lake Mead

  • Anticipate 45% more water than average over the last century;
  • Best year since 1995;
  • Snow in the headwaters of the Green River.

2012 – Southwest Turns Anxious Eye to Shrinking Lake Mead

Low Snow Pack Signals Water Crisis at Lake Mead

           – Water Outlook Grows Dim for Colorado River Water Shed


Main Salon, The Chapel Gallery, North Battleford SK,  1 August 2012 to 30 September 2012

Extension Art Gallery, Edmonton, AB, 17 December 2012 to 23 January 2013

Circa 2012.


In the artist’s collection.

Lake Mead Waterline

Back of Lake Mead Waterline 32.5×28.5″ quilt/fibre art © 2012 Diane Duncan


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