May 2005

Water, water everywhere? Not in the West!

By Galen Larson

I just returned from a 1,600-mile journey through Arizona and Utah and am sad to report a crisis is looming on our horizon. Every restaurant I stopped in required that you ask for a glass of water before you got one. But as I gazed out the windows of these eateries across the deserts, mountains or woodlands, I saw enormous houses rising everywhere, ensuring the consumption of an additional 9500 gallons of water per household per month. (That doesn’t count the car-washing and lawn-tending.) Was anyone concerned? I found no one. I had to ask for an 8-ounce glass of water but when I asked the servers what they thought of the building explosion, I got shrugs.

We can survive without environmentally destroying petroleum products, but not without water. As the old adage goes, three minutes without air, three days without water, 30 days without food. (Of course, three days without water would make 30 days without food moot.)

For those who are bemoaning the price of gasoline (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hit $5 per gallon this summer), imagine what the cry will be when the industrial moguls get control of the water supply. Can’t happen? I refer you to the water grab of the 1820s in the Owens Valley in California. Once a natural agricultural oasis, it is now a dried-up desert with all its water having been stolen by southern California.

The powers that be are already training us to accept the idea of buying water bottle by bottle, extolling its virtue for health reasons. They don’t mention that without water your health would be secondary. I guess the up side is that, without water, we won’t have to be concerned about abortion, health care or Social Security any more. Speaking of Social Security, Boy George dashes around the country saying the sky is falling for the system, that it will be out of funds in 36, 50, or however many years, but we can fix that. We can make Social Security solvent. But no one I know of can create water, H20, liquid life, in any economically feasible way.

In exploring Mars we have found that it is a wasteland because there is no surface water. It should be clear after five years of drought in the West, not even Nature can cope without water. We have lost millions of trees because of bark beetles that wouldn’t have been able to make inroads if the trees hadn’t been so dry.

Nature is a hard taskmaster. Knowledgeable people work with her, not against her. But we cannot rely on our lobbyist-influenced elected officials to do the right thing. It is up to us to make the demands and give up some of our luxuries in order to leave a legacy to our heirs.

Congress took time out to address the problem of steroids in baseball players, but I don’t see them convening about the impending shortage of water. It is mentioned occasionally in small articles or by politicians only if it affects their home turf. The people who do see the crisis coming are buying up water shares from Canada to Mexico, calling themselves water brokers in the business of controlling enormous quantities of water.

John Wesley Powell, one of the first white men to explore the West, who braved the mighty Colorado in oldfashioned boats, told President Grant that this area was uninhabitable because there wasn’t enough water to sustain life. Through dam-building technology we have tried to prove him wrong, but in the end we may just have proven how stupid we are by bringing more people to the West than it can support.

Two of our state legislators recently stated that Denver will double in size in 20 years. They are proposing a “slab” toll road to handle the extra traffic, as if traffic would be the biggest problem.

The real question is, where is the water to come from to support this growth? The answer: It will have to be taken from the farmers and ranchers. This creates a domino effect. If you can’t farm or ranch, you sell the land to developers, thus increasing the demand for water, clean air, paved roads.

The capitalistic system, based entirely on greed and waste, is about to hit the wall. Technology cannot save us forever. Necessity is the mother of invention, but we can’t necessarily invent our way out of this problem.

Until we get our population boom under control, we will face the prospect of a West that is going to become uninhabitable. I’m not advocating the end of midnight gymnastics, but curtail the Pope’s quest for easy gold – use birth control. Without the pitter-patter of life-giving rain we won’t be able to sustain the pitter-patter of little feet.

Galen Larson is a Montezuma County landowner.