What Happens When the American Southwest Runs Out of Water?
We thought we conquered the desert, but it was only a draw
1 June, 2016
Here, courtesy of Time, is a nice photo from space of the current state of Lake Mead as compared to what used to be Lake Mead. As it happens, there is less of Lake Mead than there ever has been before, which is a problem because Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. Created by the construction of Hoover Dam, a big government project of the past, Lake Mead provides drinking water to four states, including California. In California, it supplies water to Los Angeles, a fairly good-sized port city on the Pacific coast. There is now only 37 percent of Lake Mead left. We are entering the age of Thirsty Math.
(And this is not even to mention the Invasion Of The Quagga Mussels which, according to Las Vegas Now, are colonizing the planet. One damn thing after another…)
This is the result of the fact that drought conditions in the region are now over a decade old. It also is the result of the strains placed on the Colorado River by the same conditions. Brad Udall, a scientist and a member of the sprawling Udall family that also includes a former Secretary of the Interior (Stewart) and the man who gave us the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (his father, Congressman Mo), has been tracking the increasingly critical situation. He told The Desert Sun that it is only being exacerbated by the Great Climate Change Hoax.
"This problem is not going away and it is likely to get worse, perhaps far worse, as climate change unfolds," said Brad Udall, a senior water and climate research scientist at Colorado State University. "Unprecedented high temperatures in the basin are causing the flow of the river to decline. The good news is that we have time and the smarts to manage this, if all the states work together."
He said that will require "making intelligent but difficult changes to how we have managed the river in the past."
The Udalls always were an optimistic bunch.
So, what can happen if water gets scarce? Well, let's ask our old friend Clio, Muse of History, also known by her Marvel superhero name The Proclaimer (!), before she finds out where we hid all the Klonopin. She rises from the couch long enough to point us toward a fascinating bit of history as detailed by the Department of the Interior. In 1934, when California built the Parker Dam, diverting the Colorado in apparent contravention of the Colorado River Compact, Arizona—which never signed the compact in the first place—went to guns over it.
Arizona called the state National Guard and militia units to the California border to protest the construction of Parker Dam and California's diversions from the Colorado River. For a few days, the "Arizona Navy" patrolled the river in commandeered ferry boats—the Nellie T and Julia B. Fortunately, the dispute was ultimately settled in court.
(The Arizona Navy was not especially river-worthy. The ferries got snagged on various natural obstacles and construction workers from enemy California had to help free them.)
The long-term prognostications are just uncertain enough to be terrifying. The American Southwest—and the Los Angeles area in particular—are natural deserts. Only the miracle of engineering has made them habitable. Quite simply, we created human space in a place that, left to its own devices, would have been suitable only by cactus and lizards.
Often when we think we've conquered nature, we find we've only held it to a tenuous draw.