OPINION – There are a lot of things humans can do to sustain themselves.
Replenishing our water supplies, however, is not among them.
We can conserve it, we can ration it, but we can’t create it.
It’s become more problematic as climate change impacts our ecosystems, resulting in a drought that has settled in over the West and Southwest for four years. Coupled with record-high temperatures – Utah has seen its seasonal highs arriving a month ahead of schedule this year – and a snowpack about 40 percent of normal, the historic battles over water and water rights are about to heat up.
California, which is one of seven states that feeds off of the no longer massive Colorado River – Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado are the others – is working to implement mandatory measures that could force users to cut water consumption by as much as 35 percent. Rationing is not out of the question in The Golden State.
“The current drought is the driest in 1,200 years for a three-year period,” University of California, Berkeley, professor Lynn Ingram said at Utah State University’s 2015 Spring Runoff Conference.
It hasn’t been this dry in the West since the Middle Ages, Ingram said.
Throughout history the region, she said, has experienced megadroughts that lasted as long as 20 years and drove inhabitants to friendlier climes. The Anasazi, for example, were driven from the Four Corners region because of drought, according to many historians.
Today, however, there’s no place to run.
Ingram also warns that one of the anomalies of this cycle is that it will result in short bursts of torrential downpours that will lead to extensive flooding during periods of intense precipitation. The unfortunate aspect is that we have yet to figure out how to capture and store water that appears during those times.
The end result points at more frequent wildfires, the general collapse of our agricultural infrastructure, and, of course, more conflict in the region over water and water rights. Political careers have been made or busted on water issues. Range wars have been fought. People have died because of water and who owns it and uses it.
The picture in Southwest Utah is not promising as we continue this latest cycle of drought.
Even though the local snowpack is at 42 percent of normal and median water flows are about 20 percent of what they should be, Southwest Utah water officials say there should be no problem this year because our reservoirs are at about 70 percent capacity.
It will, however, result in problems next year if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.
Budgets and ignorance have prevented us from taking steps to stretch our water supplies as far as possible.
The ignorance, of course, comes from those who continue, in the face of extensive scientific evidence, to deny the existence of global warming and climate change.
For years, conservatives have reviled environmentalists who predicted shortfalls in our water supplies. Of course, they are also the folks who will scoff at restricting air pollution, and believe we have an endless supply of fossil fuels.
Although many finally get it, they are reluctant to make important changes to salvage the precious amount of water we do receive.
Instead, for example, of initiating legislation that would require all communities to install gray water systems – using semi-cleaned up waste water for our lawns and irrigation – they claim there is no money in the till, that it would be too expensive to implement.
Instead, they pour millions into ridiculous ventures to draw more people to the area, more people who will deplete the dwindling natural resources we share.
When they do consider options they involve complex, expensive flights of fancy like the Lake Powell Pipeline, which will do little except deplete yet another water source and pollute the environment even further. The only people who win with that project are the investors and builders.
The truth of the matter is that someday, the Earth will be done with humankind. It will kick us to the curb with a violent, hostile environment that will make the planet uninhabitable. It will then regenerate itself. Humans are but a small blip when it comes to Earth history and will eventually give way, with the exception of Keith Richards, Cher, and the cockroaches who will survive for millennia.
But, we can extend our life cycle.
All we need do is put as much effort into preserving the planet as we have in destroying it with pollution, incessant drilling for fossil fuels that have a finite supply, and frittering away our water.
Instead of inventing newer, more dangerous ways to kill each other, and excuses to do so with senseless wars, we should turn our efforts to the little things that add up to making a difference in how we treat the planet and enhance our survival.
We should institute serious recycling plans to save our landfills from becoming the toxic dumps they have become. We should reduce our nuclear waste by eliminating the radioactive power plants.
We should invest in alternative fuel sources instead of burning coal and other pollutants that are eating away at our atmosphere and stop drilling holes in our land and seas – remember BP and the Gulf of Mexico or Exxon or any of the other environmental disasters created by the oil industry?
We should turn our lawns and yards from lush green to the more eco-friendly xeriscapes Nature intended. Remember, if a plant is not natural to an area it is considered, by science, as a noxious weed.
We should fully implement full reforestation efforts. Trees are an important part of the ecosystem, not only for their aesthetic, but practical enhancements. But, we have allowed them to become depleted by logging and failing to protect them from infestation. Don’t believe me? Take a trip up Cedar Mountain. It is tragic to see how that once beautiful area has been neglected and the changes – not for the better – that have occurred over the last 20 years.
The politics of all of this, of course, are harsh, divisive, unyielding, which is dangerous because we have but one planet.
And, she is getting tired.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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