Is Las Vegas in danger of running out of water?

AFTER years of drought Lake Mead, the source of fresh water for the holiday hotspot, has hit its lowest level and Sin City is facing its biggest crisis.

But take a trip 25 miles southeast to Lake Mead, the massive reservoir created when the Hoover Dam was built across the Colorado River, and you get a striking visual wake-up call.

All around its 760 miles of rocky shoreline is a clearly defined line that locals call the “bathtub ring”.

Above it the rocks are brown and jagged but below they are shiny white. This is where the calcium in the water has stained the rocks – and the widening band of white is a powerful sign of how fast the level is dropping.

The lake, which supplies 90 per cent of the water to the two million residents of Las Vegas and its 43 million annual visitors, has been reduced by drought to the lowest level since it was filled in 1937 and is now at 39 per cent capacity. The surface reached a record high of 1,225ft above sea level in 1983 but is now at about 1,080ft. If the level drops below 1,050ft one of the two intakes that feed water to the city will become useless. Another 50ft and the other one would fail. Continue reading

Spy Plane Fries Air Traffic Control Computers, Shuts Down LAX

On Wednesday at about 2 p.m., according to sources, a U-2 spy plane, the same type of aircraft that flew high-altitude spy missions over Russia 50 years ago, passed through the airspace monitored by the L.A. Air Route Traffic Control Center in Palmdale, Ca. The L.A. Center handles landings and departures at the region’s major airports, including Los Angeles International (LAX), San Diego and Las Vegas.

The computers at the L.A. Center are programmed to keep commercial airliners and other aircraft from colliding with each other. The U-2 was flying at 60,000 feet, but the computers were attempting to keep it from colliding with planes that were actually miles beneath it.

Though the exact technical causes are not known, the spy plane’s altitude and route apparently overloaded a computer system called ERAM, which generates display data for air-traffic controllers. Back-up computer systems also failed. Continue reading

How Do You Map America’s Scary Shortage of Fresh Food?

Next time you’re going to complain about lugging a few bags back from the grocery store on foot, you should really take a look at Nathan Yau’s most recent data visualization. The statistician behind Flowing Data has plotted the nation’s food deserts, which by definition is any place residents have limited access to grocery stores, and it’s pretty staggering how far some people have to travel just to pick up common goods. Continue reading