Category Archives: Books

I’m currently in the process of getting my first novel published. I’ll give you the inside scoop of the process.

Timeline of the Bagatelle

I posted my first blog here in 2011. I joined Twitter about the same time. I cross post whenever I put a new piece up, some I’ll put on the Face. The difference is that I view Twitter as a public/political forum whereas I view Facebook as a private/apolitical venue. Friends already know what I think, the public at large may find what I’m writing worth a look, it’s a choice. 

Coffee in Barcelona

Early on I was careful about what content I covered, I was still doing a lot of summer library programs and sexual innuendo and white-hot political spear throwing could blow back on the librarians that supported my act, so I held my fire.

I remember workshopping at a writer’s conference, there was a social media breakout session, the presenter was sure the best path forward was to build your platform. Building a platform had to do with gaining followers, you would find followers on Facebook, Twitter and so on and so forth. 

Lacey retired to Oregon

Nonfiction writers’ currency of value is stored in their subject matter, fiction’s value is stored in the emotional power of the story told. Search Engine Optimization’s (SEO’s) are made for facts, they do much less well conveying emotions.

Back in the early days of social media readers observational skills were in transition, having a cup of coffee while pouring over the pages of the New York Times produced a style of reader that took their time, those old school types would read from start to finish, then choose another item and then another. 

The blizzard of stories a reader encounters online overwhelms; fewer and fewer readers can aim and sustain their attention on this whirligig digital publishing platform.

This has happened over time, not for all of us, but many if not most hardly have the same reading habits. If you were born at the turn of the new millennium, you are a person born into this current mashup of digitized platforms. In some sense you are trained from the beginning in modern day digital literacy, you are fluent in this system, know how to work with it, many times it isn’t the written word you use, instead it is a picture, audio or short video. 

Road and Dog

While I may remember the fads and fashions of the decades of yesteryear, born in the 50’s, coming of age in the 60’s, owned the post adolescent world in the ‘70’s, then dove headlong into the ‘80’s as I misappropriated my adulthood by clinging to the hope of being forever young. 

Our daughter was born in the early ‘90’s, that put an end to my completely dodging my adulthood. I fumbled through the go-go-90’s as the prime street show years in San Francisco closed out and what might come next was still far from visible.

Once I’d moved to Oregon and struggled through the offseason, then figured out how to work festivals with the help of a local event producer— one of my life’s great alliances. In short order I created a circuit that was loosely based on my being in Arizona in winter and the Northwest in summer. I took that plan across half of the 90’s and most of the next two decades until the pandemic hit.

My father was a computer buff, in 1995 he taught me how to use a dial up modem and link to a server at Oregon State University. It was awkward, there was no browser, we figured out how to write down various addresses, one was to a portal supported by NASA. Netscape just weeks later was released and was soon loaded onto my personal computer.

Leaves are not forgotten

I had written a first novel in 1980 on a manual typewriter. By the turn of the new century, I was soon to be afforded the opportunity to revise and finish the book. There would be another three more produced, all told these four novels were completed between the years 2007 and 2020, this timeline tracks the release of the iPhone and then the development of all the myriad social media platforms that soon followed. Mobility was the key. 

Bookstores were closing right and left, Amazon shouldered most of the blame, but in fact it was more than just Amazon, reading habits were changing.

Once upon a time an author, and his publisher would work to get their book onto the shelves at a bookstore. In the before times, you would go into the biggest bookstore in the world and maybe you could choose between a thousand, perhaps as many as five thousand novels. Today you surf over to Amazon where you will find millions of titles to choose from.  

All of this has happened in less than two decades, the previous system has been supplanted by this new one, what is sometimes obliquely referred to as the attention economy. 

I’m making my way through a terrific novel by Susan Gee Rumsey, Why You Must that will eventually be seen by a few hundred, no more than a few thousand I would guess, and that has nothing to do with the novel’s quality. Gorilla marketing will only take a book so far, ultimately this inanimate object loses its momentum lands on a shelf and that is where it will ride out its days, years and decades.

Blogging I use for research, it is my public facing sketchpad, where I’m sharing the underlying facts that I will use to build my fiction. On my desk now is a screenplay, a comedy about climate change set in the American Southwest and loosely to do with the scarcity of water coming out of the Colorado River. 

In the months ahead I’ll complete a full-length screenplay. What I can make happen after I finish with all the probabilities that entails are a very steep climb. 

Hotel Majestic where I was holed up working on a blog

Into this cauldron of change is the bizarre turn that our digital landscape is undergoing. I’m especially grateful that I have maintained my own website, that I can post what I want as I want. If your business model depends on Elon Musk’s mood, Facebook’s tweaking their algorithms, or whether Google will continue supporting Google Plus well you have been taken on a ride you were never going to be in control of.

Keeping a public facing blog alive, pulling some readers along, bouncing about riding from topic to topic, doing work that won’t get you dragged into court, producing material that gives some pleasure to your readers, that’s something like what I’ve been doing over here.

Much of the very best sentences, paragraphs, pages and chapters of my writing have been captured in my long fiction. A short piece here on my blog is cranked out with a sensibility of being breezy, offhanded, of the moment, not too much care, kind of let it go and move on, life is short, and anything can be improved upon, but to what end and to what difference—

The madness of the new Twitter owner, Google’s downturn, Facebook’s fated decline is proving to be game changing, we’re on our way from one place to another and none of us are sure what that next digitized realm will be. What is certain is it won’t be this, the world is moving on, there is a better next set of platforms and formulas to experiment with.

I’ve tried to drive my engagement by earnest qualities, as best I can, as honest as I can, giving some of you a chance to see other more bohemian perspectives, sharing what I find and giving voice to all those likeminded misfits I’ve come to meet along the way over the course of time. You all do know I’m onto you right— and you have found me out too. Thanks for hanging around now and again­— 

Diablo Canyon Shutdown Scuttled for Now

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station has been given a new lease on its half-life. Biden and Newsom likely looked at the 2024 election and said they wanted nothing to do with higher energy prices, keep Diablo Canyon open, kick the can down the road, we’ll shut the hazardous site after the next election, even if each and every electron out of this facility will be the high-cost leader in the diverse energy market.

Water Grabbing is Over

Renewable energy is the low-cost leader, end of story, stop pretending. Decommissioning Diablo Canyon will require decades of time and a tsunami of funding— $10’s of billions. We don’t need to worry about mad Russian’s invading from our southern border, our domestic saboteurs have proven plenty willing to exploit our vulnerabilities, blowing up the filibuster is known as the nuclear option, it gets its name from a facility like Diablo Canyon.

Things I wish we could control are the amount of energy crypto currencies have been using in their coin minting process. I’d have shut them down forced them back to the drawing boards and demanded they come up with a less energy intensive method creating coins. Color me skeptical, but the digitally minted out of thin air coins don’t impress. A properly trained fiduciary would never sign off on such a reckless investment.  

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station

California’s Central Coast is one of our state’s most livable. Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach have no real corollary, not Los Angeles or San Francisco have on offer such ideal weather. Nothing is perfection, but traffic here is tempered by its distance from both the major metropolitan regions. 

What’s on the drawing boards along this stretch of coast is the deployment of offshore wind turbines. Turbines will be over the horizon; the whole idea is that you won’t see anything. Wind turbine service technicians will live here, they will by boat be sent out off the coast to regularly service the turbines. Other workers on shore will provide continual maintenance to the batteries that will store the energy. You want really good news, we don’t have to invent anything to secure this renewable future. 

Morro Bay, California

Controllers will manage power distribution from computers, a lot of time and research has been spent developing the necessary storage capacity so that our energy system will operate across a wide range of circumstances. CalPoly San Luis Obispo’s graduating engineers will find an abundance of work here. 

In Delta, Utah excess renewable energy will be used to produce carbon free hydrogen. Below ground here are some of the world’s largest salt caverns where the hydrogen fuel will be stored. The hydrogen powered electric power station will spool up and send electricity across the west to help the grid meet the demand. Think of the hydrogen in Delta, Utah as the result of the stored energy produced by wind offshore near Morro Bay.

Delta Utah’s Intermountain Power Station

If you are wondering about how reliable offshore wind is here on this section of coast, you can stop wondering, the resource is off the charts. If you took all of the sailors in California, you will find only a small fraction of these sailors willing to risk messing with this section of coast. Why might you wonder? Because the wind blows hard. 

Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratories is here in California. Nuclear weapon design happens here. You can go to UC Berkeley and become a nuclear scientist. What I’m saying is there is a powerful constituency still convinced in the efficacy of nuclear power. My argument isn’t technological, their engineering prowess isn’t my objection. The problem I have is with the variability of human beings. Most of the time most people remain dedicated to doing their best, but too frequently a more feral political animal arises and some of humankinds most irresponsible may find a path to seizing political power. Nuclear technology demands a constancy of good conduct, and this behavioral consistency is beyond the reach of our species.

Renewables are the future. Scientists at MIT have developed a drill bit that punches through materials using a technology that harnesses energy from microwaves. Shallow wells into the ground are well suited to be punched using conventional drilling technology. Once down where things start getting hotter and harder, that’s when this new technology does its best work. An experimental well is being punched right now. Steam will be brought to the surface to spin turbines. Geothermal power is common in Nevada where geothermal sources come closer to the earths surface. If we can reliably punch wells anywhere the world we will have found an off ramp to the dependency on fossil and nuclear fuels.  A decentralized energy system will put an end to the economic problems created by spikes in the cost of fossil fuels.

One of the factors that raise the costs of producing laboratory grown meat is electricity. It may seem quixotic, but it is just over the horizon. In 2023 you will be able to go to restaurants in San Francisco Bay Area where chefs will treat you to chicken grown in the lab.  This may not seem central to our survival, but my prediction is that it will be a key technology.

Bridging the Gap

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast for the 2022-2023 rainy season promise much more of the same. In other words, our drought here in the American West continues. Water scarcity is stressing communities that are agriculture dependent. Over the last century California has developed the most expansive water distribution system in the world. There is no other place in the world with as many reservoirs, aqueducts, and irrigation canals. The key to our future is using less water to make more food. Like everything economic these changes will produce a new set of winners and losers. 

I like democracy and I like leadership to face the citizens in free and fair elections. Our transition to a renewable energy economy, to an modernized more water efficient food production system, rolling out these new systems, reinventing how our economy is powered, how we distribute our water, these are fundamental building blocks. We do this right and we’re going to walk back the world from the edge, and if we don’t get this right, we’ll suffer the consequences. Time is of the essence, there is not a second to lose. 

It’s just a guess on my part but keeping Diablo Canyon open a little longer looks like a bet to buy more time, to keep things going in the right direction, to not sending the economy into a self-inflicted energy price spike. All of the technologies I’ve written about will prevail in time, as they are deployed over time, and it is this timeline, this managing the energy transition that is civilizations great challenge. 

Cry Me a River

With the election now in the rearview mirror look for the fight over a more equitable distribution of water coming down the Colorado River to enter its nightmare phase.

Colorado River serves both sides of Rocky Mountains

All those good intentions, all the dedicated water saving devices, all the promises from agriculture that they finally do get it, that the jig is up and the time for change has come, well none of that has proven remotely actionable. 

Taking shorter showers is a good idea. Getting rid of your lawn is long overdue. When you brush your teeth fill a glass with water, that’s it, a glass of water is good for rinsing both your brush and mouth after you’ve finished. Toilet etiquette water saving guidance in a drought— “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down.” OK— been there done that.

We need to pause a moment as this is the week according to the “being” counters out there that our world has crossed the 8 billion mark, that is people all alive on a little marble sized planet in one little teeny-tiny spiral arm of one rather average sized galaxy in a universe populated with trillions and trillions of galaxies. You like me and most innumerate types need to be reminded of how many zeros there are behind the factor 1 when trying to write out a trillion, that is the numeral one followed by twelve zero’s— that’s the answer to the trillion-universe question. 

North Platte River south of Denver

Figures jump around regarding how much water by water flow gage actually comes down the Colorado River over the course of one year. Since we’re here in the United States trying to form a more perfect union it turns out the Colorado River is slightly down there, and over to the left and doing something quite predictable, in fact it is astounding we would have forecast anything else, but of course we came up with the wrong estimates and that is where our grief begins and ends. 

In this climate changing world what we can measure in the system of rivers and reservoirs that we refer to as the Colorado River Basin is a world that is increasingly warmer and drier. It is not significantly warmer, it is not profoundly more arid, but that isn’t how this game is played. 

Here is located the headwaters of the Colorado River

In 1922, exactly one century ago there were about 12 million people living in the Colorado River Basin— now there 40 million. A century ago, they estimated that 16,400,000-acre feet of water flowed through the basin in one year. A century later we know that is wrong that if you take water measurement records and divide each water year up by this factor of 100 the more accurate amount is 13,200,000-acre feet of water per year. However, the last quarter of a century, the last 25 years have been much less productive than the previous 75. In 2003 for example just 3,800,000-acre feet of water was measured. Then there were many years where barely 9,000,000-acre feet of water was measured. Some scientists now believe that in the years ahead the Colorado River Basin will on average produce just 7,500,000-acre feet of water per year— less than half of what was codified into law when the Law of the River was first drafted in 1922. By the way, that was Herbert Hoover’s work. 

Take a deep breath people— touch your toes, breathe— everything is not going to be just fine, but we can survive in this water basin when we stop spending our water like drunken’ sailors. Why is that? How can that be? Whose been building model airplanes in poorly ventilated bedrooms again? 

North Platte River

Look figure 80% of all the water that comes out of the Colorado River Basin is used by agriculture. That includes ranches, farms and dairy operators. The percentage of water used to grow crops destined for our kitchen tables, especially the crops that are not intermediated by feeding a barnyard animal, those crops use the smallest fraction of that 80%. The thirsty users are growing forage crops for livestock, that’s where most of the water is going. Hay crops are on the endangered-cowboy’s-list and are a congressionally protected species that turns out to be important because it isn’t the cowboys that die from lack of water it is politician’s careers that meet their end.

Other terms and phrases that come to mind are untouchable, perhaps stalemate, gordian knot, intractable, impossible to undo, lifestyle ending, suicide mission, water torture test, misery, and my favorite— decade upon decade of fruitless litigiousness…

Fruitlessness only begins to even get at the stinking mess we the good people of this current century must deal with because of the errors made by our ancestors from the last century. But isn’t that the story of the climate emergency— doing something now that will help the people who will inherit the world from us later. Of course it is!

Einstein like brain power isn’t enough

Did I mention instant gratification seems to be almost as popular as smartphones—? We are plumb out of patience, that virtue is near extinct and instead we live in the go-go world of hairless swimmers in speedos doing laps on bright days and then some years later having to see their dermatologists for terrifying little spots that need to be surgically removed. 

Making one thing better which pretty much sums up the rationalizations for building the dams at Lake Mead and Lake Powell has proven shortsighted. Instead of making one thing better we’ve walked into a corner and made a million things worse. 

Anyway, to end on a hopeful note it is good to know that the election is over and negotiations can now resume at a quickened pace so that decisions might be far removed as possible from the election cycle. That’s probably the most important point of this little pitter pat of prose I’m offering to my fearless social gladiators. After fending off the fascists, after rejecting the Nazi sympathizing monster Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidacy of Kari Lake we can actually get down to less psychologically twisted matters like how to keep the toilet flushed, the toothbrush cleaned, and the swimming pools filled.  

Southern Arizona rainbow falling on the Oak Bar Ranch

A tremendous crescendo of gratitude will wash over our continent as we roll out the new renewable energy system for this new century. Next, and almost at the same time we will review and reallocate what water we have. There will be pain, and suffering will be Ingmar Bergman-esque, but a new and better Law of the River will provide fun legal work for Gen Z’ers, and darn it we really do count on those young rascals bailing a lot of us barrel-aged nitwits out from the fallacies we have foisted on a world that is now filled to the limit with 8 billion people— if you happen to be a jigalow odds have just tipped in your favor, someone is bound to be waiting for you to work your love em and leave em magic after getting what you want then like that the jigalow goes and performs the world famous disappearing act— “God— if that man hasn’t just made me cry a river—”

The Vegan Deli & Butcher Shop

Dashing south in our Tesla we were off to Los Angeles for a weekend sail to Catalina. The better half and her witty wonder had to stop in Highland Park— this was all due to the fierce urgency of vegan chow— we wanted to visit Maciel’s— this is a specialty foods delicatessen; the owners describe their almost one-of-a-kind store as a plant-based butcher shop. Whatever that deli thing is, those row upon row of meats and cheeses, all the variety of salads, all these new-fangled dishes— we were all about it, this is what we wanted, a heaping grocery bag full of new food items that we’ve never tried before. 

Maciel’s in Highland Park

There were no excuses for our arriving after closing time, to that end we had to plead our case through locked doors while pantomiming through the glass windows our passion for first ever food experiences— like knee pads, parakeets and natural wine who knew that would be a thing— then we tried making our most pitiful dejected faces— the proprietors relented and reopened. 

Maciel’s opens another chapter in the quest to replace conventional factory farmed meats, this is what it means to be a vegan butcher shop, they offer alternatives to beef, pork and chicken— vegan meats have a role to play if we’re to work our way out of the corner we’ve walked the world into. These new self-created gourmet products open an entire new front in the uncharted realm of plant-based meals. 

Further north in Berkeley I’ve been sampling the offerings from another vegan joint, The Butcher’s Son. The concept is the same. To my taste Maciel recipes are ahead of the game, Maciel’s products appear to be more evolved, their ingredients are dialed in, there is nothing casual or random happening. Competition is a good thing, both vegan joints are on the playing field, the games just gotten underway, there’s much to learn and more to explore.

Boulevard of Vegan Dreams—

While moored as guests aboard our friend’s sailboat out on Catalina we tried their plant-based turkey, pastrami and salami. The pastrami was the favorite, turkey next and then the salami. Next visit I’m trying the chorizo and adobo ribs. We used multigrain bread, vegan mayo, mustard, pickles, red onions and lettuce. We sampled their jalapeno cheddar spreading some over a slice of bread as we each built our own sandwiches. 

At a gathering prior to sailing our friends barbecued salmon for dinner, their southbound Highway 101 faux leather  clad pair swapped out the salmon for Maciel’s near note perfect crab cakes. If you hadn’t been told you likely would have never known you were sampling vegan crab cakes. There was nothing lacking, the flavor was fetching, they sated our hunger, after we were full and content, that’s not always true, Maciel has quite the wizards touch, the items in the store are creations from her recipes, her research, her years of chasing down the right blend of ingredients, then betting she could stir her customers palette’s and win them over.

Idling Away September Weekend— Two Harbors Santa Catalina Island

The ingredients in their salami include wheat protein, red beets, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, spices, tomato paste, garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, red wine, liquid smoke, rice flower, white pepper, black pepper and salt. 

Maciel Bañales Luna has gone all in on the project. Once you venture off into the arena of plant-based foods it is a one-way street, few go back, no longer always stuck planning meat-centric meals, the alternative plant-based dishes you prepare take over, it becomes a way of life, a lighter on the earth and compassionate form of eating. 

Tag team partner in this one-two punch new food adventure is husband Joe Egender, the more talkative of the two rang us up at the cash register. Joe’s swift of wit, art brained and droll, bantering back and forth with his plant-based enthusiast, the lanky one-time San Franciscan was quick to get my nut ball style and interest in their new store. I’m all about fixing the-fix the world finds itself in, climate change is no longer some abstraction, it’s not some far off emergency happening to us out there in the faraway future, it is happening to us right now and what we eat impacts the world we live in, these plant-based products use less water and produce a much smaller carbon footprint, and that lesser pressure on our natural resources is part of the climate crisis— we are in a race against time to break the habit of eating the food our good and loving mothers introduced us to.  

Puppy Dog— This is Chickpea aboard our sailing trip to Catalina

We tried their Mama’s potato salad and for dessert her Mexican Chocolate Mousse. The dessert is made from silken tofu, bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and chili powder. Maciel’s mousse was every bit as delicious as any conventional mousse and best of all it is better a better product, better for you, better for earth.  

Eating a whole food plant-based diet has opened doors to unexplored corners of a world I had no contact with until I embarked on a journey to take better care of myself. I had no clue what was waiting. The trick to the fun is to get out and try new things. Life is many things including packing a basket and heading out for a picnic, eating deli style foods while sprawled out atop a piece of grass on your favorite blanket, and now with Maciel’s good work, because of the innovative products we can stay on track, remain within bounds of what we want and don’t want to end up on our plate. If meat is a gas-powered car, then the modern vegan deli is an electric automobile.

Maciel’s Refrigerated Display— Right Sized

Maciel’s New out of this World butcher shop is a three-alarm fire wrapped in mustard— the pickle is free— the fascination is grand slam. Like solar panels we not only can make electricity in a whole new way we can make plant-based delicatessen sandwiches that are great tasting and all that much easier on our planet to produce. 

There are behind closed-door discussions underway within the government about creating a new executive level department to take on the issue of climate change. Among the many things to do this climate change secretary would be charged with tackling water scarcity, one such fix is replacing hydroelectric power stations with renewable energy systems. Another piece of this puzzle is introducing new food production systems, and one spoke on the hub of that wheel is delicatessen style vegan cheeses and meats. Our food production system will be moved incrementally, it will be unexpected, surprising and these new products will make all the difference.

Circumstances in the American West are growing more difficult by the year. Even if our politics are deadlocked the same is not true of the researchers trying to bring to market food products that use less water and produce less carbon emissions. 

Incumbents will try to hold onto their market share, that’s to be expected, they won’t be any happier than any other legacy enterprise that’s finding itself disrupted by the emergence of new technologies. Like solar or wind renewable energy systems they are gaining market share because they make sense, they’re the low coast leaders in the energy sector. 

The lack of water in the American West has got a choke hold on the region’s economy. Analysts have long fingered the spike in oil prices for derailing the global economy, the higher the price the slower the economy moves. If I told you, we could produce the same amount of food using 90% less water and 90% less land wouldn’t you think it a good idea to give that new technology a try? 

Blogger in Repose—

Maciel’s Plant-based Butcher Shop is a key marker— an inflection point— this is part of the answer to eating in a style that is in harmony with this climate stressed world. The good news from Highland Park is that a gifted food creator husband and wife team has set roots down right here in the dynamic food movement culture of Southern California. The vegan butcher shop is an ingenious answer to our future, and it is more than just about food, it is a response to this precarious moment— with new delicious solutions, especially those never-before-seen new foods that bring to the world a flavor all their own.

Two Harbors Via Hite Marina

There are 30 miles of ocean between Marina del Rey to Catalina Island’s mooring field at Two Harbors. Further east if you were to launch a boat at Glen Canyon Dam on a once and now no more full Lake Powell you would travel 186 miles end to end. At 7.5 knots you will make the trip out to Catalina Island in four hours. The trip from one end of Lake Powell at this same speed would take 25 hours.

Great Blue Heron Hanging Out

Last Friday’s hazy air shrouded our view of Catalina. We couldn’t see the island until halfway out on our trip across. Coastal ocean sailing differs from boating on a lake, sea state plays a bigger role, faraway low-pressure systems can send steep swells, crew can be wearied by rough water, and if another swell is coming from another direction the passage may become difficult to the extreme.

Gales can sweep across the desert and make navigation on Lake Powell all but impossible. Messing about on water with a boat is never risk free. Imagining taking a round trip from one end of Lake Powell to the other would take two days of nonstop sailing and motoring. The same roundtrip to Catalina would require 8 hours, one-sixth the amount of time. Big water can swamp the imagination, it is just too big to grasp.

The ocean between Los Angeles and Catalina can reach depths of 3000 feet. Lake Powell at its deepest measures 404 feet, but on average is just over 130 feet. For air breathing terrestrial types both body’s of water are experienced at their surface. Imagining that I am sailing in deep water concentrates the mind, this is when a sailor spitball’s their vessel is taking on water and since death is so permanent and life so sweet perhaps you might want to come up with a to-do list of ways of staying in the game. Prior to sailing to Catalina, the skipper and his second in command made sure the bilge pumps worked and that the through hull fittings weren’t leaking. There’s a longer list and more thorough inspections are part of responsible boat preparation.

Life aboard a saltwater sailing craft equipped with a functioning watermaker is mind altering. The vessel Spirit when making water can produce 150 gallons in a few hours’ time. Besides making water for drinking and cooking there is water for showering, and for spraying off the topsides and deck. Making water doesn’t cost much once you’ve decided to install a watermaker, this initial acquisition cost is the biggest expense of all, it makes no sense not to put the watermaker into service once installed.

Meet Chickpea 14 weeks old

Desalinating water takes a lot of energy. Aboard Spirit there is an electric generator that is switched on to provide power to the watermaker. Every other day the generator is started to top off the batteries and to fill the water holding tanks. The diesel generator burns about ½ gallon of fuel per hour.

Rural desert dwellers sometimes need to clean up their residential water supply. If the water is really contaminated distilling is necessary, most of the time reverse osmosis systems will do the trick. In Arizona their water board survey teams have studied bringing desalinated water up from the Sea of Cortez by pipeline. This would be useful for residents and useless for agriculture because of how expensive the water would be to desalinate.

In Dubai the United Arab Emirates operate large desalination plants, but then they also are sitting atop some of the largest oil reserves in the world.

As conundrums go, and the drought in the American West is one hell of a nettlesome problem there are simply too few skilled multidimensional scholars capable of grasping both the magnitude and complexity of the challenge.

Crossing by sailboat from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island only hints at the enormity of what civilization is grappling with. Setting aside the technical challenges and finding the courage to face the economic and political compromises has so far proven utterly impossible.

Mooring in Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island

Long ago John Wesley Powell surveyed the Colorado River and concluded that there was not now nor would there ever be enough water for large scale farming. His advice was ignored, our state and national leaders buckled under pressure and have for a century bumbled and stumbled along until now. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell are 25% full and expert water surveyors working with climatologists put the odds of these two reservoirs ever being topped to full again at a probability of zero chances. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton coming back from the dead and happily remarrying is as likely.

Spurring the states to act the Bureau of Reclamation had urged negotiators to come up with a new voluntary plan. The Bureau set a deadline that has come and gone, and negotiators were unable to agree on anything. Instead, this slow-motion climate related dire circumstance that is already altering the fated promising lives of 40 million citizens rests like a gigantic bowie knife on the neck of the American West’s future.

I keep reassuring readers that the residential water supply isn’t the main source of the problem, it is what is going to happen to the farmers and ranchers, and the tumult that will result. Political leaders’ careers will hang in balance, lawyers will haggle in court for decades fighting over water that no longer exists. Nobody wants to settle, everyone wants to fight, and the real nightmare scenario are the senior water rights holders in rural farming communities going to court to cut off access to water for the millions of residents in Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. This is how water law is settled. The courts have no choice but to follow the law as written, likely it is a lifetime appointed judge that will incur the wrath of any water user that comes out on the short end of the stick. The losers will not just lose access to water, but they will lose their livelihoods too.

“Nobody can tell anybody nothing.” The miserable rotten truth of the matter is agriculture has been hell bent on using water, and they’ll irrigate old school style, like same as 10,000 years ago, gripe bitterly about being asked to change crops or try using drip irrigation technology.

Because of the size of this problem, if you’ve ever gone from Los Angeles out to Catalina that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface to how big this mess is. It’s so big most of us have not the scale of imagination to visualize the colossal pickle we are all in.

Pretty near as best anyone can tell what is happening is that the whole stinking pile of stakeholders are holding onto hope. If we could just wait it out, hope it will rain, that the reservoirs will fill and that the region can just continue on business as usual.

Lake Powell at 25% Capacity

What comes next is unthinkable, but that is what is on offer, a crisis of such magnitude it blows our minds. Policymakers at the Pentagon are one agency that understands. If millions of acres are pulled from production, then add the continued chaos at the border, the weather continues to get hotter and dryer— that’s a combustible confluence of trouble that could trigger what is described as a region of a country that descends into chaos and becomes ungovernable. A long slow utterly ungovernable storm tossed ride on a boat is an unpleasant bit of passage making. Navigating through this peril with blinders having kicked the can down the road until the bitter end has trapped the stakeholders across the American West into a boxed canyon— the game is up, and the time of reckoning has arrived. We can do this, we just can’t keep doing this the way we have— while we can we might choose to take the path of good governance— that’s what we pin our future on— the hope we can make some sense of all this water that’s gone missing and still manage our affairs peacefully.

Big Drought Little Time

California by treaty receives the largest allocation of water from the Colorado River. These are “senior” rights. A stakeholder with subordinated rights is out of luck, in the sun, and destined for hell. The megadrought has let the cat out of the bag and now across the American West our water distribution system is unable to respond— this is water’s version of the deer in headlights moment. 

Stark Beauty

Litigation is slow. The “Millennium Drought”— this dryer and hotter pattern has persisted for 22 years— stakeholders have been dragged to the negotiating table kicking and screaming— the clock is ticking, the water levels on Lake Powell continue falling— the jig is up, the moment of reckoning is here. 

What is terrifying is a desperate subordinated water rights claim held by a water agency in a major metropolitan area could find its supply completely cutoff. The court’s hands would be tied, the law as written could trigger a catastrophic climate induced humanitarian disaster. Pitting a handful of farms in California against a bone-dry Arizona city is something everyone agrees needs to be avoided. Forty million people in the American West depend on the water from the Colorado River. Unknotting this tangled web is a task that will require ungodly quantities of water and time. This relentless drought is dragging the region into the mother of all water wars. 

Go down to any neighborhood saloon. Select a handful of average citizens. Put the facts down on the table. Here’s the water, this is how much we’ve got, this is where it goes, these are the various stakeholders, here’s how much each has been promised, here’s how much there actually is, and what dear neighbor should the nation do? 

Holding your breath won’t work, hoping it will rain isn’t a plan, depending on the summer monsoons is delusional, even if there was an above average year, the immutable fact is the Colorado River is a finite resource, and with each passing year the river yields less water to an ever-thirstier American Southwest. 

Every single precious drop that falls from the sky that is used in Colorado is another drop of water that will never make its way downriver to Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California. Have you seen Colorado in the last few years— how many more people live there— how much more water is diverted near the river’s headwaters, that never makes its way downriver to the states of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California.

Lake Powell was never a good idea, from its inception there were political forces afoot at the Bureau of Reclamation fueling the drive to construct the dam that should have never been built. Now whether the dam should have been built is a pointless waste of time, the science is in, the situation isn’t going to change, the lake is doomed.

Eight out of every ten gallons of Colorado River water is used by agriculture, and eight out of ten of all those gallons are destined for forage crops, the most valuable of those is alfalfa. Producing meat and dairy takes a lot of water. Only two of every ten gallons is used to grow all the other food that ends up on our kitchen tables. 

The great Southwest expedition leader John Wesley Powell had told leaders long ago, like in 1880’s that this region would not support large scale ranch and farm operations. His advice was ignored. The Law of the River dates to 1922— when there were all of 6.4 million people living in the seven western states. Today forty-million people are dependent on this vital watershed. 

Democracy is on the ballot this November. Anti-democracy forces within the Republican Party are ascendent. A lot of ink is spilled over the situation on our southern border with Mexico and the efforts to stim the tide of immigrants seeking to enter this country. Whipping up Republican voters on this issue is misplaced, it’s the shortage of water, that’s our emergency, reallocating the water from the Colorado River is going be the political hot potato of this new century. 

Expect the Bureau of Reclamation to keep its head low until after the November election, that’s my prediction, then after they’ll announce cutbacks— they will be historic. The Supreme Court will end up having to weigh in. Bankruptcies will ripple up and down along the Colorado River basin as operators are disrupted by the lack of water. Negotiations between the seven states, 30 tribes and Mexico will prove to be intractable. The current regulatory apparatus is broken, archaic, ill-suited to the task. Not the Federal Government. or the State Water Resource Agencies can deliver water to customers that no longer exists. Negotiations will prove futile, litigation will grind on for much of the decade, even still after all the pain and tumult caused by the drought in the end there will be much less water coming down the Colorado River. Pretending there is some sort of work-around isn’t policy, it is denial.

The best way forward is to release the remaining water from Lake Powell (currently it is 25% full) and store it in Lake Mead. Then, repurpose Lake Powell, there is a proposal to make this area a national park, it would be called Glen Canyon National Park. Pipelines would need to be reconfigured to supply water to city of Page and the Navajo Nation. The upheaval in the farm and ranch industry will be ongoing. Rural citizens will be hard hit. Like Nevada’s boom and bust mining industry we should expect there to be more ghost towns. 

Farms that grow vegetables will replace the alfalfa producers. Water efficient laboratory meat production will replace conventional ranching. As we build out our new energy system, we’ll build in good paying jobs to replace those that will have been lost from a lack of water. This reckoning has been a long time coming, it is here, it is time, and it is happening. Our climate emergency is complex, multifaceted, and leaving no corner of our world untouched. Time to put our most talented to work on adapting to the change. That deer in the headlights moment— that’s all of us staring down the threat to civilization’s survival. Lake Powell is telling us we haven’t a choice, our time is up, that we must roll up our sleeves and get to work. There’s not a second to lose.

Reporting from the American West

If you want to work in the news business, you’ll be aiming for a gig on the East Coast. You’ll want to work in New York City or Washington DC. That’s primetime baby cakes, where the biggest and bad-est fish swim. The writers that crack this nut and land a gig just got to feel a sense of having made it to the fattest pay checks. The East Coast hot shots are an elite horde of writers covering a geographic area of a mere few thousand square miles. Still this nation-centric view from our major media outlets provides a much less engaged regional population with those pieces of information they’ll need to know if we have any hope of keeping the wheels on this democracy from falling off this bus of self-governance.

Big jobs require big equipment

Trying to cover the important events out here on this other coast, and this nearby interior region, that’s a John Ford— Darling Clementine— of a job— literally we’re talking about covering the happenings on millions upon millions of acres, more than a handful of important cities, and a whole host of vital political, social and economic forces that shape our nation’s narrative. We’re not all out here drinking whiskey, riding bareback and dipping our toes into the local hot spring. Instead of the news we make digital devices, search engines and social media platforms that have turned our access to information into an out-of-control firehose of partly truth and partly fiction.

To keep in touch with our rural communities I surf the web, when driving across Nevada I’ll pull off the highway, get out of my van, sit down and chit chat with the local hard nuts. Sometimes a tobacco chewing hay farmer might dismiss my questions, rate me as an urban interloper, but more often I find that even that jacked up rural wise guy is concerned about the new nickel mine going in on the same watershed he’s getting his water from. 

Moscow, Idaho street music scene— who knew

Fossil fuel news is odd out here, it takes some realigning your point of view to swallow these gushers. Forget about the environment, that’s not news a front-page editor in Casper, Wyoming can use. More likely it is this moratorium on new leases that will make the cut. Rural communities across Wyoming, Montana, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado want to know what’s going to come of their lives out here and if there’s still any money left to be made drilling, digging or refining fossil fuels. This constituency is all too well represented back in the beltway of broken dreams. 

These are the blips on the radar, the scattered rising and falling indicators of a rural community’s potential economic viability. Water plays the same role. Wildfire, floods, droughts, insect invasions, and fatal traffic accidents don’t rate even a second look, it’s the community billboards that is regarded as Bible here. For sale: mini-Nubian goats— good girls, floppy eared, buttery milkers, disobedient, devoted all heartbreaking barnyard hellraisers, but “neighbor they’re a good business bet.” 

Rare as the wind on the wings of a butterfly— sweet water

Senior editor desk types in Los Angeles at the Times, that’s another level. Getting water to the cities in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego County that’s the other side of the scarce resources story that pervades the American West. It’s news when the batting order for the San Francisco Giants tanks, and its news when reading about the latest failed salmon run that’s trying to be restored along the ever over tapped Sacramento River.

Chris Mathews of Hardball fame once worked for the San Francisco Examiner. His opinion pieces were published in the City’s afternoon paper. Still, Mathew’s column was a backwater, on the margins, once in a while his latest posting might blow up, go national but those were rare, Chris was just biding his time. When was the last time a printed newspaper headline held in your two hands changed the arc of your morning coffee— as I said, you can’t remember.

Little Ray of Hope

The intermountain town of Pagosa Springs in Southern Colorado is trying hard to save itself, the beauty that attracts so many new citizens is smothering what is so charming here. Outside of town you’ve got rural farm operations, most is hay crop, and is now common due to the drought, the sourcing of water is hard to come by, Pagosa Springs is hard pressed to find more, new homeowners setting up lives here are a mixed blessing or curse. Harder than finding water here is affording to fully fund the water treatment facilities. There are a lot of testy city business meetings here. 

Pagosa Springs, Durango, Gunnison, Crested Butte, Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Salida, Breckenridge, Leadville— Colorado mountain towns, and not even the most famous, they’re not Aspen, Vail or Telluride, but they’ve been changing, growing, in the last twenty years they’ve been exploding in size, the changes have been exponential. 

One thing is for certain, even if you don’t care not one fig about the environment most sentient beings do understand that once a rural community exceeds a certain density and population, the disposing of human waste by septic system invites all manner of calamity. 

California senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein secured protection for vast tracts of the Mojave Desert. That’s 30 million acres of misunderstood and much beloved desertscape. I could explain the Mojave Desert in detail, but you don’t have the spare time, band width or bug repellent— the East Coast scribes what they want to know is how does this far off desolate, waterless, wasteland play into their New York-DC narrative— and for that there are two magic words— Harry Reid. The Majority Leader from Searchlight, Nevada, the pugnacious one-time boxer turned Nevada’s most powerful politician put the American West front and center and onto the pages of our leading newspapers. You almost felt like you could understand Nevada by reading what Harry Reid had to say about his opponents, but I promise you there is no understanding Nevada, not now and not ever. That requires coming to Nevada, sleeping in her forlorn motels, not in Las Vegas but in Beatty, Tonopah or Ely. 

Reporting from the Mojave Desert

Running the show, my juggling show past these locals, now that’s a story, it is also a way of knowing, not just an audience, knowing a place, a community, how they do their doing and why what they’re doing isn’t necessarily conforming to your line of thinking. Rounding up mustang is like that. 

Joking with an audience in Sydney, Montana is as fine an entry point into American West understanding as any you might find gleaming on the asphalt like a lost dime. Most of this land is used to grow wheat, by rain not by irrigation. Farmers stand up their fate to what the chances of rainfall can bring. Sydney citizens know farming luck better than a pesky fly’s survival on the windowsill of a tanning salon. 

And that my friends, that’s why covering this beat will take your breath, spare ink and reams of paper away. This story is that big! Big as Hoover Dam, big as the Grand Canyon, big as Pilot Peak, as old as the ancient Bristlecone pines. 

The biggest story out here is the climate emergency. We know this story, it is told through wildfires, empty reservoirs, heatwaves and the brewing trouble between the seven states that share the waters of the Colorado River. In 1922 after some very difficult legal wrangling there were put in place a series of decisions that are referred to as the Law of the River. For the next 100 years this landmark decision has been upheld by the courts and the states. As is always the case politicians over the course of the last 100 years have overpromised while the rain and snowfall under delivered. 

There is one more piece to this puzzle worth weighing. We’ve got enough water for people that live out here, but we’re fast approaching the moment when we no longer have enough water for the farmers out here. Victims of wildfire in Santa Rosa, California have moved away to less fire prone regions where they will attempt rebuild their lives. These are some of America’s first climate emergency refugees. Next up are the farms and farmers that can no longer find enough water to stay in business. This isn’t just one town, one valley, off one river. The scale of this pullback will impact the entire American West, it will be historic, it will be epic and it will be a sprawling story that will sweep up almost half of the nation into unforeseeable change, not that we can’t see the change that is coming, but we can’t grasp the implications of these changes to the life and story of our nation. 

That’s what’s rumbling out here. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are small potatoes, this megadrought is about to deliver a severe blow, who it hurts and where it lands, that’s the question of this water scarce century.

Energy Transition Gaining Traction

If we pull back and fly at 30,000 feet then look down at our landscape, there are many changes barreling toward us. Our electrical grid is antiquated and needs upgrading. Our electrification of our transportation sector requires bringing large scale power charging facilities all along our highways. This buildout is going to be revolutionary and change the way our economy works.

Sun shines bright on our tomorrows

In Central California the shutting down of Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Station in San Luis Obispo has stuttered along, for all intents and purposes this is a failed technology sited atop an active earthquake fault. Retrofitting the facility is beyond expensive. Governor Gavin Newsom has been in negotiations with various interests to put off the power stations closure. Doing so will be costly, risky and with a bit of backbone won’t happen. The facility needs to be shuttered. 

Instead of nuclear power  it is offshore renewable energy systems installed over the horizon in nearby Morro Bay where planning is underway to deploy a network of “floating” wind turbines. Another location north in Humboldt County has also been selected for deployment. These are massive electricity generating systems and this week the California Energy Commission set a goal of building out enough offshore wind power to keep the lights on for 25 million homes. This is where to put our money, time and energy. 

Whole fleets of ships will be built to service the offshore wind turbines. There will be sited along the shore enormous battery storage facilities that are tied into the grid. Many thousands of people will work in this emerging renewable energy sector. The fossil fuel economy will shrink while the renewable sector expands. Our power producing systems will be widely distributed and will be tied together by our upgraded more resilient grid.

Highspeed rail is coming to California. Pieces of the system are already built. In the years ahead you will hop on a train in San Francisco and get off in downtown Los Angeles more or less arriving in the same length of time it would require you to fly. Non-visionary types love to gripe about highspeed rail, that’s their right, but they will be proven wrong. The issue has to do with how many gates are available at our airports. The answer is we’re almost at capacity, there is no land to expand upon, and nowhere to load and unload the extra passengers forecast to be traveling between this key California corridor.

Smaller electric powered passenger planes are coming in the next few years. For now, they’ll be the aircraft we’ll use to move passengers on shorter regional flights. Non-carbon jet fuels are in development, they don’t come cheap, we’re not quite there yet, but stay tuned airline passenger technology is ready for change. Eventually whether by safe non carbon fuels or by battery electric propulsion our entire airline industry will be moving passengers safely without harming our atmosphere. Hope and our future both catch a break.

Even with all our many major technological advances in agriculture there remain many reforms that this sector will need to undertake. Our oceans have been overfished, suitable land for livestock is becoming harder to find, and researchers are making progress on many fronts to help feed our growing world with latest greatest low carbon and less water intense technologies. 

Try not to sneer, gripe, grumble or close your mind to the new world you are about to go shopping in. You’ll soon be purchasing real chicken, beef, pork and lamb. If you prefer fish your favorites will be readily available. These products will taste the same as ever, they will not be genetically modified, but they will be grown in manufacturing facilities. And yes, it’s all very real food, the same food you’ve been eating all your life. It’s just going to be grown in a new way.

Once again, these new products will be decentralized, you can set up production facilities nearer to your markets. Like the renewable energy employee these will be skilled jobs and workers will be paid a good wage.

The American West has become smaller and smaller as our population has expanded out into this region. More of our land will be devoted to recreation. Manufacturing meat, fish and poultry facilities only grow meat, we no longer will require slaughterhouses, there won’t be huge feedlots, cesspools will vanish, and best of all pathogens will have a much less target rich environment to launch their misery upon the world. 

Consumption of water is radically reduced when compared to raising that same whole animal on a pasture. Same goes for how the land use, figure that would be shrunken down by 90%. What is unknown at this juncture is what specific plants will be needed to create the familiar flavors we are all accustomed to. Researchers in Berkeley, California have been working with different foods, there is also the puzzle of creating a matrix for the cells to grow on, and the synthesizing the enzymes that spark the cells to grow. 

Oats, rye, wheat, soybeans, and corn all work, it is the mixture of these foods that produces a palate pleasing flavor. Better still the process converts these food stocks into a final product more efficiently, way more, like instead of 25 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat it is more like 3-4 pounds to make that same one pound. 

Estimates vary but you should expect to be buying manufactured meat products at the grocery store in the United States by 2025. If you can’t wait you can fly to Singapore today and enjoy laboratory chicken manufactured by Just Eat. 

Conventional Power Station Oxnard, California

On the shores of the Salton Sea in California’s Imperial Valley several geothermal power stations are experimenting with removing the naturally occurring lithium from the superheated water used to spin the turbines that make the electricity. Several teams from several different companies plan to begin producing battery grade lithium within the next two years. California is looking for automobile manufacturers that want to come here setup shop. Again, these will be good paying jobs to help propel the local economy because of the water that no longer goes to the Imperial Valley for agriculture, the shortfall in water from the ever less abundant Colorado River will be offset by this new burgeoning electric automobile industry. 

This is what the energy transition looks like. We’ve got a fossil fuel system that because of the instability of the price of a barrel of oil keeps sparking wars, recessions and out of control inflation. In this new energy system, the price of wind and sunlight remain the same— economists forecast access to clean affordable energy will help reduce the uncertainty and price spikes that have been all too common in the carbon energy sector.

Our neighborhoods are about to go through a revolutionary transition. Smart meters with two-way communications capabilities will be able to talk to all our battery electric automobiles. In this networked battery storage system, we can move electricity into your connected car or send it off to power some other need on this networked grid. While you are home, and your car is parked its batteries can help keep the grid stabilized. 

Heat pumps have been around a long time, they run on electricity, but the appliances of today are many times more efficient than the heat pumps of yesteryear. Whole teams of installers will be busy retrofitting the 100 million homes across the nation to take advantage of this electricity powered appliance. These will be good paying jobs, the work is challenging but socially important and rewarding, getting paid to save our planet will put a smile on a technicians face.

Moore’s Law is our friend. Researchers are developing more efficient electric motors, smaller more powerful and quick to charge batteries, and as we scale this industry up the costs will continue to go down. The price of a lithium battery has decreased by 90% in just this last decade. 

Our energy revolution has arrived. I drove our electric car to San Francisco last week, listening to a podcast, engaged the car’s autopilot (it works well enough, not entirely as fully autonomous as imagined), whisked right through toll booths as my transponder tallied my toll up. On the way home prior to arriving I checked my Nest app on my smartphone and engaged the air conditioner to cool the house. Once home I plugged the electric in and the vehicles software will take care of the rest recharging the batteries late at night when load demands are low and rates are cheapest. I don’t suffer range anxiety, make the most of recharging on long trips, and take advantage of stops to take a short walk— about 30 minutes— while the batteries refill before continuing along to my destination. We are already deep into the energy transition, we proven that our renewable energy economy doesn’t have to self-destruct, if we can quicken the pace of change, and the odds are with us, humankind stands a good chance of landing this out of control world on its feet. 

Enjoy the ride and relish the hope, we will go further, be happier, and do what we do best, make this a better world.

Colorado River Basin Blues

Federal officials from the Bureau of Reclamation gave Colorado River basin stakeholders until noon hour on August 16th to hash out a new water allocation deal. For the last 62 days water resource managers haggled, horse traded and gridlocked one another into sharing the pain losing access to water can bring. 

John Entsminger, general manager of the water authority and Nevada’s top Colorado River negotiator, tried cutting a deal but was unable to get anyone to negotiate. I think his way of explaining the mess was that none of the various stakeholders were making a good faith effort to negotiate, nobody was taking the crisis for what it is, a natural disaster of the first order— I think you’d describe the megadrought as historic.

California’s Imperial Valley and Palo Verde Valley are the systems championship water grabbers in this tragedy of the commons. Nearby Yuma on the Arizona side of the river has got its share of woes too. Parkers and Bullhead City are about to go through a few things and that’s the way it will just have to be.  

Back in June Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton told the seven western states to either come up with their own voluntary plan or otherwise Washington would go full draconian on their sorry little stubborn water using souls. That day arrived today.

Commissioner Touton keeps her head down and mouth closed, her job has been to set the terms of the negotiations and then let the states, tribes, and Mexico figure things out. These are the best of the best water management professionals all squeezed cheek to jowl into a Denver hotel meeting room with orders from high on up back in the states to do something, do anything, but for God’s sake the one thing not to do surrender even one drop of their current allocation, get some other stakeholder to take one for their team. 

Most of the problem is caused by the deal the seven states cut back in 1922. One hundred years ago during a wetter and cooler weather cycle they divided up the river water like there was and always would be plenty to go around. There have been a few rough patches in the last ten decades but the last two and a half decades, as we’ve entered into the teeth of the climate crisis, nearly one quarter of this past century has seen an ever decreasing less abundant river. 

I wouldn’t venture to even begin to explain how complicated the 1922 compact turned out to be, but most experts I follow can barely make even the slightest explanation of the tangled mess without speaking uninterrupted for at the least one hour’s time. With today’s announcement there will be immediate reductions in water deliveries with warnings that in the next 24 months further deeper cuts will need to be taken on top of the current cutbacks.

What we are all about to go through will be different and dependent on whether you live in a city or outside of town in the countryside. Urban and suburban water users use only fraction of all the water that comes down the Colorado River. It is the rural farm and ranch operators that are going to have to change how they do things, in some cases farms and ranches be shutting down altogether selling off their equipment, liquidating livestock and fallowing the land. 

Recreation along the river will be impacted and so too will wildlife habitat. Everyone will be paying higher prices for food and water bill’s will be going up. Cheery news indeed. Everyone knows about the hydroelectric power station at Hoover Dam, it is famous and produces a lot of electricity. Most expert forecasts see the power station becoming much less productive as the reduction in water will reduce the power the station can produce. 

Fortunate for us the renewable energy systems will be deployed to make up for whatever the 300 hydroelectric stations all up and down the Colorado River basin can no longer reliably produce. What we can’t do is make up for the missing water. 

Sure, why not, you’ll read about plans to make desalination plants along the coast of California, maybe pipe water up from the Sea of Cortez, build a desalination plant on the Salton Sea, the processed water would be expensive, too expensive to make sense to use for agriculture. High rollers in Las Vegas might enjoy buying access to this kind of fancy water but the ordinary working stiff is going to use less to keep their water bill down.

Lawyers from the region are preparing to draw up a new compact to replace the framework agreed to in 1922. There is no time and agreements as complex as this will require years, decades— if the basin stakeholders can ever come to terms is uncertain. Nobody wants this to be litigated, but there’s really no way around it, this is an intractable stalemate that will vaporize political careers and trigger untold emotional frustration. If water remains as tight as it is now the negotiations will likely be absurd, incredibly consequential, and result in some of the hardest choices any negotiator has ever attempted to settle. It remains a zero-sum game, if the Imperial Valley gets water some other valley doesn’t get water. The severity of this crisis is of such scale and scope to be unimaginable.

I’ll leave you to chew on this. Alfalfa is grown across the Colorado River basin. Alfalfa is the third largest crop across the United States with corn and soybeans holding the first and second positions. Alfalfa grows best in a hot climate and thrives when you can pour water on a alfalfa field like there is no tomorrow. By comparison corn and soybeans are insignificant in size in the Southwest. Wintertime in Yuma there is a sizable salad growing industry, it is important and where most all of the leafy greens we find in stores is sourced from. 

Alfalfa is used by the dairy industry. A milk cow thrives on alfalfa. Then there are foreign markets that buy our alfalfa and growers in the Imperial Valley have discovered they can haul alfalfa out of Long Beach on the cheap by shipping containers back to China and Vietnam. Let’s just not go down the rabbit hole of whether drinking cow’s milk is good for you or not, let’s leave that out of this tangled web for a moment. 

An ordinary household with a relatively normal American family, maybe they have a dog, cat even might have a swimming pool will use about 1 acre foot of water to run their house for a year. Now how much water does that farmer need to produce one acre of alfalfa? One acre of alfalfa requires about seven-acre feet of water. You with me still, come on don’t give up so easily. There are millions of acres of alfalfa grown in the Colorado River basin, from the Front Range to the Western Slope, from near Many Farms where the Navajo grow plenty, farms have been growing alfalfa in Central Arizona, it is an important crop, each cut on each acre, on average weights about 6 tons is worth $1500 and in the desert Southwest you can cut that acre up to 10 times per year so long as between each cut you can pour another seven-acre feet of water on that crop while it grows and gets ready to be harvested.

Some alfalfa is grown off underground aquifer water, most of that water is ancient and has accumulated over millions of years, hydrologists are sure this water is going to give out soon enough, can’t pump water out of the ground faster than it accumulates, eventually you are going to be pumping sand, and sooner than an alfalfa grower is willing to believe.

Even if you can imagine growing alfalfa for the local dairymen in the region, and some of our milk does end up being exported too, but even if you can wrap your head around growing alfalfa to make food that ends up on our kitchen table it is hard to imagine that so much of this crop ends up being exported overseas. Estimates are all over the place but right now we appear to be selling about one fifth of all the alfalfa we produce in the Southwest to foreign buyers. And that’s why I want you to forget about alfalfa and start to imagine swimming pools. Imagine millions of swimming pools full of water, I’m talking about a lot of water, enough to fill a reservoir the size of say maybe Lake Powell, you know something like the second largest water reservoir in the United States, one of the largest in the world, imagine all that water being used for swimming pools that end up over in some faraway place. In exchange for all that water a handful of growers are paid somewhere in the vicinity of a grand total of $3 billion dollars. Got that picture in your head now. That’s one hell of a lot of all our water that goes to the benefit of a mere handful of self-appointed over-entitled people.

We’ve got well over 40 million water users in the Colorado River basin that have agreed to let a few thousand alfalfa farmers siphon off most of Colorado River basin water, the water all of us depend on, this is water rightfully belong to all the citizens in these states, this is the people’s water that they are using to make a buck while assuming that this is somehow even remotely some kind of sensible deal.

And now you know what kind of mess all those fancy stakeholders have on their hands back in that hotel in Denver where for the last 62 days not one or another of them could figure out how in the world to untangle this tragedy that has fallen upon our region. Water grabbers are a painful lot, willing to inflict all manner of hell and cruel capitalism upon our natural resources. You can hardly believe our shipping all this water overseas at the expense of the many and to the benefit of a few is a fact, you have to take a moment, you have to stop what you are doing and think this madness through, see the fool crisis plain and naked as the day you were born. Time for change has arrived. We keep going the way we are we won’t call it the Mojave or the Sonoran— we’ll name it in honor of TS Elliott, it’ll be known as the Wasteland.

Can Kicking Over— Hard Part is Here

Half-truth tellers, braggarts, and exaggerators are stealing water from Americans. Take the executive director of this outfit called the Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona. With millions of acres farmed in Arizona less than half is dedicated to the food that ends up directly on our dinner plate while a whole lot more of the crops that are grown ends up getting stuck inside the mouth of various grass burning barnyard animals that then end up on our kitchen tables. Figure meat and dairy production is worth over $2 billion where lettuce out of Yuma adds up to about $700 million. Add up the market value lemons, cantaloupes and pecans and you are hovering right around $1 billion all in.

This gentleman Chris Udall who runs this water council lobby shop wants everyone to know all about how his organization is just worried to tears about the water used to grow lettuce in Yuma (half the truth) while never once mentioning anything about the hay, dairy and cattle operators (the whole truth). You want to get serious about life you’ll want to get a cowpuncher all worked up over the cost and quality of his romaine lettuce in his Caesar salad. Those boys get off work and they like settling in for whiskey drinking, dingo dog storytelling and when they can some good old-fashioned water thieving and hoodwinking reminiscing of which the 1950’s is best remembered for.  

Water resource managers across the Colorado River basin can’t tell nobody nothing, not like they don’t know what the problem is, where the water is going, and what to do about it. You can know it from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, but it is an unspeakable crime to say it out loud. If you are an employed official and say alfalfa into a microphone during a regional water crisis meeting, you are soon to be an unemployed water resources official just as sure as night follows day. Dedicated southwest alfalfa growers will take you and your smart aleck unwelcomed comments out into a field build you a memorial, buy you a gold watch and send you off into early retirement.  

We are less than one week away from all hell breaking loose out West where things are not just going to get wild, things are already plenty wild enough, things are about to get full on crazy as a cowpie. Folks in the upper basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico are about to square off against the lower basin states of California, Nevada and you guessed it Arizona.

The head in sand approach to fixing the West’s water shortage problems is about to have a head on collision with this nasty creature known as the megadrought. Anyone and everyone except for perhaps this lobby shop outfit knows there is all kinds of hell and misery heading right toward the good members that they are in the business of representing. There is a lot that needs to get done if we stand any kind of chance of surviving this climate change catastrophe. Let me just give you a little itty-bitty list of possible fixes. Wireless soil moisture meter switches could be one place to begin. Try what is called micro drip irrigation systems is another ready for primetime technology just sitting there asking to be strung on out across the fruited plains of our parched landscape. And damn it there are some souls giving these emerging technologies an honest go gosh try but there’s just too dang many footdraggers and naysayers gumming up the transition to a more enlightened use of our water resources.

I just like the sound of a farmer who has taken the time to laser level his field of melons. Laser leveling should be written into the law same as on—the—level—politicians. If everything was on the level most of our problems would be solved and we could get onto fixing bigger problems until there ain’t nothing left to fix but a cocktail.

Glimpse at Lake Powell

Water managers have the most miserable jobs known to civilization. Work in the mortuary business is more fun, at least it is more honest. Every stinking time you think you’ve left some boneheaded water use policy for dead the thing scrambles back to life and goes on the attack again. Advocating for new dams, reservoirs and water pipelines falls from the lips of every trick roper just this side north of the border. Of course, this avoids any discussion of exactly where in the hell any of this non-existent water is going to come from.

What we have is not a water storage problem, what we have is a water use problem. And not to put too fine a point on this water use problem but what we really and truly have is an industry that uses most of all the water that falls from the sky and is threatening to go Medieval on our water resource managers if they don’t get every last single drop to grow whatever the hell they want, and don’t you dare tell them what they can and cannot grow.

Temporary fixes are headed to the Colorado River basin. Senator Krysten Sinema snuck climate emergency drought relief funding into the legislation passed this last weekend. All in there will be $4 billion for the water managers to work with. They’ll be paying out money to have operators fallow their fields. This will forestall the worst of the worst of the damage done by the drought, but it doesn’t do it for long and we’ll be right back in the same corner next summer. If you can’t grab water, might as well grab a few billion that you can use to keep your water grabbing constituents afloat, at least until you can come up with something better.

Water politics is one nasty bit of business. Remember it was a thousand years ago that the Anasazi vanished without a trace. The idea of our modern-day civilization being forced to abandon the Southwestern United States seems inconceivable. What is beginning to shape up is that our drier and hotter climate is making a mess of our economic system, the whole enchilada is breaking down. You can retire to a region in drought, you can go there to be there, but you won’t have enough water resources to do much of anything else. A steady diet of Jack Rabbit isn’t the stuff from which dreams are made of.

All of us detest all the traffic we’re always going nowhere bumper to bumper in. Take half of a small town’s reason for existing away (rural agriculture) and you haven’t got enough left over to even run a drive-thru java joint. So yeah, I’m very worried about the lives of the people that live anywhere near where all this water is no longer going to be available. Whole communities are going to just dry up and blow away, same as a thousand years ago people will have to pick up and move.

The population of Page, Arizona sits right at 7,487. The citizen in faraway Phoenix might depend on the same water but they can’t walk out their back door and look off into the distance and actually see the megadrought and the water missing from the nations second largest reservoir. Some vendors have provided houseboats for tourists coming for holiday. That’s not looking like an industry with a lot of upside, in fact I’d say that many of the larger houseboats will be too big to move and will end up being cut up for scrap. Liquidation takes a toll on hope. Imagine getting out of the alfalfa growing business altogether and sending all that water down the Colorado River. Sometimes we pretend like we’re not picking winners and losers, but that’s really what is on view here. That’s the plain truth. Everything and everybody depends on water for one thing or another to do with their ability to exist and thrive. It isn’t like we won’t inhabit such places like Page, there will be people, but the next generation will be here living and working in ways our modern day water managers dare not even speak of. This new century could use a reboot and a do-over, failing that we are likely to see wholesale changes in what we do for work and how we grow the food that makes its way to our kitchen tables. Next week change takes a first tentative step in that direction.