Friday, March 28, 2014

The Thing About Drought Is...

About 90 percent of all water diversions from the [Colorado] river went to irrigation. This was highly remunerative. Imperial County alone produced nearly $2 billion in crops and livestock in 2012. Nearly 50 percent of the agricultural diversions in the lower basin went solely toward water-inefficient arid-land crops like alfalfa that are used to feed livestock. In Lochhead’s view, this outsize share of the river, however enriching of industrial agriculture, however historically entrenched, would have to shrink as cities grew. “Cities are the more efficient use of water. Cities are where it’s at now,” he said. “We have the money, and the farmers who have the water will be willing to sell.”

DeBuys asked who in this debate was delusional. He said that farmers he had talked to, in the Imperial Valley, in Utah, in Colorado, in New Mexico, weren’t interested in giving up water rights. The farmers will fight, Weisheit agreed. Rural interests will be pitted against urban, state against state, upper basin against lower basin. DeBuys worried about the breakdown of rational decision-making in conditions of drought. Drought is not like other natural disasters. Hurricane, flood, storm, and fire devastate and then pass quickly, leaving behind communities united by the sudden trauma. Drought is gradual. It is geologic in its pace, and as it unfolds it erodes society’s confidence, goodwill, trust. “It gives people plenty of time,” writes deBuys, “to erect defenses, pick sides, and meditate on the defects of their neighbors.”

-- Christopher Ketchem, "Razing Arizona," Harper's magazine, April 2014

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