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May 4, 2004

Posted by Teresa at 12:42 AM * 75 comments

You want to see the ultimate political issue, before which all others give way? The New York Times has a story about it.

Comments on Powell:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 01:00 AM:

[trying to get a guest spot on talk radio]
Obviously, we need to find a way to steal water from Canada and Mexico. Expecting us to change our habits is just playing into the hands of people who hate our freedoms. Only tree-hugging enviro-nazis and scientists trying to scare us to get more grants, would say otherwise.
[/trying to get a guest spot on talk radio]

But seriously: This is one of many issues that simply won't get appropriate attention* until BushCo is out of office. They've fooled people into thinking that throwing one ball up and down is juggling.

* I'm sure the current administration is giving this issue some attention, by shuffling water rights to benefit their big contributors.

#2 ::: Larry B ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 01:08 AM:

I don't think the issue will get real attention until dust starts coming out of people's faucets and lettuce costs $19.95 a pound.

And by then, water will have been fully privatized and we'll be told not to worry, the invisible hand will take care of everything. And the kids dying of thirst, well, I guess they're just not worthy, in a Calvinist sense.

Mark Reisner's Cadillac Desert (the book, not the TV series) provides a good overview of the politics that created the West's water system, and it's a good read too.

Whew, I'm starting to get too cynical. Can we go back to talking about food?

#3 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 02:06 AM:

Stefan Jones: I'm sure the current administration is giving this issue some attention, by shuffling water rights to benefit their big contributors.

Oh, yeah: Klamath Project.

#4 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 07:14 AM:

But Teresa, we don't really know that much about climate, it might not even be a real trend, just like global warming or smoking-related lung cancer - or and this trend could reverse itself really really quickly just like it did before, so why don't we have faith that it will Fix Itself By Magic™ -

(it's so much easier to say things with a straight face while typing)

Or it's a sign that the Rapture is nigh - all those natural disasters, that's what they mean, the floods and droughts and earthquakes -

so in either case, we don't have to do anything!

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 07:40 AM:

This issue won't wait for anyone, and it transcends presidential administrations and party ideologies. Did you notice in the article how various groups with previously unexercised claims to the Colorado runoff have been quietly making sure those rights are still nailed down? The Colorado isn't a huge river in terms of waterflow, but it's the central river for a vast chunk of arid land. Without Colorado water, all those states are going to be looking at farming and grazing and industrial operations, plus a bunch of their towns and cities, that might as well just pack up and call it quits.

Some of that's a sane readjustment to the realities of the terrain. But nobody who's already there and using the water is going to see it that way when it's their ranch or their town that's going without.

#6 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 07:58 AM:

I'm just surprised it's taken so long for the mass media to wake up to this. It's been talked about in Smithsonian and other popular journals for years, the lowering of water tables, the Colorado River - shoot, even the mass media has been aware on a sort of dot - dot - dot level, that drought is a big problem in this country, and it hasn't gotten better over the past few years. It's wierd that only now are the mainstream press connecting the dots and being willing to say something.

Fire season has begun early in CA, they say.

#7 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 08:40 AM:

Stefan, are you sure that is a joke? There always is NAWAPA. Of course, the identity of its biggest supporter these day's doesn't help at all. But it was once a serious proposal.

#8 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 08:42 AM:

Ouch -- I want an additional button on the preview form labeled "Stop the posting process because I just spotted a misspelling."

Maybe in the next version of MT.

#9 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 10:34 AM:

It's all part of the GOP master plan. Melting icecaps, people! They melt and the water runs into Lake Powell. On the way, it puts out fires in Colorado and New Mexico, and it cleans trash out of the Grand Canyon to boot. Moreover, it creates jobs in both the water-directing and water-sopping-up businesses and revives hitherto useless soil in Utah for agriculture.

You've never heard of the trickle-down theory?

#10 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 12:11 PM:

Look ! ANWAR! Iraq! Kerry's medals! Winter Soldier! Clinton! Clinton! Clinton! Kerry is a boring smart guy! Bush is a regular guy! Vote jock, not nerd! Islam is evil but we can't say it in public! Arabs are evil except the ones we prop up as dictators!


#11 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 12:25 PM:

Raised in Utah, where every year we got drought warnings and lawn watering days/hours drilled into us, I'm not terribly surprised at this news. Just the bit where all those years were regarded as a "wet season". I don't remember very much about my years in Phoenix--I was pretty small--but I seem to remember similar climes. Irrigation was a chore we'd help our grandparents with--and everyone knew that Vegas and LA were constantly complaining about the amount of water coming down the Colorado. It's never enough...

It's actually become a bee in my bonnet recently--the population of the West is perilously close to being unable to sustain itself, if it hasn't already passed those lines already.

I want my dad to xeriscape his yard--it's more water friendly. I think I'm going to encourage his cactus obsession a little more--maybe he can get our neighbours to start putting in more appropriate environmental features, instead of water-thirsty Kentucky bluegrass.

#12 ::: Jonathan Venusian Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 01:58 PM:

Plenty of water ice in the solar system. Under dust at the Moon's poles, maybe. At the north & south poles of Mercury. One of the polar caps of Mars. And -- oh, wait a second -- I hated the movie The Ice Pirates [1984]
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Writing credits : Stewart Raffill and
Stanford Sherman.
Plot summary:
In the far future water is the most valuable substance. Two space pirates are captured, sold to a princess, and recruited to help her find her father who disapeared when he found information dangerous to the rulers. A real Space Opera with sword fights, explosions, fighting robots, monsters, bar fights and time warps.

Summary written by John Vogel {}

Yeah, I get it... It's too expensive to bring home. Never mind...

#13 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 03:18 PM:

Millions of people think it's a good idea to live in a desert. And then they complain that there's no water.

The inevitable result of hubris? Or just the failure of the American educational system?

#14 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 03:54 PM:

Jimcat: Many (though far less than millions) moved to my hometown for the "country atmosphere." They then complained when they saw horse doodoo on the roads.

You can call it hubris, or you can call it "what happens when peoples' dreams/delusions run smack against reality."

Preemptive disemvowelling Wlcm t r cntry twn. Hrssht hppns.

#15 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 04:47 PM:

"Or just the failure of the American educational system?"

This brings up something that really bugs me.

Conservatives seem to think that our schools and universities are hotbeds of radical liberal politics, Green brain-washing, and guilt-inducing social engineering designed to turn out granola-munching crucifix-defiling dupes for world enviro-socialism.

Man, if they are, then that's sure as hell one incompetently run conspiracy.

#16 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 05:06 PM:

I saw just yesterday a highway billboard here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, showing a bunch of foriegn-looking guys labeled, "New Mexico," "Arizona," "Utah," and "California," using giant straws to suck the Great Lakes dry.

So, yeah, I guess it's a political issue . . .

#17 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 05:08 PM:

And with a little google search, I come up with a picture of the actual billboard (although it was Texas rather than Arizona):

#18 ::: John Mueller ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 05:18 PM:

I recall while in college in Michigan, covetous eyes were always glancing at the Great Lakes, jillions of gallons of water just sitting there, doing nothing. The problem is that the Lakes are also a great commercial waterway; 1000' freighters taking low sulphur coal east and high sulphur coal west, and other large frieghters carrying gypsum (think drywall) and iron ore. And don't forget the foreign shipping that takes away the various grainstuffs. The locks at Sault Ste. Marie handle more traffic than both the Suez and Panama Canals combined. Some hydrologist figured that for evey inch the Great Lakes were lowered, something on the order of 4,000 tons per ship of freeboard would be lost. I'll have to do some digging to find that source, as it were.

#19 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 05:28 PM:

Y'all might also note that the United States doesn't have sole title to the Lakes, either.

The solution is to stop using open water usage loops; I don't know what strage taboo prevents any American politician from pointing this out.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 06:15 PM:

Jill: Yes, it's the same impulse that makes people want to vacation in places with lush greenery and low humidity. With no bugs. No natural environment has that combination.

#21 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 07:26 PM:

Yah. I once took one of those quizzes on values, and I turned out to have a values heirarchy like that of an African villager.

Water was #1.

For most residents of the US, water doesn't even register.

Just remember that dictatorships which control the water supply are harder to break than any other kind.


#22 ::: pepperlandgirl ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 09:54 PM:

This topic fascinates me because I'm from Utah and living in L.A. now, and I've always been very, very aware that I live in a desert. One of my professors has been working on a book for the past 8 years about the San Gabriel river and the history of water rights in southern California. At first it seems like a dry (heh) topic, but in reality, it's rife with politics, double crossing, murder (!), back door deals, and pretty dire predictions for the future unless something changes.

I haven't had a chance to read any of it yet--just had a few discussions with him and heard a few lectures--but I think that when he publishes it, it might actually make people sit up and take notice. Or you know, not, because in the end it's just a history professor with a passion for the area and the insane need to inform people who aren't interested in hearing what he has to say.

He showed us Cadillac Desert in class one day and it is one of the most frightening documentaries I have ever seen. The most alarming is that this problem is fixable, to some extent, if people would just take simple water-efficient measures. But they continue to resist.

#23 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2004, 11:37 PM:

Take a drive sometime from Deposit, NY (on Rte. 17) to Walton, NY. It's very scenic. You'll pass right by a couple of the biggest of NYC's reservoirs. They're huge, I remember thinking...and yet, they're really not that huge either.

I've always felt water would be a big world issue sooner rather than later. There's only so much to go around, and more and more people all the time. If you hear of any military disputes in the vicinity of Lake Baikal...

One thing that would help a lot is to get rid of the whole lawn concept. You can't blame anyone in a hot climate for wanting a swimming pool, but lawn maintenance eats up incredible amounts of water that could be used much more profitably. There's already a movement to landscape with desert plants. Somehow it needs to become the "in" thing .

As for Lyndon LaRouche and his mad water pipeline schemes, I've been aware of it for awhile, ever since I pulled one of his magazines (which they were selling for some exorbitant amount) out of a DC dumpster. God help us if Dick Cheney gets wind of it...

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 01:32 AM:

The danger to the Great Lakes isn't the loss of the Colorado runoff; it's the sinking Oglalla Aquifer.

Robert, I'm with you on lawns. Stupid and wasteful.

Cadillac Desert is brilliant, both the documentary and the book. Everyone agrees. And nobody uses less water unless their state or municipality makes them do it.

#25 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 01:53 AM:

Another killer:

Golf courses. Homeowners might settle for a yard landscaped with native plants, watered with trickle pipes. But the clients of golf courses? Never.

Conservative cranks think low-flow toilets are a conspiracy; try to take away their golf courses and they'd probably start burning cars and putting up barricades.

* * *

If you can't convince someone to watch _Cadillac Desert,_ have 'em watch _Chinatown_ instead.

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 01:58 AM:

Oh . . . perhaps worth mentioning here.

My uncle's retirement career is designing and building Japanese gardens. More properly, Japanese-style gardens. He uses local vegetation whenever possible, and strives for low water use.

He does most of his work in the Bay Area (he and my aunt live in Alameda), but he's gotten commissions to create gardens in St. Johns and other exotic places.

Put another way: Water efficient yards can look way classy.

#27 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 03:31 AM:

The problem isn't necessarily global warming--from what the NYT article says, even if there were no global warming, the West could easily default to long-term drought.

#28 ::: Terri in Tokyo ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 06:44 AM:

Mos' Def said it very, very well, in "New World Water" on "Black on Both Sides" (some profanity):

"There's nothing more refreshing (that cool refreshing drink)
Than a cool crisp clean glass of water
On a warm summer's day (That cool refreshing drink)
Try it with your friends

New World Water make the tide rise high
Come in and it'll make your house go "Bye" (My house!)
Fools done upset the Old Man River
Made him carry slave ships and fed him dead n----a
Now his belly full and he about to flood somethin
So I'ma throw a rope that ain't tied to nothin
til your crew use the H2 in wise amounts since
it's the New World Water; and every drop counts
You can laugh and take it as a joke if you wanna
But it don't rain for four weeks some summers
And it's about to get real wild in the half
You be buying Evian just to take a f----n bath..."

brilliant, frightening and reaching people who need to know:

#29 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 11:03 AM:

I’m thinking of Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, where the West is just called “the Corridor,” and about the only thing it’s good for is Re-Education Through Labor.

#30 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 11:14 AM:

What Nancy said about global warming: while that may contribute, a lot of this is part of climatic cycles on the scales of decades and centuries, documented running back thousands of years and more. Some of them, at least, keep on running despite complications like ice ages, too.

#31 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 11:42 AM:

More water war fiction in a book to come -- I just read the UK galley of Ian McDonald's RIVER OF GODS for a review, and one of the many plot threads is a divided India amid an appalling drought, with many dying and two nation-states heading toward war. He makes it seem all too real, even though other plot threads eventually overtake that part. I can't quite see CA, AZ, and NV deploying robot armies on each other in mid-century [from all the latest political discussion on this and Patrick's blog, I figure we'll all be doomed well before then, godammit], but here in Arizona I'm certainly aware of drought. At least my housing complex has gravel plus drip-fed plants, and most of the nearby unregulated places use a similar set-up, but then there's the (expletive deleted) golf course just over the hill....

Maybe we'll sidestep Utter Doom as we did during the Missile Crisis of my youth and the Dust Bowl of my parents' time, but these days I tend to put my faith in microbes and small critters surviving Mass Global Extinction, one more time. A cheery thought! (Please don't jump in and correct me, science-minded Commenters. There are more immediately pertinent things to discuss here.)

#32 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 12:00 PM:

The luckiest man in Denv is the developer who sold houses south of the metro that are using wells guaranteed to run dry within 20 years (less now) at no discount. Well written up at the time too - though more by the local Westworld than by the big 2.

Notice that mandating closed loop as Colorado does to some extent is not a solution there - householders in Colorado don't by virtue of owning the house and land have water rights to the rainwater in their own gutters - can't legally put a rainbarrel out for drip irrigation of their gardens.

This is a result that ignores market forces and therefore does not allow some efficiency improvements to be made legally. Given strong economic incentives to break the law the law is often broken. Enforcement against economic forces is expensive though.

#33 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 12:17 PM:

I still like Ice Pirates, and not just because Gordon Garb did the CG star field. I think it was a fun movie, with quotable gags, better than most of what was around it. The scene where the defective robot is coached through a big robot-fu fight is a classic, as is its aftermath. A welcome alternative to the cutification of droids that was taking place in other studios.

Speaking of things topical, though, I still sometimes mumble to myself, "If it's yellow, let it mellow / if it's brown, flush it down," which I got from Shary Flenikin's little book "Drought Chic" about 1976.

Which, come to think of it, is spiritually akin to an anecdote H. Allen Smith gave on a daughter to a wealthy Southeast Texas family who brought her fiancee for a visit. Her mother took her aside and said, "He's a very nice boy, dear... but he flushes for everything!"

#34 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 12:20 PM:

I'm as liberal as the next guy (Economic Left/Right: -6.75, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.49 according to I recommend you all check it out if you want a great time-waster), but I get a little bit sick of the "blame it on bush" scenario in regards to these issues. When it comes to problems such as this, the blame needs to be placed on the consumers of the water, not the corporations making the back room deals. I lived in Phoenix and saw people with their swimming pools and watering their lawns and washing their cars 24/7. The insatiable desire for water comes from all of us. Bush and his loser friends don't force us to have swimming pools.
When it comes to the environment, nothing is going to change until the average person sits back and makes the decision to change their way of life. And that's an individual decision, not a "top-down" or policy decision. If every individual in the southwest decided to make the changes necessary to conserve water, we wouldn't have this problem. So please, enough of the right-wing water conspiracy theories. We're all part of the problem.
And just so you know, I love you all, even though you have that problem.

#35 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 12:21 PM:

I'm as liberal as the next guy (Economic Left/Right: -6.75, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.49 according to I recommend you all check it out if you want a great time-waster), but I get a little bit sick of the "blame it on bush" scenario in regards to these issues. When it comes to problems such as this, the blame needs to be placed on the consumers of the water, not the corporations making the back room deals. I lived in Phoenix and saw people with their swimming pools and watering their lawns and washing their cars 24/7. The insatiable desire for water comes from all of us. Bush and his loser friends don't force us to have swimming pools.
When it comes to the environment, nothing is going to change until the average person sits back and makes the decision to change their way of life. And that's an individual decision, not a "top-down" or policy decision. If every individual in the southwest decided to make the changes necessary to conserve water, we wouldn't have this problem. So please, enough of the right-wing water conspiracy theories. We're all part of the problem.
And just so you know, I love you all, even though you have that problem.

#36 ::: Dan R. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 12:53 PM:

Colin Fletcher wrote "River" a few years ago about his trip down the Colorado from its source. At that time he wrote that in some years the Colorado doesn't reach the ocean. Has it recently?

River's URL:(

#37 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 01:09 PM:

There's a whole lot more water in the Pacific Ocean than in the Great Lakes, and it's a lot closer to California and Arizona.

The place in California north of San Francisco that back around 1976 has a severe drought and water shortage, had actually turned down an opportunity for having a desalinization plant installed, because that would increase the water supply and promote unwanted populaton growth there. So instead, the place had a water shortage.

One of the reasons I remember it, was that there was a submarine-launched ballistic missile warning site there, an FSS-7 system, and one of the nights I was in Cheyenne Mountain I was on AUTOVON to the site officer there, he said he was watching the nearby mountaintops burning (not he one the site was on, though).

#38 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 01:56 PM:

I happily live on an island in the outflow of an enormous river, thank you very much.

Speaking of water politics, it's important to remember that Tammany/Tweed graft produced a water-system vastly larger than anyone could possibly conceive of needing when it was built. Thank goodness for Plunkett's "Honest Graft".

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 03:10 PM:

"So please, enough of the right-wing water conspiracy theories."

Sorry, they don't get off that easy.

For one thing, there's the question of leadership. Yes, consumers ARE the primary cause of the problem. Laziness, vanity, and don't-tread-on-me orneriness are bipartisan human faults.

People don't change bad habits on their own. It takes more than a few PSAs and tut-tutting local busibodies.

Leaders need to take stands. They can take a stand for people continuing their bad habits, or they can have some guts and point out that we can't go on like this people, and we've got to change. And then implement policies and propose laws to fix it.

Then there's the problem of favoritism. Consumers sure do waste a hell of a lot of water. So do farmers using techniques better suited to the moister East. But how did they get to live or set up homesteads in that there desert in the first place? They were enticed to go there by developers and government programs.

You could get away with being ignorant about the environment a hundred years ago, but not now. Continued sweetheart deals for developers and farmers are a sign of either massive stupidity or short sighted venality.

#40 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 03:31 PM:

Getting there from here may be harder than just shutting things down and waiting for folks to dry up and blow away. People will die, be they elderly in the heat or farm folk by accident and by suicide.

For instance, once a farmer has invested in pumped deep well irrigation with center pivot and rolling hose hardware the farm usually has way too much debt load to service with dry farming techniques. Going back means bankrupting the farmer and hurting not only the banker but the community while reinforcing corporate farming's hold on the food supply.

Consider that Idaho this year is using taxpayer's money to compensate folks for the State's over-allocation of water rights pending a better solution. Having the watermasters shut businesses down in order of seniority is almost certainly sub-optimal for the community - the question is what are we going to do? and how are we going to reach a state (with a large and small s) where better rules are in place, accepted and enforced?

#41 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 03:47 PM:

So . . . treating farm communities the way other industries treat factory towns wouldn't be a good thing?

#42 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 04:10 PM:

Randall (expanding Stefan's response): do you blame gasoline prices on the consumers who buy gas-guzzling SUV's or the successive governments that have allowed personal vehicles to be reclassified as trucks, thus escaping the Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements? I'll grant you that this isn't \just/ Shrub -- Republican congresscritters also know where their campaign funds come from -- but pandering to business interests is a major factor.

A lot of the businesses claim that tighter regulation would cost jobs; I buy that by the sack for our roses. (Continuing the above analogy, U.S. auto-building employment would be much higher if Detroit had been willing to make the small cars many people wanted instead of leaving them to buy foreign cars.) A recent Harper's has an article mentioning a branch of the water problem relating to Teresa's comment on the Oglalla Aquifer; water in western Kansas is being drawn at huge rates so that companies can grow corn to feed cattle and continue to make huge profits while paying piss-poor wages and providing terrible working conditions.

#43 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 04:18 PM:

"to feed cattle . . ."

. . . or to convert into dubious fuel additives mandated because . . . oh, you know the Deal.

(I would have turned the word "Deal" into a link to Archer Daniels Midland, but you'all know about that.

Everybody knows the dice are loaded.

Everybody knows the deal is rotten.)

#44 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 04:55 PM:

No idea what Harper's has to say but I do know the aquifer has dropped more than 100 feet in my lifetime and folks and family who used to raise corn do soybeans. Notice too the rise of corn syrup (and the decline of sugar beets) as another issue.

There is a distinction between rust belt factory towns and farm towns in where title to means of production (and ownership for the leveraged) traditionally rests - easier to blow away with just your lunch box than leaving your family land with your debts intact and your farm gone.

Notice also a distinction between agents of the state and agents of competition. I suggest these distinctions are enough to make the point worthy of debate - then too I am unwilling to beg the question of just how the supposed other industries do in fact treat factory towns?

#45 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 04:59 PM:

Every day I get happier that my highschool ecology teacher scared 30 years' worth of students into being conscious of water and turning off the faucets.

#46 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 05:16 PM:

Factory town probably wasn't a good choice of words. How about: Towns and cities largely dependent on an single industry for its economic livelihood.

It might be possible to "blow away with just your lunch box" from an actual factory town.

It's a lot harder for people to pull up roots from a community where they've started a family, taken out a mortgage, and established connections. They've invested their lives in a place.

#47 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 05:45 PM:

Ah, but I do, in particular, blame this current US administration. I blame the wanton disrespect they have for the environment in support of the greed of private corporations.

#48 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 06:08 PM:

CHip: "A lot of the businesses claim that tighter regulation would cost jobs; I buy that by the sack for our roses."

Oh, I love that. It's elegant. Where do I send the royalties?

#49 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 07:05 PM:

I buy rather expensive well water, technically as a member of a co-op, rather than Colorado River water which would cost me 30 times as much as it costs farmers planting rice (!) in the otherwise arid California environment. I so choose. I grow some oranges and some flowers and some lawn, but have also planted some xerophytes.

I have worried about water as a geopolitical problem for decades, I have been saying this at science fiction cons for 20+ years that wars will be fought over water in the 21st century. I stand by that.

I have written business plans for desalinization companies. That COULD be the future, if energy costs go down. But, after Reagan/Bush dismantled the US renewable/solar energy industry, that's a long shot. I'm not holding my breath on Fusion, either. Or space-based solar, which I've also worked on (I favor building stuff on the Moon and beaming power down to Earth...).

It as appalling to me that 1,000,000,000 people a day have to walk miles and wait hours to get water, or die of horrible diseases. That's right: a BILLION. What kind of world are we building here, where we waste hundreds of billions of dollars on Afghan/Iraq/Torture, rather than giving people clean water and earning their gratitude?

I am not "Making Light" of this crisis. It is real, and I've volunteered maybe 1,000 hours of my time to try to contribute towards a solution.

If you're not part of the solution, you're not soluable in water.

#50 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 08:07 PM:

Don't get me wrong, the practices of the right-wing in the U.S. have certainly got us in this position, but the same could probably be said about what we call our "liberal" side of Congress. And when you say, "Leaders need to take stands," I agree. But it needs to be leaders on both sides of the aisle. I doubt Kerry will do anything more on this issue that bush.

I feel that politicians are like corporations in the sense that if enough people stop "paying for the product," then they'll bend to our will. So in a sense, it is the people's fault for the situation in the Southwest, because long ago, they should have put a stop to it with their votes. You also said that people could get away with the ignorance a hundred years ago, but not today, and that's a sentiment that I wholeheartedly agree with. I guess the bottom line is that I agree with pretty much everything you're saying, but I also feel that we've reached a point where we can no longer rely on our leaders to solve the problem, or really even expect them to solve the problem, because they're not going to do it for us. I think the solution to this problem is people taking responsibility for themselves and saying, "I'm not going to take this anymore." And hopefully, if they did that, then they would contribute to a real change.

As for Chip's response, I actually do blame consumers for the gas problem. Everybody has got a choice. I don't drive an SUV. I live in an area with excellent public transportation. That's the choice I've made so that I won't contribute to the problem. I get tired of the typical American response of "It's not my fault...HE made me do it!" The United States is sick with the notion that they shouldn't have to take the blame. I really wish people would take responsibility for themselves and make choices that are for the good of the world as opposed to the good of themselves. I could sit back and say that pandering to business interests have screwed up this country, but I also have to realize my culpability (sp?) in this whole affair. Yes, I have eaten at McDonald's. Yes, I have driven when I could have walked. Yes, I didn't vote when I should have. These are all mistakes that we as a culture have made. My hope is that people will sit back, take a good look at themselves in the mirror, and say, "This is how I contributed to the problem, and this is how I'm going to rectify that situation." (Which is totally contrary to bush's reaction to the 9-11 commission...I think people would have respected him more if he'd just said, "We screwed up. We're sorry. We'll try to make sure that it doesn't happen again." Instead, he blames it on everybody but him, when really it was a mistake on everyone's part...but I digress...).

I guess I'm just tired of the blame game. The U.S. just seems to be getting worse and worse about taking responsibility for their actions...just look at what's happening in Iraq right now. What happened to people just standing up and saying, "I did it. I won't do it again." Maybe I'm too much of an idealist to think that people would take responsibility for themselves, but I have to keep holding on to the notion that they can, otherwise I'll have made a big mistake bringing my kids into this world, because hope is hard to come by nowadays.

Once again, I love you all.

#51 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 08:29 PM:

On the theme of starting to fix things, everyone here DOES knows about . . .

. . . right?

It's a sort of practical and less self-indulgent spin-off of Sterling's Viridian Green project.

Between World Changing and Kevin Kelly's Recommendo ( you've got about 95% of what The Whole Earth Review was.

* * *

My practical water conservation trick: I've got a plastic bucket in the bathroom. It goes under the tub spigot to catch water until it reaches shower temperature. Then it gets used for the first toilet flush of the day.

#52 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 09:40 PM:

Pepperlandgirl, if you live in LA, you do NOT live in a desert.

I've lived in LA for a quarter of a century, and I grew up in a desert, so I can tell the difference. :-)

In the Modified Köppen Classification scheme, LA's climate type is CSa, mild wet-winter subhumid with substantial marine influence. Also known as "Mediterranean".

Desert is the stuff the other side of the coastal ranges - Palmdale, Lancaster, Barstow, Palm Springs. THAT'S desert.

Yes, I know, "LA is a desert" is one of the most popular factoids about the place. :-)

But it's not true. It's oak-studded mediterranean savannah and coastal sagebrush complex. Riparian areas thick with bay laurel, alder, and willow. Swamps and wetlands in areas of impeded drainage.

Because the watershed of the LA River is so small, it's only adequate for a city of about 200,000. But that doesn't make it a desert.

And by the way, everyone: "Chinatown" is absolutely brilliant film noir, but it's nothing like history.

It only sorta vaguely resembles real LA history.

There was no murdered water commisioner, no conspiracy dumping water from LA's reservoirs, poisoning San Fernando Valley Farmers' wells, and secretly buying up bankrupt farms in the name of elderly nursing-home residents.

LA's water supply was never privately owned.

And the historical events that resemble the events portrayed in the film, leading up to the construction of the LA aqueduct, happened around 1902-1905, not 1937.

(And of course, there wan't any incest, either.)

As for Cadillac Desert, the book is somewhat better than the TV production, but the TV production mistakes screenwriter Robert Towne for a historian, and further cements the "Chinatown" myth.

It features secondhand sources and pop-culture rewriting of secondhand sources. Many of those secondhand sources are repeating the long-discredited polemics of self-styled 'political reformer' Andrae Nordskog, and Morrow Mayo's conspiracist history, which draws heavily on Nordskog.

I've been studying LA history for about twenty years, and I find it rather fascinating. It's not, as is often said, that LA doesn't have any history; but that so much of the popular stuff - the stuff that "everybody knows" - is entirely fictional.

(See historian Abraham Hoffman's article Myth, History and Water In the Eastern Sierra or John Walton's Film Mystery as Urban History:
The Case of Chinatown
for more details.)

#53 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2004, 09:45 PM:

Woops. Messed up that last link somehow. That should be:

Film Mystery as Urban History: The Case of Chinatown [pdf]

#54 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 12:39 AM:

Glen, you TOTALLY RUINED that movie for those who haven't seen it...

#55 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 12:41 AM:

Glen Blankenship:

excellent job untangling fact from urban myth, fiction, and film!

For a wearying 6 months, I commuted from Altadena (the seasonably wet side of the San Gabriel Mountains) to Palmdale (the seriously desert side of the San Gabriel Mountains). 70 miles each way, 140 miles round trip. This was to work at The Skunk Works, legendary aerospace weirdness relocated from Burbank to the Mojave desert.

Since I got $82.50 for overtime, I contrived to work as much overtime as feasible. Thus, I finished a 1-year systems/software contract in 6 months, by working LONG hours, crashing in a Palmdale motel, getting up early, working LONG hours again, and then going home every other workday.

Going from deep desert to a season flood zone and mudslide zone made me dream at night scene after scene from Frank Herbert's DUNE (and its film and TV adaptation). And sometimes of CHINATOWN. Jack Nicholson meets Muad Dib (insert apostrophe in here someplace). Jack Nicholson came to a fashion show at the university where I teach, but I missed it because I had to drive my son to the Academic VP's home so my son could babysit the VP's kids so the VP could hang with Jack Nicholson. But I digress.

I've been very involved in ecological and preservationist issues in my little town here, including my stint on the Town Council and the suit against the City of Pasadena by a local community/arts group on whose Board of Trustees I serve.

Misinformation and disinformation runs amok. So, again, thanks you, Glen Blankenship, for being the voice of research and reason!

Anyway, the Skunk Works rests on it legendary laurels, while its unique mindset was destroyed when it was absorbed in the Lockheed-Martin Corporate hegemony. * sigh *

#56 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 12:45 AM:

At the end of my high school career and my sister's sixth grade stint, my parents built a house out in the country. We lived on tanked in water for the first few years we lived there (gotta love it, a $350,000 house (1974 price) depending on a 1000 gallon tank of water...). My goodness we learned good habits! Like dampen your toothbrush, turn water off and brush your teeth. Then rinse. Or wet down, turn water off, then soap up and rinse. (I don't do that now but we have a low-flow water head in the shower...) And we had to haul laundry to a laundromat because the tank left a rust residue on clothing... ick.

#57 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 02:45 AM:

Hmmm. I just remembered that a couple weeks ago, seven inches of water fell in one rainstorm onto my house. Peabody, Massachusetts, has been getting inundated in recent months -- the snowstorm that literally dumped three feet of snow on it, eight inches of rain in the storm that dumped seven here....

That's more water than LA usually sees in a year I think.

#58 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 03:56 AM:

Paula H M: When you say "tanked in" water, did you catch your own water & run it into a tank, the way most country people do here, or get it delivered by tanker, the way many of them do at the moment -- their raintanks having run dry -- during our continuing drought?

Are you saying that people use running tap water to clean their teeth! Good grief! Why?!?
How hard is it to fill a plastic beaker (safer than glass) to wet your brush & then rinse your mouth with it - you are going to be using it to rinse your mouth anyway unless you have some sort of special water bubbler. The only running water you need is to rinse the brush.

I know a lot of people don't like having to turn their shower on & off a couple of times - especially the nice warm water in wintertime - but we've had it drummed into us for years now.

With fresh water being the world's rarest most necessary resource and Australia the driest inhabited continent, even tho' most of us are cushioned from the impact, many of us have been working on how to maintain a good standard of living while using what we have more wisely, recycling more & wasting less, etc.

#59 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 04:09 AM:

"If you're not part of the solution, you're not soluable in water."

Yes, that's what my father used to say: "You're not sweet enough to melt in rain." I once offered up the Wicked Witch as counterevidence, but he smacked me on the head with his Navy ring.

I do try to save water. I have low-flow shower-heads in both bathrooms, all the faucets have switches at the point the water exits that can be flipped so the water stops but when you flip it back it comes back at the same temp and flow (this is how I brush my teeth -- turn on the faucet, get the toothbrush wet, flip the faucet switch, brush my teeth, flip the switch back, and rinse the toothbrush), and I have low-flow toilets.

However, I live in a condo where the water for all 120 units, plus outside water, is divided evenly for the condo fees, which means I don't actually save any money for saving water.

#60 ::: pepperlandgirl ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 01:05 PM:

Pepperlandgirl, if you live in LA, you do NOT live in a desert.

I've lived in LA for a quarter of a century, and I grew up in a desert, so I can tell the difference. :-)

I know what the region technically is. I actually don't live in LA, I live Inland near Ontario. When I typed that it was 104 degrees and a few miles east of me, they're battling a wildfire in extreme heat with no hope of percipitation. It sure seemed like a desert...although, the weather broke somewhat yesterday and we're down to the 80s. So that's something.

#61 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 01:16 PM:

Epacris, we had it hauled in on an as-needed basis. The guy that delivered it had what looked like a reconditioned milk truck, not a big tanker. And I think it was drawn off of his well. In that part of Kansas (between KC and the Flint Hills), rainfall is sometimes iffy. My folks and I got to watch a lot of storms start to form up overhead, then move on north...

A lot of homes and farmsteads in that area have their own wells, but dad had a driller try for a water well, then go deeper to try and find natural gas, both fairly common there. Neither was found. Did I mention that they had to dynamite limestone to dig in the foundation? The soil to stone distance was only about 5 feet, and dad insisted on a full basement.

#62 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 03:30 PM:

Clark E Myers:

"There is a distinction between rust belt factory towns and farm towns in where title to means of production (and ownership for the leveraged) traditionally rests - easier to blow away with just your lunch box than leaving your family land with your debts intact and your farm gone. "

Clark, when a factory town goes, most people who leave with just a lunch box (or just a car with a full trunk) do so for the same reason that a farm family would - because they lost everything else.

When a factory town goes, people have houses which aren't worth the property tax, business which go bankrupt. And skills/connections which will now get minimum wage, on a good day.

About 60 miles north of where I live is Flint, Michigan, which was a General Motors town. One industry, one company. It was devastated in the 1970's and 80's. In the early 90's, I worked with people who'd carpool 60 miles for a $5/hr security guard job. Because there was nothing like it available in Flint.

#63 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 04:31 PM:

I know what the region technically is. I actually don't live in LA, I live Inland near Ontario.

Ah, well, then you probably live in a steppe climate - Köppen type BSh. Warmer and dryer than LA's mesothermal marine climate - too far from the ocean for much marine influence.

Still not a desert, though. :-)

When I typed that it was 104 degrees

Yep, mid-latitude steppes can get pretty hot at times.

and a few miles east of me, they're battling a wildfire in extreme heat with no hope of percipitation. It sure seemed like a desert

Not at all. Deserts don't usually have enough non-succulent vegetation to make wildfires a significant problem. :-)

#64 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 04:37 PM:

Deserts don't usually have enough non-succulent vegetation to make wildfires a significant problem.

Glen, my understanding is that in the Mojave desert, brush fires do happen. They're not nearly as dangerous to humans as they would be in more heavily vegetated areas, and they're a little easier to control, but things like creosote bush, joshua trees, and tumbleweeds will burn. My impression is that they are just as destructive to the ecosystem as fires anywhere else, because the tougher conditions make recovery that much harder.

#65 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 04:42 PM:

Notice too the rise of corn syrup (and the decline of sugar beets) as another issue.

I'll spare people my corn subsidies rant: [imagine rant here]. But agriculture policies in America are insane; corn and sugar policies are only the worst example of it. In a world where the Ogallala Aquifer is not an example of the tragedy of the commons and water policy bears some relation to reality (or, you know, market pressures), the idea that Texas would be a major rice producing state would be laughable. My grandfather grew corn in western Colorado (not even using drip irrigation); that's nuts, and it's a sign of a system that's going to eventually break dramatically.

#66 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 05:04 PM:

Paula: LA averages around 15 inches of rain per year in the flatlands; about 25-30 inches in the mountains that surround the flatlands and feed the local rivers and aquifers.

But of course that's the average. We rarely get average rainfall. :-)

We usually get either 8-10 inches or 22-27 inches, depending on whether we're in the wet or dry phase of the 6-8 year wet/dry cycle. Sometimes the mountains get as much as 60 inches.

And on those rare occasions when we do get an average rainfall season, it's usually a combination of unusually dry and unusually wet.

We had an "average" season a year ago, which included the both the driest January on record, and the wettest calendar day in 50 years in March.

This year we got no rain at all in March - which has only happened once before in all the time they've been keeping records - but more than 6 inches in a single day in January.

Plus we had two weeks of blazing summer in the middle of April, and another week that just ended, to 'welcome in the May.'

It'll probably add up to another average year. :-)

#67 ::: Glen Blankenship ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 05:25 PM:

Jeremy, there are fires in desert areas occasionally, but, as I said, they're not usually a significant problem. They don't develop into the sort of raging, deadly firestorms you see in brush and forest fires.

As for destructiveness to the ecosystem - the Coastal Sagebrush complex here in LA has evolved with fire as normal part of the ecosystem - in a sense, it's designed to burn.

Note, though, that many of last year's unusually severe wildfires weren't brushfires, but forest fires. A major factor was the pine bark beetle infestations that have killed thousands of acres of pine trees. Dead pines are explosively flammable.

(And even so, it was only good luck and the heroic efforts of the firefighters that kept the fires out of the worst of the tree-kill areas. The fires could have been far worse than they were.)

#68 ::: Jamie ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 08:14 PM:

"Water will be the oil of the next century."
I don't know who said it, but I can say, sitting here in the middle of New Mexico, it will be true.

#69 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2004, 10:42 PM:

Randall: my point wrt SUVs is that the government made the choice available by phony bookkeeping; if SUVs came under CAFE, Detroit would have to make them more fuel-efficient (or possibly charge much more due to penalties -- I don't have the details to hand). It's fine to say the politicians will never get us out of this mess, but foolish to deny their role in getting us in.

Jill: (shuffles feet, fumbles) Thanks and damfino; there are a lot of forms of that meme floating around, dating back at least to Kay Tarrant (notoriously prudish secretary for Astounding, who inspired SF authors to find indirect metaphors for anything that might bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty).

#70 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2004, 01:36 AM:

"Nature bats last." Now will people stop calling me alarmist? Please?

It isn't just water, of course; it's climate and biodiversity and all the other environmental issues that we have utterly inadequate political and social machinery to deal with.

Bellatrys, global climate change is as established reality as it is possible for such a thing to be before it actually comes to pass; there are experts in sorting trends from random noise who study it. (I know, you've read different. Sorry--what you've read is the result of a great deal of water-muddying by the coal and oil industries.)

#71 ::: Joy ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2004, 10:18 AM:

This is an international issue--but at least people in the US are wrestling with the problem.

I'm living in northern Costa Rica, in a place with 100+ inches of annual rainfall. People here waste water constantly. They also litter, burn trash--including rubber and plastic--in their front yards, leave SUVs, vans and trucks parked but running in front of businesses for a half-hour or more, burning diesel fuel, etc. Recycling of bottles and cans just started in this town.

All this in an area with a large "eco-tourism" industry. [And a hydro-electric plant built next to the world's third most active volcano.]

#72 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2004, 11:03 PM:

I submit that we already see water-driven conflict. The West Bank and the Golan Heights represent approximately 10% of the Jordan River catchment. See also the Southeastern Anatolia Development Project.

I was amazed when I lived in Austin that many houses did not have gutters to catch rainfall on roofs, let alone tanks to store the water. And so much lawn! Truly, then, I know that America was rich. Water just being left to run over the ground!

How is agricultural irrigation managed? Here in South Australia we are trying to encourage farmers to embrace the high technology of the pipe, rather than using open ditches...
(Some photos here.)

#73 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2004, 02:44 AM:

Actually, the fires in the desert are not natural to the ecosystem.

The desert plants don't tend to have either the density, or the flammability to sustain fire. Maybe one joshua tree gets fried, but the rest survive. (we once had the opportunity to burn some Joshua Tree, at Black Rock Campsite [for horses] in Joshua Tree National Park. It flares up, and then smolders. If one stirs, scrapes, pokes it, it flares again. It was not an experiment worth repeating. n.b. we could do this because the Rangers had been cleaning up some trails, or some such, and there were about a dozen piled up, waiting to be hauled to the dump).

But, exotic grasses have infiltrated, and they are evenly spread, grow quickly, have flammable remains, and the seeds aren't hurt by fire. Which is bad for the native plants, which never needed to be able to withstand it.


#74 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 12:09 AM:

Glen, which Paula? There are two responding here!

If you're responding to me, Yikes! we get a bit more rain than that, though last year I think our average was closer to yours and we were in Real Trouble, even for a river town. I live in the City proper, just above/south of the bluffs that look down on the Missouri River. I'm being a bit conflicted because one of my partners wants us to refurbish our lawn, and as far as I can tell, if we seed, we need to water regularly. for me, that's a big YIKES. I see lawn as parasite, if it lives, okay, if not, okay too. BUT the variety we got is otherwise very resistant to weeds and tenable to drought, so I may succumb and nuture it until it gets established. Sigh.

#75 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2004, 12:12 AM:

And you also gotta consider that just about everything outisde either makes me itch or bites me (6-leggeds... I'm apparently immune to ticks, every one I've ever found ON me has been wandering around going, I cannot so bite this person, ick.... thank goodness). So yard work is not my ideal.

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