22 Jan 2009

The End of the Western Population Boom?

[Warning! Feisty post today. This Mississippi thing pisses me off!]

Phoenix is losing people from a slowing economy -- not because of water shortages.

When will scarce water slow or reverse growth in dry places? I don't think it ever will -- mainly because there is so much slack in the system. Many crops are grown in dry places, and many urbanites have irrigated lawns. Even assuming that environmental water demand is met, potential reductions in these uses should leave plenty of water for city dwellers. Of course, their environment will get hotter and dustier (more and more with global warming), so they may not be happy with more sweat, sunburn and asthma.

It's interesting to me that the water manager most-closely identified with "endless" growth is sounding more and more, uh, unbalanced with her "solutions" to the fall in supply and rise in demand. Pat Mulroy's defense of the status quo (same sprawling lifestyle PLUS more growth) requires that more water be brought from less appealing places.

Although her support for importing water from Mexico sounds pretty silly, I think her idea of piping water from the Mississippi is batshit crazy. (I don't bestow this title lightly -- she's competing with Jeff Sachs here!)
The general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said now may be the time to take a serious look at a decades-old idea of capturing floodwater from the Mississippi River and using it to recharge the massive groundwater aquifer beneath the Central Plains.

In terms of jobs and investment, the project would dwarf the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams, and some believe it could secure the future water supply for a vast swath of the Midwest and West, including Nevada and six other states that share the Colorado River.
Oh -- did you say "Green Jobs"? Oh good -- that would make this stupid idea much more acceptable!

[Aside: Hoover Dam was supposed to secure water for the parched West and provide employment during the Depression. It was actually built to bring more electricity to LA; the water was dumped in Southern California at subsidized prices -- contributing to both sprawl and unsustainable population growth. Read Sections 3.2 and 3.3 of my dissertation.]

Frankly, I'd rather see that kind of money spent on replacing every lawn and pool in the Southwest with local landscaping. Yeah, demand destruction!

[Of course, the real solution is to raise water prices at the retail level and auction water among sectors at the wholesale level.]

Mulroy concludes with a stirring invocation of FUD: "Mark my words. Unless we do something considered outrageous by today's standards, the West is going to run dry."

No Pat. The West IS dry. Now is the time to recognize that fact and end the Vegas delusion.

[This discussion will be continued -- and solved(?) tomorrow.]

Bottom Line: People who live in a desert should live a desert lifestyle within the constraints of the desert water supply. To do otherwise is to damage the quality of life, business patterns and the environment elsewhere.