Water Wars I: remember that you were there at the beginning
30 years from now, you will be able to tell your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and children how you were at the beginning of Water Wars I back in 2011. Some people are smart enough to know it, while others continue to ignore what has been predicted for years now: Water has become the new ‘oil’.
Just in the past 24 hours, the topic of water is on the front burner of major media and is bubbling at a ferocious pace. We invite you to look at these links and to remember, that you are currently living in the middle of a significant period of civilization. Water Wars I is beginning.
William McKenzie: The Sun Belt’s water worries threaten its dominance
New Mexico has stopped permitting water wells. Orange County, Calif., is turning sewer water into drinking water. And the state executives who manage the Colorado River in Central Texas have let businesses and towns from Austin to the Gulf Coast know they could lose 20 percent of their water supply in six months.
Welcome to the Sun Belt, 2011. Life here is about to be far different from those heady days of the last century, when the rise of the region was among America’s dominant story lines.
You could almost feel the tilt as Rust Belters from the Northeast and Midwest raced to California, Texas, Florida and, most recently, Arizona and Nevada. Across the South and West, transplants found job openings, affordable housing, sunny climates and cheaper lifestyles. As recently as 2000 to 2010, Sun Belt destinations such as Nevada, Texas and Arizona ranked among the fastest-growing states.
But the Sun Belt’s dominance will screech to a halt if states across the region don’t provide sufficient water supplies. One reason California and Texas have accommodated so much growth is that foresighted leaders in the middle of the 1900s planned for enough water.
The efforts were not always pretty. Los Angeles’ clawing to get water from other parts of California was raw politics. But LA grew into a megacity.
Supplies across the Sun Belt, however, won’t last forever. Texas lakes planned in the 1950s are drying up. Population growth in cities such as Dallas and Atlanta is outpacing water sources. Droughts have stretched from California to Georgia, forcing Texas farmers to walk away from their fields this summer.
If population trends continue, and the climate keeps playing havoc, Sun Belt states will face severe water shortages. Although this prediction sounds Alvin Tofflerish, businesses won’t have enough water for their operations, electricity producers won’t have sources to power their facilities, and families will face tight restrictions.
No crystal ball can tell us when that point will occur. Still, the Sun Belt will go from boomtown to Detroit-like stagnation if water supplies aren’t developed.
Unfortunately, several obstacles stand in the way.
States need sufficient projects and the means to finance them. Texas has a good long-term water plan, but it will mean nothing if the state keeps failing to fund the plan’s reservoirs, pipelines and conservation strategies.
The tea party sees itself as saving the republic from fiscal ruin, but its presence in the South and West could undermine the Sun Belt’s growth.
Look at results from recent off-year elections. Despite the state’s severe drought, Texans only narrowly approved a constitutional amendment in November to replenish an existing water fund. Anti-government fervor almost brought the plan down, not an encouraging sign to anyone who understands how critical the situation is.
State water supplies may be far from population centers. One solution is piping water from regions of a state with few people to metropolises with many residents. T. Boone Pickens tried that when he bought water rights in the Panhandle as part of a plan to sell water to Dallas, San Antonio or another buyer. He didn’t succeed, partly because of right-of-way problems. Pickens told me recently that eminent domain is a big barrier to marketing water. You may have ample water, he said, but you have to be able to move it.
Even if you don’t know what to think about climate change — and I don’t, because I’m not a climate expert — something seems to be amiss. Raging wildfires, killer droughts and scorching summers are becoming far more common across the Sun Belt.
If those events continue, they will compound the water problems. In A Great Aridness, William deBuys describes how a changing climate could turn the arid Southwest into a mad desert of dust storms and searing heat.
I’m not trying to scare fellow Sun Belters into a tizzy, but maybe I should. If we don’t start owning our water challenges, a new story line will develop. That one, sadly, will leave us behind.