Friday, March 21, 2008

Cool Clear Water? By Jimmy Petrol

By Jimmy Petrol

While the Southwestern United States has become the New Mecca for modern Sun worshipers, what the region has in buckets is sunshine, not water.

The great Sonoran Desert combines with the generally less severe Mojave Desert to form a rather large and jolly land of nearly perpetual sunshine and high temperatures, which have become a lure to modern Americans. The weather is good, they say, which leads to the conclusion that the weather elsewhere, where there is precipitation and lower temperatures, is bad.

But bucket for bucket, the Southwest cannot provide sunshine and water to an unlimited population. One need look no further than other desert regions of the same planet (earth) to see the eventual effects of too many people and too little water.

While the local water-witch, John Kromko, is generally branded a reactionary and the local water company distributes jolly bon-mots of water security, the equation simply does what unbalanced equations do, which is to become even more unbalanced.

All this is bad news for the developers, to be sure, as cities and states in the region begin to be forced to vet new developments based on available water, not sunshine and land. Nevertheless, the Southwest is loathe to forgo the economic benefits it reaps with every new ‘sunshine soldier’. When push comes to shove, cities vote against draconian water measures as soon as the opposition mentions lost jobs, less money.

But the worst news isn’t for the developers, who presumably live wherever they want, but for the tens-of-millions of residents whose entire wealth is buried in their residence. For these people, who cannot simply pick up and move unless they can sell the McMansion, McHovel or McDump, the promise of buckets of water without reason may become catastrophic.

The plunge into water-poverty often comes to a desert region suddenly, the result of random factors that form a silent caucus and get to work all at once. These conditions are being warned of by universities in the region, but the water mavens protest strongly. It seems that where science is involved, universities carry less weight than when coaches are canvassed. The water boards assure us that these factors are unlikely to combine and plunge the region into water failure.

The problem with the attitude that ‘science will find a way’ while nattering on about the quality of scientific warnings is self evident. The region cannot have it both ways.

All that needs to be done, Tucson Water mentions at the end of a long list of general panaceas, is to find ‘new sources of water’ to support projected growth. Were that it could be so simple. Burying this caveat at the end of sensible suggestions for conservation shows a brilliant style of thinking that will be called upon strongly to provide these mysterious new water sources.

So what will become of the great American Migration? It is unlikely that governments in the region will be able to institute even the barest conservation measures, let alone find significant new sources.

Los Angeles faced a similar situation after allowing unfettered growth in the last century and simply popped upstream a bit and diverted a watershed to feed the lawns, pools and thirsts of the City of Angles. It is unlikely that this type of save can be had for the Southwest, as the effects of this type of engineering have been proved to be unacceptable.

The problem, though, with unacceptable results is that they tend to become acceptable right away when jobs and money are at risk. It is most likely, in view of historical evidence, that it is not the ostrich-like populations of the Southwest that will suffer most, but rather whatever region water is eventually diverted from to feed it.

While there appears to be lots of water in the Pacific Northwest, there is really only enough for the area itself, and when the American Solution comes to the Southwest’s water problem, the states of Oregon and Washington may well suffer the same fate as the Owens Valley.

There is little doubt of the outcome when the giant voting block that is the Southwest turns it’s thirsty maw toward the Columbia and the Klammath. In America, the majority rules, even when that majority might have known and should have done differently.

The upshot for real-estate investors of the minor type, the homeowner, is mixed. While on one hand, there is bound to be a period when houses in the Southwest are even harder to sell than they are today, there is the promise of a bright future once these ‘new sources of water’ have been found.

At that point of course, the less fortunate and less numerous residents of the Pacific Northwest will want to move along quietly, lest they be forced to view the desertification of a once lush region, as did the former residents of the Owens Valley.

There is another solution, of course, and one which is perhaps even more likely to be pursued, given American acceptance of the process of making war for resources. Canada, being water rich, should think twice about any military buildup along its borders and may do well to hire the Americans to erect another wall along the Northern border of the U.S. Of course, with American Air Power being what it is, such an effort would be no better than a gesture and do little to prevent America from taking the water she will need very shortly.

(Jimmy Petrol can be reached at

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