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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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—”