Tag Archives: Megadrought

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.

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.

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.

Tight as a Tick Dry as a Bone

If you are living in San Francisco, don’t have a car, rent an apartment, don’t have a garden, haven’t got out on a road trip, then it is likely the 20-year drought gripping the American West may well have gone unnoticed. If on the other hand you are Max Gomberg the Director over at the California States Water Resources Control Board your time has run out. Gomberg just quit.

Video Credit Alex Arguello CalFire

Lake Shasta was completed in 1945 and filled for the first time in 1948. As of July, this year Lake Shasta is filled to 38% of capacity. The two other lowest measurements occurred in 1992 and 1977. The landmark Northern California reservoir isn’t a stranger to the problem of inadequate rain and snowfall, it is the problem that keeps on keeping on. 

Lake Shasta feeds the Sacramento River, the water appears to the unaided eye to be flowing, but the water is hotter and threatening the salmon runs and by threatening I mean extinction, like you know it’s over. Scientists have responded and have diverted water that would have been used for irrigation to reduce water temperatures in the river so that the salmon may survive. The Federal Bureau of Reclamation because of the drought has had to zero out water deliveries to the agricultural operators all up and down the Central Valley, from Redding to Bakersfield. 

Not doing too well

Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration has just released a scaled back version of a new piece of Sacramento Delta plumbing that is going to go exactly nowhere, I think of this proposal as a way of placating agricultural interests struggling to find water south of the Delta, as the saying goes this tunnel has as much a chance of passing as a snowballs chance in hell. 

Much of what happens to the political careers in Sacramento are the result of keeping key constituencies flush with water. Talk of saving salmon isn’t even half the problem, saltwater intruding up into the Delta risks contaminating the drinking water of millions of Northern Californians. The scale of such a catastrophic drinking water crisis is the King Kong of water disasters, the only special interests pretending that cutting off the drinking water to 4 to 8 million people are a few hundred farmers that stand to profit from such a calamity. The Army Corp of Engineers rates this potential disaster as potentially the worst infrastructure crisis facing the nation. 

Northern Nevada

Here’s the thing Gomberg wants us all to know and no politician dares to say out loud. The days of growing whatever the hell you want are about to come to an end. Millions of acres are going to be fallowed, water thirsty crops are going to go the way of the dodo bird, and if you don’t like it well that’s just too damn bad buckaroo— 

I traveled through New Mexico during April. Historic wildfires intentionally started by the United States Forest Service have burned hundreds of thousands of acres near Santa Fe and Las Vegas. For the first time in decades the Rio Grande is set to completely dry up as it passes through Albuquerque. Further downriver at New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir this key piece water storage infrastructure is at just 10% of capacity. Veteran high-country hikers are reporting conditions so severe that this spring aspen trees have not leafed out and appear to be dead or dying as the alpine ecosystem is nearing irreversible collapse. 

Great Basin Desert Lake

What individual published pictures do is give us just one piece of a global climate crisis that is overtaking life on earth. From the snow on top of the Rocky Mountains, the runoff we see in the Colorado River, to the missing water that no longer fills Lake Powell— all are part of a complex plumbing system that have run out of time and are about to cause the mother of all water manager problems. 

Utah’s Great Salt Lake has shrunk by 2/3rds exposing its salty sandy lake bottom to winds that threaten to scatter heavy-metal laden dust storms east where local Utah citizens will be at risk of illness and death if exposed to such air pollution. The circumstances are so serious the state legislature has funded a feasibility study to pump Pacific Ocean water from California 600 miles overland where the salt water will be used to restore the Great Salt Lake to its original level. 

Costs Extra if you start doing that

The same multi-billion-dollar emergency efforts are underway in Southern California’s Salton Sea where both the United States and Mexico are studying whether a pipeline from the Sea of Cortez can be built to save Imperial County residents from the same kind of dangerous toxic airborne dust.

The climate crisis is getting hard to ignore, most now say it is impossible. The wildfire in Yosemite, the Oak Fire has already consumed 19,000 acres, forced 3000 to evacuate and destroyed 41 structures. Smoke is moving both north and to the west, the California Air Resources Board has issued warnings to reduce outdoor activities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pets, children and adults are advised to remain inside. This is now a regular feature of our summers here.

Making matters ever more complicated is the Army Corp of Engineers rushing plans to fortify coastline, skilled scientists at the agency are now recommending regions to prepare to strategically retreat from rising sea levels or in select regions of our coast where urban population is high, they are initiating plans to build multi-billion-dollar sea walls. The costs are staggering. 

About 30 million people are living in Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. This group of urban and suburban citizens are our residential water users. For the moment the concerns of this group include having access to water for swimming pools, watering lawns and washing dishes, laundry and flushing toilets. 

The same is not true of Rio Verde Foothill residents living near Scottsdale, Arizona. Having opted out of incorporating into the city limits of Scottsdale in the shortsighted effort of keeping their taxes lower the residents have been cut out of access to Scottsdale’s municipal water system. Instead, citizens in Rio Verde have resorted to punching wells nearly 1000 feet deep, at that depth a water well can cost a minimum of $40,000. Now those efforts have turned into a giant crap shoot. It is more common than not to punch a dry hole than to find water, and punching wells isn’t contingent on finding water, you pay to play whether the driller finds water or not. With hat in hand the 2000 plus homeowners have found water 110 miles east in the Harquahala Valley purchasing groundwater that is then hauled at great expense by truck to fill the cisterns in their Rio Verde Foothills homes. As you might imagine this has not done a thing for their property values or politics. Some of Arizona’s most conservative libertarians are mad as Wyatt Earp losing a poker hand to Doc Holiday.

By my count this was about exactly right

If you start sticking your nose around the rural American West, you’ll find some communities that still have access to drinking water. Ajo, Arizona south of Gila Bend and adjacent to the Barry Goldwater Air Force Test Range is one such community. If you live in town on 5 acres or less the local Ajo Water District will hook you up, but there are rules and water is carefully regulated for residential use only. Local farms and ranches enjoy no such access. Some have drilled wells, but water is found deep if found at all and pumping it to the surface can be prohibitively expensive, it’s the equivalent of spending $10 to grow a $1.00 carrot. You get the idea.

Urban and suburban citizens are unaware of the mounting crisis rural farm and ranch operators are facing. Millions of acres that have depended on subsidized Bureau of Reclamation water are being cutoff, there is no water to allocate. Some farmers are trying their best to adapt, other farmers are confronting the reality that the only crop they’ve ever grown is the only crop they know how to grow and at this stage in their lives it is too late to start all over again. The cost of feed has spiked, and livestock operators are hauling their herds to auction zeroing out their operations.  

Was once a time when a farm or ranch operator awarded hard work with a living wage. A farmer could afford a new pickup truck, pay his debts down and put a little something away for the future. Businesses on Main Street in such rural communities could sell seed and feed, tractors and other farm implements and the whole virtuous economic cycle could keep our rural communities afloat. 

Almost Nothing Here Maybe Some Antelope

Because of the megadrought many rural communities are being tipped into recession or worse. In this urban/suburban versus rural drought emergency climate change has brought our farms and ranches to the brink. “There ain’t nothing but no good lousy stinking big rocks and hard times for as far as an eye can see—” 

Olive orchard growers in Northern California once flooded their fields, but scientists cracked the olive tree code and state of the art is now to use drip irrigate, and the olive trees are only watered when a specific moisture content measurement triggers a radio signal to the switching equipment that turns the drip irrigation system on and off. Drought tolerant the olive trees thrive when the miserly drip irrigation technique is utilized. As is true of every kind of enterprise there are winners and losers, good moves and not so good adaptations. We’ve only scratched the surface of agriculture’s reconfiguring production in a water scarce world 

Pecans in New Mexico are a more complicated story. So are the almond, pistachio and walnut crops of California. 

It isn’t just this year’s wildfire, drought or loss of water for agriculture that we fear, it is the possible permanent climate emergency that has our water managers terrified. So far, we’ve set policy by extending and pretending, our stakeholders continue to hope forests will become more resilient and less fire prone, the term of art is thinning and culling. Meteorologists keep hope alive and are desperate to report that the rain will return, that the drought will break, that our farms and ranches will return to business as usual. 

Rare piece of Nevada river

Decommissioning coal, natural gas and nuclear power stations turns out to be harder to do than we might have imagined, many of these legacy industries have organized and are fighting back. Our changing world is colliding with our unchanging minds. We have turned not giving up on its head, and instead of making the necessary changes there are fossil fuel interests that insist there is nothing that any of us can do, that we can’t change, and the world would be foolish to even try. This Gomberg guy from California’s State Water Board has had it with this conspiracy of naysayer’s intransience. 

What is so absurd is that scientists have already invented all the necessary technology to get the world off its carbon addiction. It isn’t like we don’t have the tools so much as we haven’t yet summoned the will to do the hard work. 

Looking for a hopeful sign it might well have happened this week. Democratic Party Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he has secured the vote of Joe Manchin and apparently the United States is on the brink of passing the most ambitious climate emergency bill to ever make its way to this or any President’s desk for his signature. Now that is some serious never give up and not taking no for an answer. When it comes to a brawl this Biden guy can take one hell of a punch, answer the bell and still win the fight. Now come November all we have to do is vote like our lives depend upon it because in fact the whole ball of wax is going to be on that ballot. Friends, this is what flirting with end times looks like. One hell of fix we’re all in. When it’s all said and done, just me I suppose, but I say we’ll make it, just barely, but as the big boss Warren Buffet has said, “It’s never paid to bet against America.”

Dusty Days on the Klamath

North of Yreka the Klamath River passes beneath Interstate 5 while flowing west through the Siskiyou’s to the Pacific Ocean. Over the last two decades the megadrought has pummeled the region. For 13 of the last 20 years the governors of Oregon have declared a drought emergency east of where I am standing in the Klamath Basin. Fish runs are going extinct, farm fields are left fallow, and ranchers livestock have been sold off. Last years fire season was record setting, the Bootleg Fire one of Southern Oregons all time biggest, resulted in the nearby Klamath Basin forests being severely damaged, the intensity of the regional 1 million acres burned leaves one to see the region in an almost Biblical end times sense. Nothing about this new century resembles the serenity, peace and productivity of the last century. The global climate emergency has battered this region with a procession of no rain, low humidity and ever higher temperatures.

This morning I’m looking out upon the Klamath and I see a benign and otherwise unremarkable river— nothing appears amiss. To my eye the water appears neither too high or too low. But, this visual observation does not account for the fallibility of the mind’s inability to size what we see to the scale necessary to arrive at a workable fact. If you’ve ever driven across California’s Mojave Desert while cresting one mountain you’ll see a valley before you then another mountain range in the distance. Guessing how far it is in miles to the crest of the other an observer tends to find their best guess can be off by miles— you’ll guess 20 then discover that next mountain range is 50 miles off in the distance. Scale, time and distance can play tricks on us.

Up and down the Klamath River fishermen, farmers and ranchers attempt to read the river, estimate its resource, try to predict by Farmer’s Almanac the appearance of La Niña, and way too many of the stakeholders misjudge the bounty of the river. That is the nature of a hope and dream, giving up on a life you’ve made, handed down to you by a self sufficient mother and father goes against our own inner nature. People do not give up so easily.

The hard times have come to the Klamath, one piece of the challenge has to do with 200,000 irrigated acres up on the Klamath Basin. These are hard facts to swallow, folk in Southern Oregon have held out hope, if it would only just start to rain again.

Circumstances on the much larger Colorado River touch the lives of 40 million people and as many as 50 million acres of farmland. You’d still need another 800,000 acres to get to your first million acres in the Klamath Basin and you’d still be shy of the unfolding crisis further south on the Colorado River. If you read about the drought that has gripped the American West it is on these smaller watersheds where journalists focus, where the size, scale and scope of the tragedy remains imaginable. The unfolding disaster on the Colorado River, the crisis taking hold on Lake Powell and Lake Mead overwhelm, the immensity of the problem is astronomical. The Klamath River is the same drought driven tragedy scaled to be approached by the concerned mind of a citizen giving the regional crisis thoughtful time and consideration.

A man or woman that works land for hay or row crop will be hard pressed to accept their land being removed from production. Putting aside all the variety of options, to grow a less water thirsty crop, to only grow food destined for the kitchen table, rolling back and then eliminating livestock— these possible solutions are so far inconceivable compromises to the changes this region faces. What the Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Reclamation have been doing is waiting, hoping against hope that it will rain again. Stopgap measures like paying farmers a stipend for a crop they don’t grow, then compensating them for water that is no longer available only kicks the can down the road, puts off for another year the hard decisions, allowing time for reality to sink into the minds of those still desperate to hold on. We’ve done pretty near darn everything but what needs to be done— this first kind of suffering is about trying to survive the next kind is the pain of letting go.

Eats a man or woman’s heart out to near dust in the Klamath Basin remembering the old days, back when irrigation ditches ran full and crops yielded commodities for market measured to the hilt. Some folk drive north to see family or farming friends. They’ll get out of the drought and circumstances faced up there are different, there’s water still, not near enough, but that’s in the educated eye of a scientist, to the Klamath Basin farmer it appears the region north is drowning in water abundance.

Just prior to my arriving at the Klamath River we’d driven past Lake Shasta, the reservoir is 1/3 full, you can see the situation with your own eyes, it’s right there, and hard to take. Most of what is happening in the Klamath Basin happens by no-see-um water, this is groundwater, sometimes they’ll describe the aquifer as a water bank, but that only makes the challenge that much harder— the basin’s water is getting drawn down, the underground water is running out, there is no bank where things are being saved, things are getting close to empty. Sometimes the big operators drill deeper and pump more water with larger pumps, but that only forces the water level lower and smaller operators wells go dry and the misery and bankruptcies only make matters more heartbreaking.

There is no changing minds when a well runs dry. Telling your neighbor there has got to be water same as there ever was, same as there always will be won’t get you one more drop when a drought turns a working farm into a dustbowl. Foreclosures return the waterless land to banks. When money is available the government buys the depleted land back. If you are out hunting for prosperous future for you and yours you’ll want to reconsider if your plan is farming and ranching along the Klamath. Odds have run out up here.

The United States has signed and senate ratified treaty obligations with the tribes that live along the Klamath. The tribal narrative is complex, no two tribes fate is the same. America’s first people live on land that has been reserved for their people for all time. When we entered into these agreements the United States by law transferred water rights to the tribes so that they would have enough water to guarantee their land would be workable. Ninety percent of the tribal lands were surrendered with the promise by the United States that the 10% the Native Americans would be confined to would be by deed and force of law receive enough water to make their ancestral homelands viable. Imagine life 150 years ago and being forced to give up 9 out of every 10 acres of your own land and now all these decades later having some agent from the government deciding that circumstances have changed you can keep the land but they want the water they promised back.

The Klamath Basin and Klamath Falls are distinct tales of two fated pieces of the same place. Oregon Institute of Technology is an important player in this economy. Still, the surrounding agricultural activities have been the most important part of what happens here. Sailing friend has retired here with his wife and family. There is a good hospital here. The drought crisis reverberates up and down Main Street. Retail businesses are all impacted. Klamath Falls won’t collapse but opportunity is hollowed out, there are easier places to build a life, here is going to be defined by hardship until the transition to new economy is complete.

Here is a glimmer of hope and a likely path out of the crisis here in the Klamath Basin. The economy will need to be reimagined and account for every last drop of water allocated to each and every stakeholder. Farmers and ranchers will be fewer, where land can be removed from production agencies will expedite such acquisitions, where crops are grown they’ll need to pass a test to be sure they do not use too much water and that what water is used is delivered with the latest high technology irrigation equipment. Such industries as deep well geothermal power plants need to be considered. More citizens that can work remotely need to be recruited to the region. We’ll want to get the community involved with the development of laboratory meat industry and see if local agencies can attract new industries to the region. What logging that is done should be scaled to pay a living wage and the cutting of logs should be done selectively not by clear cut. I’m especially partial to horse-logging and a team of horses and a skilled woodsman can do wonders for a community both economically and emotionally. Horse-loggers are some of the happiest of all the variety of woodmen I know. Logs shouldn’t be shipped out without milling. Better still would be to have local labor use the lumber to build prefabricated trusses and walls for modular homes. It’s estimated California needs to build between 3 to 5 million new homes to meet the demand of a growing population and it is up here in the Klamath that imagineers, investors and entrepreneurs need to focus their talents. Our climate emergency is moving faster than forecast. Time is of the essence and the scale of these changes touch the lives of all of us.

The fate of every outpost in the American West is bound by water. The Klamath has been a dream killer— an out late with the boys and never came home— a hope for something more than what one river can provide. Here is the searing edge of the limits to what is possible. Mother Nature and human nature have squared off— the limits to what is possible have landed square in the heart of the climate emergency— this painful fate is local the cure for its problems global. Easy answers are none, the hard work to a better world is everything—

Call for a General Strike

The ruins of Chaco Canyon give us a glimpse into the life of one of America’s earliest civilizations. There is evidence the first people prevailed as a culture and economy for 1000 years, the tribes of the desert southwest of Arizona and New Mexico thrived here. After years of abundant rain our first people were unprepared for drought and the food insecurity that resulted. Corn, squash and beans depleted the already marginal soils. By 1230 Chacoans, the people that lived in the canyon had built the tallest buildings in North America, a feat that would not be eclipsed until 1830 in New York City—

Chaco Canyon

Our current circumstances, our present civilization, feels fragile, supply chains are strained, water in the American West is scarce and millions of acres are under threat of collapse. Our inability to organize in the face of these environmental threats is cause for concern. Let the record show that the first people, those who came before us, discovered that out here the rural west can become inhospitable, unpredictable and spark conflict among the stakeholders.

Great ruins of Chaco Canyon

The Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine has shattered a tenuous peace in Europe. A Stalin like leader Putin without warning or reason invades a sovereign neighboring nation. Trump likely advised by the transnational organized crime syndicate was urged to abandon democracy and remain in power. To pull the insurrection off he would need knowledgeable insiders, enemies of democracy that understood how our interlocking institutions worked. If it feels as if our nation has been taken over by a out of this world Manchurian candidate you would not be wrong.

This weeks rulings by the Supreme Court feel anti-majoritarian, the decisions feel Medieval, subjugating women and terrorizing citizens by allowing weapons to be legally concealed and carried.

California where I live is home to 40 million people. This is a complex, economically productive state. To make the Golden State work the citizens have had to organize. The world’s largest system of aqueducts have been constructed. California produces more food than any other state in the nation. Yes, it is a jumble of water districts, billions of dollars were spent building dams for reservoirs, farmers have squabbled over who would get to use this water and who wouldn’t. The fighting continues to this day even if the writing is on the wall and the resources we fight over are clearly diminishing just as our population is growing.

California a land of unrivaled beauty

Air Flight Controllers, certified aviation mechanics, and a host of federal safety inspectors work to keep us safe should we need to travel by air. We use supervision and regulatory agencies to manage our private sectors airline companies. When we talk about collapse we need to think about the very serious responsibilities our government is charged with carrying out. Drinking water, sewage treatment, food inspections, communicable disease control and our well regulated stock markets— all of these different areas of national importance remain bound to the rule of law. The collapse of democracy would threaten all of this.

Our climate is getting hotter. Science has found the causes of our problems as we continue to quarrel about the solutions. The wealthiest fossil fuel enterprises in the world are not going to be shutdown without a fight. Likely much of their money is going into the pockets of an unhinged Republican Party that has been all too eager to pander to these oil barons. The energy transition needs move with speed and instead an obstacle course is thrown in its way. If you want a piece of good news last week California for a brief time, a few minutes to an hour actually produced 100% of its power from renewable sources. Just as a civilization can be brought to an end, it can respond to its challenges, make changes and fend off a collapse and continue to prosper.

Hearings underway by the January 6th Committee have revealed there was a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the results of our last election. A few weeks ago 19 children in Uvalde, Texas were massacred, shot to death with an assault rifle, some of the bullets hit with such force as to decapitate these innocent victims. Friday the Supreme Court stripped constitutionally guaranteed rights from women. Many current members of Congress, Republicans all were actively participating in the attempted coup and the evidence of their seeking Presidential pardons for their crimes has come to light.

Little Guys working for the Big Guys

So, here we find ourselves and what to do— I’d like to see the nations women call for a general strike, I’d bet a majority of the men in this nation would back this call to resist. We need to inflict economic pain, the business leaders have to understand that there are two parties in our nation but only one that is bound by the truth while the other has devolved into a mad pack of petty liars. The liars have sown chaos, their allies in the media have aided and abetted their misconduct, and now the very fabric of our governance is threatened.

Stripping women of their right to an abortion, to have access to family planning services, to be treated as a second class person that the state holds dominion over is beyond outrageous. What is before us is a choice to either abandon this experiment in self governance and descend into the hell that the Republican authoritarians seek— or we recommit to the work of building a more perfect union— there is not a second to waste.

One hell of a week—

Seattle’s Wet Spring

Needing a dose of the kid I hopped a flight on Southwest from Oakland to Seattle for the weekend. Here’s her new condo on Capitol Hill. Never done but always organized. This is not something she got from her dad.

And we are going out to the West Seattle Garage Sale Weekend

Last night we ate at Blotto. Lucky for me they had vegan pizza. Joint was the inspiration of Cal and Jordan sour dough obsessed pie makers. Ate outside, crowd was mostly masked. This is a to die for hole in the wall on Capitol Hill. They launched during the pandemic to rave reviews. Life is still possible and pizza you will not soon forget too.

Snow capped Volcano while winging north

Last weeks return from the Southwest ruins tour hasn’t prepared this dad for the coldest May on record in Seattle. Oh, well, I got a warmhearted kid.

Avion travel trailer

Nomads will be pleased to view this beauty. A rare petite Avion ready for duty. I want one.

Caturday

And finally this is a cat Lee Ross has been taking care of. This is Sally’s cat but there’ve been some logistical moves and to cool the cat down she’s hanging out at Lee’s place. Lovely little feline.

The Promised Land

The speed of life appears to accelerate as our short teeth grow long. Digital social media surfing tends to be a frothy mix of astounding crimes against humanity supplanted by the banal failings of a professional dog walker caught skipping out on the excrement pickup duties that come with this vocation.

Climate related catastrophes are grabbing the headlines with an ever-increasing frequency.

Viaducts as pathway to citizenship

I mention wildfire and most people I know will launch into how they’ve installed air filters, purchased emergency generators, cut back their trees and brush or have had either their homeowner’s insurance premiums increased or canceled altogether.

Drought awareness is spotty. If you’ve had your irrigation allocations cut, you are all to painfully aware of the consequences of the persistent drought patterns that shadow your best laid plans.

Just a few weeks ago Abbotsford, British Columbia was hit with flooding, all hell broke out and they received a month’s worth of torrential rains over two days that wiped away five bridges and twenty sections of roadway vital to getting supplies from the coast to the interior of this rugged diamond of a province in Canada.

This last June the entire town of Lytton, British Columbia in the grip of a record-breaking heatwave caught fire and burned most of the town to the ground.

Engineers have for a century been trying to plumb California

Hurricane Ida a Category-4 storm first lashed Louisiana with wind and rain then spun north and east wreaking havoc upon New Jersey inundating Newark with over 8 inches of record-breaking rainfall. When something has never happened before perhaps it is time to give these events a second look, ask a few questions, make some assessments, consider your options. You know wake up and get about the business of fixing things before things fix you.

The colossal rare for December 200-hundred-mile-long tornado that cut a path across Kentucky this past weekend has the telltale signs of a climate change induced event. It’s become imprecise to describe such catastrophic events as a natural disaster given the scientifically proven effects our releasing gigatons of carbon dioxide is having on our planet. Appears our fingerprints are all over these weather events.

Allstate changing advertising agencies in 2020 seems to have retired the character playing Mayhem from their ad campaigns. In midst of a global pandemic and under lockdown, washing hands, wearing masks while 100’s of thousands are killed by a virulent pathogen might make this change in campaigns an appropriate inflection point to regroup, rebrand and reconsider what hazard coverage you might wish or not wish to cover. Seems obvious in light of events.

If you read my postings, you’ll see I keep picking at my concerns about whether we can continue to govern and keep the wheels on our civilization rolling in the face of such daunting problems.

Working dirt, seed, sunlight and water

In California’s San Joaquin Valley just west of Fresno lies the Westlands Water District. If you are a politician, you cross the drought intolerant Westland mega millionaire farmers at your own peril. Enter stage right the California State Water Board announcing on December 1, 2021, that it is “Zero Day” for much of California’s agricultural industry. All the dam building, aqueduct constructing, ditch digging, well drilling and cloud seeding isn’t going to get the Westlands Water District one more drop of water.

If you are heading up Interstate 5 from LA, the Westlands Water District of Fresno and Kings County runs parallel with the highway from Kettleman City north 90 miles to Mercy Hot Springs Road. This farmland is made possible entirely by irrigation and without it the land would be all tumbleweed, dry wash, and dust devils. This is 600,000 acres─ the largest irrigation district in the United States, land that is worked by 600 subsidized farms that could not exist had the Federal government followed their own science and surveys and declined to put into production this portion of the San Joaquin Valley.

San Joaquin River heading to California Aqueduct then pumped south

 In 1992 the Central Valley Project Improvement Act was passed. “This comprehensive legislation initiated water contract reforms, raised prices for water, established a fund financed by farmers to correct past environmental damage, promoted fish and wildlife restoration, and mandated a wide range of other reforms.” The Westlands Water District has fought this legislation at every turn, tooth and nail, tong and hammer.

What we’ve got here is our own version of Vietnam or Afghanistan, a water war with no end. Every time we say the jig is up the Westland Water District returns with another proposal to prop up their district by pumping yet more state and federal government funded water into their district. Time has run out and enough is enough. Whatever is in store for the Westlands Water District’s ought to be on their dime. Let them build the facilities to store the water, deliver it to their lands and drain it off of their fields, mitigate the pollution and remedy the salt and toxins that are wreaking devastation on the region’s wildlife.

Out here in the American West the megadrought continues to tighten its grip. A century ago, in our historically anomalous cooler and wetter era it appeared we might engineer our water resources into an unending bounty of agricultural abundance. Instead, we lavished water we no longer have on a group of too rich for their own britches farmers who have not a lick of tolerance for the drought that’s got the region by the throat.

Farms of yesterday are today not this

Devin Nunes represents portions of both Fresno and King County. Defending the Westland Water District has been a favorite hyperbolic sport of this ill-suited hack politician now turning to become a social media CEO. His term of art for citizens in California trying to hold over-entitled subsidized millionaire farmers to account is to label them as “radical environmental activists.” This is what I call kick-down and kiss-up rhetoric. Like Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives you owe your political career to the government subsidized constituents that can make or break you should you forget who you are working for and cross them by even one precious drop of water.

Growing population in competition for finite resources-water is one

I’ve never been inclined to building a life based on my receiving near free water so that I could grow Department of Agriculture crop subsidized commodities that fully guarantee whatever may come that I’ll be living higher than the other 99% of the nearby county citizens. That’s not a square deal, feels more like wheeling and dealing terms. Then, when it comes time to pay your fair share, to give some portion of your taxpayer paid largess back to help with all this nation is responsible for doing, that instead you fund political campaigns dedicated to lowering your taxes, reducing regulations, and worse still things have now spiraled so far out of control that a good many on your side of the isle have shown up in Washington on January 6th to commit sedition and topple democracy. It is a sad state of affairs when our tax dollars have been sent to such a place and instead of gratitude, instead of appreciation, these investments have bred only contempt for our government and cultivated a fool’s alliance with the growing threat to our nation’s stability.

Heart shaped soul of food

Anyone and everyone knows Republicans have not one care for a smaller government, they want a more focused and constituency targeted government, one that serves the people that put them in office, and if that means reducing services and cutting programs for those citizens that don’t live in the Westlands Water District then that’s just fine and dandy, they’ll never vote for their party anyway.

Part of what is dangerous in this moment is that a whole lot of overcompensated agricultural interests no matter how much lobbying they might do can’t come up with the water that’s gone missing in this climate emergency and being rock-ribbed-science-denying partisans that they are they haven’t the least bit of interest in doing their part to live within their water budget means. That’s not their problem, they are water nobility, they think they are the creators of the abundance the nation enjoys.

Against all odds the good things in life and democracy will persist

It’s time we walk these subsidies back, send in teachers to the region, provide government sponsored civics lessons on how it is we’ve come to the point where you can no longer promise to be part of the solution to our problems the nation confronts, but instead are ready to make the climate emergency we face that much more dangerous and the government we all depend upon that much more unstable. That’s what we have here friends, “what we have here, is a failure to communicate.” Saddle up, we’ve work to do and a nation to build.

Gila River of Changes

Over the last twenty thousand years ancient man─ North America’s first people─ established settlements across the desert Southwest. They were the Yuma, Pima, Papago, Zuni, the Pueblo, the Navajo, and Apache. There are over 570 distinct tribes across the United States. More recently in the last 2000 years one such group, the Hohokam farmed the Gila River Valley. Marcos de Niza, an ambitious Franciscan friar in 1529 boldly claimed these territories for Spain. Arizona was a remote and difficult terrain to travel through. Before 1850 few pioneers had attempted to settle this region, by 1912 Arizona was granted statehood, there were 217,000 hot and thirsty new US citizens.

Raod crossing Aravaipa Creek

Water rights were grandfathered in, stakeholders divvied up the resources, in the earliest years water rights were granted in an odd first right of use method, even if the use made no sense. In 1902 at John Wesley Powell’s urging the Bureau of Reclamation was formed in Washington and to be followed in 1980 by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. At present the agencies are struggling to keep up with the fast-moving global atmospheric changes. Even today given how hot tempers can run, to book a face-to-face appointment with an official from the Department of Water Resources you’ll need to state your business and identify who you are before being let into the building.

Then came this new century and with it this relentless twenty-year drought, drought, and more drought. Here we are in the midst of a climate emergency, with it come significant changes in precipitation patterns, hotter and dryer weather, add to all of that a swelling population, and the prospect of untangling this steaming hot mess of water shortages in court, this collision between the water have’s and the have-nots has brought us to the mother of all showdowns.

Arizona farmhouse

When you are in climate chaos, where water cutbacks are ordered, and you can’t─ you won’t comply, you’ve got seeds in the ground and your last dollar is at risk, your last shred of hope is hanging by a sunbeam, even with all that, sorry to say trouble is going to come find you.

Until now it has seemed reasonable here in the Gila River Valley to punch an extra well or two, maybe divert some water running in a channel, nobody is going to notice a little runoff, even if it is common knowledge an unauthorized diversion is straight up considered thieving and stealing. Some handful have a legal right to draw a certain amount of water, hardly anyone has an unrestricted right.

Farms and ranches are in a corner. Trouble will soon find the water grabbers, the trouble makers will find they’ve attracted a sheriff and the officer will come and padlock the gates to the irrigation canals shut, power company will cut electricity to the offending well pumps, one way or another if you cannot prove a right to the water you are going to be shutdown. You cut the lock, you hook a generator up to a well pump and a judge will be hold you in contempt, throw you in jail, and send your youngest born off to be educated at a local liberal university.

The Gila turns to the north and continues west where it enters the San Carlos Apache Reservation. The sovereign territory measures 1.8 million acres. It encompasses parts of three different Arizona counties and these sovereign lands as all other tribal lands were established by congressionally ratified treaties and at the time of their signing in 1868, were deemed irrevocable, and eternal. The Supreme Court has found that neither a President nor Congress can terminate these treaties. What comes to mind is the internment of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims by the Chinese. Whatever other awful conduct we might witness here in the United States abrogating a treaty with our sovereign tribes would be viewed by the world as a crime against humanity.

Sabino Creek

By 1935 the San Carlos Apache had to go to court over a dispute with the Gila River Irrigation District. “Despite the construction of Coolidge Dam and the attempt to use the storage capability of San Carlos Reservoir to satisfy all parties, the flow of the Gila River is nowhere near sufficient to fulfill all the rights adjudicated in the Globe Equity Decree. The Federal Court found that the Apache have the senior most rights that extend from Coolidge Reservoir and then east 140 miles to the headwaters of the Gila River in New Mexico. Farmers and ranchers’ members of the Gila River Irrigation District were overusing their water allotments leaving the Apache insufficient resources for their homeland. And there’s the rub, this isn’t just codified in law, it is as Al Gore might say, “this is the inconvenient truth.”

Recent action, in 2019, the tribe has been back in Federal Court fighting against with the excessive upriver water users. Water rights are nothing if not enforced.

To understand the problem let’s link the Department of Agriculture’s cotton subsidies to the water shortage. The Federal farm cotton subsidies line the pockets of a select lucky few farmers, the surplus cotton then brings all kinds of dislocation to foreign markets, fuel trade conflicts and cause every kind of economic, environmental and political problems. There are about 8100 cotton farmers in the United States, Arizona accounts for about 1000 producers. The only reason they are growing cotton is because it is subsidized, without this incentive the producers would immediately shutdown, USA grown cotton is not competitive on the global market.

Central Arizona Project delivers Colorado River water to cotton field

Between 1995 and 2020 the Department of Agriculture disbursed $40 billion to US cotton growers with a significant share of those funds ending up in the pockets of Gila River Valley producers in and around Safford, Arizona. The subsidy among other things incentivizes producers to plant on marginal land, and then grow the subsidized cotton with subsidized water, even in the midst of a megadrought, even though everyone knows that the crop isn’t even destined for domestic markets but instead will be sold to foreign markets. In other words, seven million Arizona citizens are involuntarily having their states water, water that belongs to all the citizens, that piece of the commons is being sucked out from under them by about 1000 producers that grow an unprofitable crop that the producers ship overseas knowing full well there is not a sufficient demand for cotton on the world market, or enough water to meet the needs of a growing state population.

In Arizona the water scarcity problem is severe, it is an emergency, it is threatening the collapse of key sectors of the economy. But agriculture isn’t just powerful, it is invincible, tends to vote to the right of the political spectrum but will vaporize any politician no matter the stripes that dares to untangle this out-of-control program. One point of view has it that to keep a lid on the peace it is better to go along than get in the way of this irrational farm program. Another point of view worries about the chaos mismanaging the water resources could have on the entire project called civilization. Everyone knows this is an incendiary issue, that the rural communities could not just lose their economic base, but they could become so radicalized that the agricultural regions of the state could be virtually ungovernable, that the circumstances could foment a collapse of what we know as regular order, that both the state and nation could be threatened. It really is that dire.

There are no profiles in courage in Arizona. Governor Doug Ducey has nothing to say, all the office holders know better and stay the hell back and let the courts take the heat.

Hay, alfalfa and cotton growers need a good dose of water scarcity regulation. None of the farms would make any kind of sense without the Bureau of Reclamations surrendering cheap to almost free water to the growers. The near free irrevocable access to water has only made matters worse, and not the least of it because the water is revocable, and a day of reckoning is near.

Department of Agriculture could facilitate selling and shipping out cotton farm equipment to more water abundant regions like east to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi for starters. Immigration reform would include increasing the number of farmworkers allowed into the country to handle the new food production.

Plant based meatless meat products like Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat are scaling up to meet demand and depend on soy, corn and other crops to manufacture their products. Emerging from research and development is another new industry that is producing real meat in the laboratory─ it’s called lab meat. Competitive production costs are approaching par with conventional meat and within a few years you’ll begin to see beef, pork and salmon products in our grocery stores and restaurants synthesized by this remarkable advanced technology. Salmon and chicken grown in the lab will begin distribution in Northern California in early 2022.

Ajo sunrise…

The future is now, and it is arriving just as this megadrought is about to force its reckoning upon the stubborn lucky few water users. Scaling lab meat up in Arizona to meet consumer demand would be the smartest thing a community like Safford, Arizona could do. Add to this the benefit that this type of meat uses 90% less water and 90% less land and you’ve got opportunity running smack dab into feasibility. Remember factory farming livestock risks triggering the release of dangerous pathogens some that can become a threat to all of humanity such as has happened with Swine flu and Covid-19. Lab meat will require no antibiotics and so far, is proving to be one of the safest most efficient methods of production. I know, I know─ but does it taste good? Will consumers eat laboratory meat? So far so good. Most who have sampled Upside Foods based in Emeryville, California describe the product as delicious and indistinguishable from any conventional chicken they’ve tasted. There is no time or water to waste.

In the months ahead, they will scale their production facilities and go from 50,000 lbs. to 500,000 lbs. Fortunately laboratory meat eliminates the need to slaughter animals. Arizona’s cotton addicted farmers could convert fields to grains that laboratory meat uses and then set up Gila River Valley laboratory meat growing facilities to create jobs and opportunities for the state’s citizens. That’s how you respond to a global climate emergency, that’s how we introduce new products, safer, cleaner, more efficient products to a thriving nation of consumers.

There is every sign that we have the technology and know how to fix a broken climate system. Like it or not our coal fired power plants will be shuttered. The day of the internal combustion engine is ending. Natural gas furnaces are going to be replaced with electric powered heat pumps. If you’ve been on the free lunch, subsidy and price support bandwagon it isn’t like we are going to ditch you, we need you, and we can build a better new food production, transportation, and electric power system to meet the challenges we face in this exciting new century with the farmers and ranchers cooperation.

Sanford, Arizona citizens need our help, change is never easy, even when it is necessary. Witness the revolution taking place in transportation sector. Just three new automobile companies—Tesla, Rivian and Lucid are worth more than all the other auto manufacturers in the world combined. We’re at a critical tipping point, revamping our food system, reallocating water resources, all of these changes are part of our efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and to build a more resilient energy and food system. Time to stop building walls and it is time to start building a technological bridge to this new century.