Books · Screenplay

Arizona’s Water Grabbers—

Cochise County is a chunk of Arizona where I have whiled away time. Hot springs, winemakers and bohemian high desert dwellers are all here. Then, there are the predators— every kind in every guise— coyote, puma and red tail hawks are here. Then there are the corporate dairy operators, they arrive with well drillers, these are the money is no object drill deeper well drilling dairy interests that have with heavy hands invaded this delicate region of Southern Arizona. 

Running on out to survey the land

Certain water user types like to pretend that the regions high desert vineyards require the same volume of water a dairy operator needs. Growing grapes in Arizona’s high desert is in fact not water intensive, it is an ideal crop to water by the method of a miserly drip irrigation system.  By contrast dairy operators require boundless amounts of water for their operations.

A region of Cochise County that is known as the Kentucky Settlements has been overrun by an out of state dairy conglomerate that landed here and began punching wells like there is no tomorrow— we’re talking over 600 wells. Nearby county small farmers act as a smokescreen, the idea is to throw the misinformed citizens off the scent, conflate an operator that uses almost no water to an operator that uses almost all the water. 

Big dairy operations will run multiple wells day in and day out at 35 gallons per minute all day long, twenty-four hours a day, all year long. You turn on 600 irrigation well pumps and run them all day every day year in and year out and we are talking about the collapse of the regions underground water resources.

Boastful but close enough for true

Cochise County seat is in Bisbee, Arizona. The town is located furtherest to the south along the Mexican frontier. Nearby Douglas is situated to the east in a valley below right on the border. If you are sick to death of sweltering in Tucson you come up into the mountains and visit Bisbee, some rent a place others buy a second home here.

While Douglas is predominately Mexican American it is Bisbee’s population that attracts misfits. Art and craft types that follow the festival circuit call Bisbee home. Talented baristas, bartenders, waitresses and tourist shop clerks scratch out their livelihoods here. Airbnb helps give folk here an extra way to make a buck. The types that come to Bisbee as a rule can’t cut it in Wilcox, it’s an emotional thing, and social, Wilcox is too straight, Bisbee is still running wild. The two types found most common here are the young and the offbeat older spirits still clinging to their youthful wild spirited ways.

The United States Army’s Intelligence school is west in nearby Sierra Vista and Huachuca City. The wild west’s Tombstone is here. Once you find Sunizona you are getting mighty close to where much of the misguided water grabbing is taking place. Further to the east are the Chiricahua’s, much is wilderness, most of the rest consists of small villages and settlements. Bird hunting in the Dragoons is popular. The region is a magnet for winter visitors coming here to explore during the cooler months of the year.

Water tanks gravity feed nearby ranch house and cowboy bunking quarters

Cochise County’s population sits at about 125,000. That’s not much. Their brand of politics tends to run hot, plenty here fashion themselves independents, tend to be in sympathy with libertarians, and want to be left alone. That doesn’t describe citizens in Bisbee, they’re all those other kinds and flavors of people. It’s down here where citizens gathered signatures and qualified an initiative to regulate groundwater in the county. The active water management area was passed fair and square down along the border and didn’t pass north in nearby Wilcox. 

There are at least two underground aquifers in this region. The aquifer to the south is now a protected active managed water area and is going to be regulate, groundwater and the citizens to the north voted down the initiative and there is every reason to worry about the aquifers complete collapse. Money poured in opposition to the initiative from across the United States and likely foreign interests illegally meddled in the election as well. 

Low tech last century energy saving water pump device— windmill

Cochise County was the sole holdout in Arizona’s November’s gubinatorial election and refused to certify the results until by court order they buckled under. Kari Lake sympathizers are cheek to jowl down here and probably not more than a few thousand tried stirring up trouble. Once threatened with jail election officials sobered up and performed their duties. 

Let’s say you move down to Cochise County and purchase some acreage. You’ll put in a water well, build out a septic system, put up a place to call home and you are set to live a life rife with rattlesnakes, scorpions and disaffected Kari Lake sympathizers. Residential water well users tend to use smaller sized well pipes and less powerful pumps. Commercial operations punch deeper wells, they punch more wells and use most of the water. Citizens on fixed incomes find they have to have their wells punched deeper to keep up with the draw down, where a commercial operator sees a deeper well as a line item on an operating statement, the residential user sees having to spend $10 to $30 thousand dollars as a deal breaker. Once you lose your access to water on your 5 acres of desert paradise your land is now worthless, you’ll have to haul water in while you figure out where in the hell you can go next.

Across the American West all the state water resource agencies are only now beginning to put into law regulations that control the use of groundwater. Five areas in Arizona have any groundwater restrictions at all, most of the rest remains unregulated. Any hope of getting the groundwater protected fall to the county initiative process, chances are zero that the state legislature could pass regulations, special interests whip the vote to see that won’t happen.

California’s solution has a certain political elegance to its method. Pass the legislation necessary to get a grip on the overuse of groundwater but then set a multiple decade’s timetable to the rollout of the new rules. By 2040 every commercial well in California will have a meter, the amount of water that can be pumped will be set based upon how much water there is in the aquifer. If regulators find a given aquifer is being drawn down the regions pumps will be forced to use less or none at all. Best of all the politicians that passed the legislation a decade ago will be out of office and escape the wrath of big agriculture. Word has it if you pump long and hard enough chances are you’ll pump up the remains of one of those no good water regulating politicians that ended your free lunch decades back.

The seven western states that use Colorado River water are trying to voluntarily find four-million-acre feet of water that instead of being used will be voluntarily given back to the river. No state has been able to find more than a few hundred-thousand-acre feet of water that they can afford to give back. Regulators trying to compel a voluntary solution trying to avoid having to issue mandatory cutbacks. 

Your looking at him— he’s in Bisbee where he belongs and fits in

The American West is short of the water needed to maintain business as usual. On one level there is the threat of having your allotment of river water cut. If you are a farm that means the jig is up, fold your tent and hand the keys to your farmhouse back to the bank. That’s what taking acreage out of production looks like, certainly not a happy ending. The more catastrophic scenarios hit home when an entire aquifer collapses and many thousands of farms and rural residential operations simply have no more water left in the ground to bring up and use to support their lives and livelihoods. When the northernmost section of Cochise County’s aquifer is pumped dry, some speculate it could happen anytime between now and 2070 the region will be rendered uninhabitable, and that’s not a problem politics can do anything about. Once we hit that marker, we’ve entered the lifeboat moment in the climate crisis. 

Where I sit in Northern California today there is a major Pacific storm about to clobber us with drenching rain and heavy snow. Water resource managers have already said that while we need this rain, and it will be a lot of rain, it will not in and of itself be enough to end the 23 year long drought this region has suffered. More rain helps but water resources remain tight and that’s now the permanent circumstance we face as our world’s climate shifts.  

Books

fixing leaky faucets

Lake Shasta April 2020

A Wall Street hedge fund has sent a posse of potato farming water grabbers out to Winnemucca, Nevada. Water Asset Management was formed in 2005 and is in the business of using water as a for profit investment vehicle.

Access to drinking water is a universally recognized human right. Defending this right and winning this argument at the United Nations was the tenacious Canadian activist Maude Barlow. Drinking water should never be bought, sold, bartered, or privatized. Deeded water rights to underground water shouldn’t be pumped out from underneath one community then piped far off to another wealthier place.

We’re in for a real brawl out here in the American West. For starters we already don’t have enough water. Now we’ve got more people, a growing population and they all arrive at the negotiating table believing they have the best ideas for how to use what little water there is. Water Asset Management is buying up land explicitly for access to the water rights deeded to the purchased properties.

Commercial and Recreational Fishing

What does our water future look like? For starters financializing deeded water rights is turning our common resource into a privatized water grabbing for profit scam. After urban water users’ rates get jacked up you can bet the farm lobby will go seek new water subsidies to offset the higher cost of production. Once consumers start squealing about how much a half gallon of milk has gone up, how expensive a loaf of bread has become, why every politician beholden to Big Ag will be lining up to make water cheaper for farms and ranches while sticking the bill to the urban taxpayers.

From the BBC, Marsha Daughenbaugh, 68, of Steamboat Springs wedge issues agricultures priority access to water use, “Ranching is not only an economic base for us, it’s a way of life.”

What does that mean? In 1994 a telephone operator in New Jersey was practicing a way of life until AT&T cut 20,000 jobs. Telephone operators would have had a better shot at keeping their way of life if they’d been saddled up and sitting on a horse while they were doing their telecommunication’s work.

Look we already have all the dams we’ll ever need, but we can’t finesse our way around a drought and expect to fill old or new reservoirs with water that doesn’t exist. The solution to fixing this mess is not complicated, everyone is going to have to use less water. That’s the new way of life barreling down on every enterprise and individual living West of the Pecos.  

Swallows playing in the Delta breeze

Due to overallocations up and down and all along the Colorado River a hands-on realistic water use plan will be needed for California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Utah is going to be a more petulant childlike player on account of their whole humankind’s dominion over earth delusions, but we’ll set their fundamentalism aside for the moment.

Alfalfa and cotton farming needs to be relocated east where there is sufficient supplies of water. More crops need to end up on our supper tables. Eggplant, squash, watermelon, pineapples, strawberries, onions, spinach, carrots, lettuce, and tomatoes all use less water and are not just suitable for human consumption these fresh vegetables are healthier for both people and the planet.  

Stanford Law School’s award-winning Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Program is training lawyers in the byzantine area of water law. As it sits right now outlawing alfalfa farming is illegal. Allocations are based strictly on whether there is or isn’t any water. There are rules about how to use the water but there are no rules about what to grow with the water. Water law is a tangled-up snake pit of economically threatened special interests.

Even if I can tell you cotton and alfalfa need to be shutdown, it is one hell of a long way further to settling that hornet’s nest of a mess in court with an enforceable decision, but that day is coming, and it will be arriving sooner than the water grabbers might have imagined.

In California pumping water from aquifers is undergoing a thorough rethink. This is known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Passed in 2014, agencies had until 2020 to file their plans to make groundwater resources sustainable by 2040. Those plans are subject to review and by political career ending loophole to be reassessed every five years.

Right now, a Limited Liability Company in Napa County can pump scarce and ancient groundwater, grow grapes then export the wine to foreign markets while stashing their profits offshore at a post office box known as a Caribbean tax haven. In other words we are a long way from a glidepath to sustainability.

California Water Alliance wants more water diverted from the Delta then piped to their members further south in the San Joaquin Valley. They almost pulled it off, but the courts stopped the water heist before the former administration could do further harm. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley Delta “is the most valuable estuary and wetland ecosystem on the west coast of North and South America and is the hub of California’s water delivery system.” Without the Delta there is no such thing as California.

Fishermen dependent on the salmon that would no longer be able to find suitable spawning grounds, which is a polite term for going extinct. Farmers running short of water do not care one whit about what happens to salmon in Northern California, that is not their problem.

In dryer and warmer low rainfall years farms need to be fallowed then put back into production in years when there is sufficient water. A real greenwashed-Astroturfing lobby group the California Water Alliance won’t have it and if diverting Delta water means driving salmon to the brink that’s just somebody else’s radical environmental activism hurting the economy.

Whether a citizen fishes or farms for their living both laudable enterprises but diverting water and then driving fish and fishermen to extinction and bankruptcy because you want to grow more subsidized cotton is a tragedy wrapped in a self-inflicted existential disaster.

None of this is ours to keep, it is ours to pass along to future generations. If while we continue to grow our economy and we were to decide salmon are expendable, then we’ve in some toxicologically bizarre way just admitted that we are expendable nothing is worth saving, except for holding onto the power to choose. Extinction events are not reserved for the unlucky few, man’s rapacious nature contains the seeds of self-destruction.

Largest system of dikes in the United States

In 2019 a misguided Federal cabinet member unilaterally ordered scarce water to be diverted from the Delta to farmers further south. Courts in Fresno halted the illegal diversion.

“This water grab was led by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former lobbyist and counsel for the Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the Central Valley and a significant beneficiary of the weakened biological opinions.” The weakening was done under the cloak of anti-science activists in the former administration.

For now, there is an uneasy stalemate and with the inexorable increasing temperatures and ever decreasing moisture levels in the soils of the American West. Urban areas are about to fight tooth and nail, from one farm field to the next over ever more scarce water. The drought is on and our water wars are only going to get worse. As the announcer says, “let’s get ready to rumble…”

Books · Performances

operating manual to the future

Last Show the Last Day in Grand Prairie

For the past two decades Grand Prairie has been a notable stop while out playing the Canadian festival circuit. Sixty-three thousand make their home tucked up against the Rockies where a boundless prairie hits its westernmost edge. Further south a favorite hot spring, Miette in Jasper National Park beckons after a month of shows. I do love getting myself into hot water.

 Grand Prairie is located come boom or bust on two of the largest oil and gas plays in North America, the Montney and Duvernay basins. You want to play politician in this region then you are immediately sucked into the commodities market. The price of rapeseed, pulp timber, and natural gas are the leading indicators of your political viability polls.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau somehow (take that America) passed a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade type arrangement, promising to disburse the funds back to the nation’s taxpayers. There’s a lot of moaning, groaning, finger pointing, blame gaming and outright calls from the prairie provinces for secession, this one named after a bunny rabbit, a Wexit. The alleged unfairness of this taxation has sparked outrage among a handful of hotheaded Albertans they echo the same sentiments of some yahoo types down in Wyoming.

The Carbon Tax Hat Trick

Circumstances remain much the same for Wyoming and Alberta.  Nobody wants to be the fool politician who advocates for exiting from the fossil fuel business. Trudeau isn’t saying he wants to exit, he’s just capping and trading, hoping the price signal will wink-wink, nod-nod its way down in value while renewable technologies and other more tenable business opportunities emerge.

Politics being the art of the possible and not the perfect kind only got half a loaf on this cap-and-trade tax. I’d have urged Ottawa, hell I’d urge Washington to put a tax on fossil fuels and instead of rebating this tax to every voter across the fruited plain instead target the revenues to the communities that are getting hammered by the changes. Targeting is the operative concept here, if you work in Midland this doesn’t go lost on you.

Fearless Spectator in Hot Water

Instead, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney has been fighting to get his province’s fossil fuels pumped to Houston through the on again-off again XL Keystone Pipeline. Fighting to keep the fossil fuels flowing Kenney has run off into the wilds of wonderland issuing a report grounded in climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda. The Oglala Lakota Water Protectors have found our new President Biden joining their fight in the neverending eternal work of keeping their peoples water pure and safe.

Wyoming don’t you worry about coming in second place in the smear and fear game, try this on for size, there is “a new breed of zealots less interested in saving Planet Earth than in destroying the capitalist system.” 

Having suffered a fresh bout of insurrection down here in the lower forty-eight I’m urging the loyal good natured hosts in Alberta to stay calm as tyranny and revolution are overrated.  

Street Show in Sexsmith near GP

One man’s gridlock is seen by another man to be obstruction. In Page, Arizona the Navajo with coal power becoming uncompetitive took the decision to shut down the reservations coal powered generation station. Hundreds of Navajo are out of work, the coal mine that supplied the fuel for the station contaminated their groundwater, and there is no help from Washington on its way. Seventy-five more uncontrolled coal powered generating station shutdowns scattered across the nation are going to inject their economic turbulence into the venomous politics of our present moment.

Touring across Canada and the United States I have done shows among all the various impacted communities. My most recent visit to Grand Prairie was in July 2019. I have played the Navajo Nations schools and libraries many times, the most recent in 2016. I can’t speak for these people, but I can feel for them, and support their effort to create jobs, grow opportunities for their children, help enable a viable self-sufficiency, not neglect, not ignoring their problems, but opening doors to the 21st centuries renewable energy system.

One of 75 Slated to Close

I’m going to Denver this week before I go here’s what I’d recommend. First, when the Navajo Power Generating Station was built in 1970 renewable energy systems were expensive and unproven. Today many remote Navajo living off grid without access to water could get electricity using solar panels, batteries and inverters. The costs remain an obstacle but they’re getting lower and we cannot afford to leave this precious natural resource, our nations first people, behind. Helping nurture our partners sovereign nation will be a boundless blessing. Where to get the funds? A cap-and-trade tax on carbon. Calm down!

How about Alberta? How are we going to figure out how to untangle this hot cowboy hatted mess of commodity addicted Canadians? I’d urge Ottawa to repurpose their carbon tax funds and aim them directly at the people with the most to lose, and that would be the communities hit by the changing energy system.

Working for a Living

Putting whole regions of North America into economic freefall because some politicians have no stomach for helping its workers, because certain partisans can’t stand government using its ability to organize and respond to a crisis, because they can’t utter the much despised three letter word TAX!!!! Not being capable of using our collective power to nurture change isn’t going to get the job done.

I say get on your horse and ride or dismount and handover your spurs. If you don’t have the guts to try we may just need a better posse for the job.

Instead of fighting efforts to rein in climate changing pollutants, maybe start fighting to help your workers transition into the new economy. I’m plenty sure there is no cheap or easy way around this crisis, but there are reality based ways we can respond. Saddle up, time we head this trouble off at the pass.

Books

prepare for Landing

Women of the Oak Savannah’s

November 2015 First Draft

The drumming wafted about baiting the ears of the raccoons looking down from the shroud and canopy. At first it was one, then two, then twenty, the pregnant protectors stood swinging their hips and raising their arms and teasing the flitting moths and nightjars with their fingertips. The spherical silhouettes of swollen bellies and swelling breasts were to glimpse a fleeting gestating succulence, humanities ripest state of being. On and on, eye to eye, one almost ready to burst belly after the other. The women of the oak savannah’s prancing before the ocher flames dancing away the doubts, bonding to the womb and wonder, nature’s anointed soul maker’s kneeling for prayers at the foot of the wooded altar.

Work progresses on my fourth novel. I had to rebuild the end of the novel, I am still filling in final touches, but most is done.

I had put the novel away two years ago. I had nothing to contribute to the work I had done. I hadn’t felt satisfied with the manuscript.

Much of the dialogue required very critical combing through. Lots of shit that doesn’t ring true had to be tossed. Other tossed material more to do with overwriting that needed pulling back.

If you look at the teaser at the top, that is the intensity of prose I have been looking to put into the story. This is at its core a story of the destruction of Napa County by developers and their billionaire clients and the environmental activists opposing them.

Waltham Wristwatch 1958

Fourth novel’s have an even higher hill to climb. I think my third novel is a successful sexual farce. In writing beyond that third novel, writing a fourth dramatic metaphysical soul struggle to preserve and protect the wild hillsides of Napa County requires entire different set of emotional muscles. I have had many failed drafts of chapters that didn’t work. I had to write them over, change them, try something else.

There are a number of outlandish elements in this novel. Some, many or all my readers may find some scenes implausible to simply unbelievable. I’ll give any reader space to make up their own mind. But, the words have been carefully constructed, the quality and effort of every sentence has been examined, revised, changed, studied for continuity, if necessary abandoned altogether.

I’m sending this out to a new reader with a iPad as a PDF file, all of this is copyrighted material. I could use a few more readers if any have the time and energy. After a few scrubbing’s I’ll prep for submission to contests and literary agents. This will not go to Amazon for self publication.

“Talk to me,” her doula urged. “The muse of sperm and egg are here with us. Tell your goddess angel what you want…Let your body speak. Listen to her roar, mother nature’s prying opening the soul-maker’s passageway.”