Apr 17, 2007

Severe Drought coming

Global Warming is exacerbating the severe drought that is affecting the Southwest. And when I say "southwest" I am referring closer to the Texas/Mexico border than the Southwestern U.S. at this point, but as the article below suggests, this area is growing upwards. Just when I thought that I'd be safe from the increasing beach front property due to rising sea levels here in West Texas, I realize that I've got more pressing problems.

When I was growing up, the schools taught that there were 4 Billion people on the planet. Now, 30 years later, there are 7 Billion. This increase of the human population will cause severe water shortages, in addition to the global warming and drought issues that the following article predicts.

Conservation isn't just a personal choice anymore. It's going to need to become a way of life that must be implemented logically and scientfiically in order to sustain ALL life on this planet.

Here's a small excerpt, but the full article fleshes the full situation out-

from ALTERNET: Global Warming Hits Southwest

The human case is clear-cut: Abandoned ranchitos and near-ghost towns throughout Coahuila, Chihuahua and Sonora testify to the relentless succession of dry years -- beginning in the 1980s but assuming truly catastrophic intensity in the late 1990s -- that has pushed hundreds of thousands of poor rural people toward the sweatshops of Ciudad Juárez and the barrios of Los Angeles.

In some years, "exceptional drought" has engulfed the entire Plains from Canada to Mexico; in other years, crimson conflagrations on weather maps have crept down the Gulf Coast to Louisiana or crossed the Rockies to the interior Northwest. But the semipermanent epicenters have remained the basins of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers, as well as northern Mexico.

By 2003, for example, Lake Powell had fallen by nearly eighty feet in three years, and crucial reservoirs along the Rio Grande were barely more than mud puddles. The Southwestern winter of 2005-06, meanwhile, was one of the driest on record, and Phoenix went 143 days without a single drop of rain. Rare interruptions in the drought, like the Noachian monsoon of last summer (parts of El Paso received an incredible thirty inches of rain), have been insufficient to adequately recharge aquifers or refill reservoirs, and in 2006 both Arizona and Texas reported the worst drought losses to crops and herds in history (about $7 billion altogether).

Persistent drought, like melting ice, rapidly reorganizes ecosystems and transforms entire landscapes. Without sufficient moisture to produce protective sap, millions of acres of pinyon and ponderosa pine have been ravaged by plagues of bark beetles; these dead forests, in turn, have helped to kindle the firestorms that have burst into the suburbs of Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Denver, as well as destroyed part of Los Alamos. In Texas the grasslands have also burned -- nearly 2 million acres in 2006 alone -- and as topsoil blows away, prairies are reverting to desert.


Climatologists studying tree rings and other natural archives have long been aware that the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which allocates water to the rapidly urbanizing oases of the Southwest, is based on a twenty-one-year record (1899-1921) of river flow that, far from being an average, is actually the wettest anomaly in at least 450 years. More recently, they have gained an understanding of how persistent La Niñas (cold episodes in the eastern equatorial Pacific) can interact with warm spells in the subtropical North Atlantic to generate droughts in the Plains and Southwest that can endure for decades.


Moreover, this abrupt transition to a new, more extreme climate ("unlike any in the last millennium, and probably in the Holocene") arises not out of fluctuations in ocean temperatures but from "changing patterns of atmospheric circulation and water vapor transport that arise as a consequence of atmospheric warming." In a nutshell, the dry lands will become more arid, and the humid lands, wetter.


Despite a lot of recent sloganeering about "smart growth" and intelligent water use, desert developers are still stamping out burbs in the same "dumb," environmentally inefficient mold that has blighted Southern California for generations. The trump card of the free-enterprise Southwest, moreover, is that the majority of the water stored within the Colorado River and Rio Grande systems is still dedicated to irrigated agriculture.

Even if "peak water" has now come and gone, desert sprawl can sustain itself in the medium run by killing cotton and alfalfa, while the big growers stay rich selling their federally subsidized water to thirsty suburbs. A prototype of this restructuring is already visible in California's Imperial Valley, where San Diego has been aggressively buying water entitlements. As a result, an attentive air traveler will notice a recent increase in dead squares within the Valley's emerald checkerboard of alfalfa and melons.

More futuristically, there is also the "Saudi" option. Steve Erie, a University of California, San Diego, professor who has written extensively about water politics in Southern California, told me that desert developers in the Southwest and Baja California are confident that they can keep the population boom well-watered through the conversion of seawater. "The new mantra of the water agencies, of course, is incentivizing conservation and reclamation, but rapacious developers are casting covetous eyes at the Pacific Ocean and the alchemy of desalination heedless of the pernicious environmental consequences."

In any event, Erie emphasizes, markets and politicians will continue to vote for the kind of rampant, high-impact suburbanization that now paves and malls thousands of square miles of the fragile Mojave, Sonora and Chihuahua deserts. States and cities, of course, will compete more aggressively than ever over water allocations, "but collectively the growth machines have the power to wrest water from other users."

As water becomes more expensive, the burden of adjustment to the new climatic and hydrological regime will fall on subaltern groups like farmworkers (jobs threatened by water transfers), the urban poor (who could easily see water charges soar by $100 to $200 per month), hardscrabble ranchers (including many Native Americans) and, especially, the imperiled rural populations of Northern Mexico.

Desalination of seawater surely is a partial solution, but one whose side effects must be studied as well. I always knew since my youngest days studying science that the earth would eventually die, our sun would wink out of existence, and this world would no longer host life. But I always assumed that those days were millenia ahead, not in possibly in mere tens of human lifetimes.

Regardless, if we are to be among the civilizations that not only survive, but want to prosper during the changes that WILL come in our near future, we must refute the sense of instant gratification that is so prevalent in today's culture. We must look past ourselves to the future. If we don't, there won't be much of a future for our children, not eons from now, but in the very next generations.

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