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View Diary: Shocking drought data from NASA (382 comments)

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  •  This is the new normal. (29+ / 0-)

    Get used to it, folks. I talk this over on a regular basis with a good friend who studies debris flows - that mixture of mud and water and rocks and trees and ash (after wildfires in the drainage area) that comes barreling down canyons in the southwest USA after heavy rain events. She has a lot of communication with forest management types, water resources types, climate specialists, emergency management types, etc.

    The verdict is in. This is a drought that has all indications of persisting for decades.

    It has happened before and driven sophisticated cultures to abandon the area, for example the "Anasazi". With the drought will come wildfires, lots and lots of wildfires, because there will just not be enough consistent rainfall to sustain growth. Every time it rains, the plants will grow quickly and then when more rainfall doesn't come they will die quickly and become fuel for more wildfires.

    Cheap water is what has fueled the growth of the American West, one of the largest desert areas in the world. When the West was first systematically explored in the 19th century, there were two types of reports that came back: 1) from geologists and experienced explorers, such as John Wesley Powell, which said the place was a desert and could never sustain large populations - the key word being "sustain"; and 2) land developers who reported that there was cheap land and plenty of water.

    The pact that divides up the flow of the Colorado River between the states that exist along its path was drawn up in 1922. Projections for growth in cities was based on the figures coming out of that conference. Unfortunately, later on it has been recognized that 1922 was right smack dab in the middle of the wettest period in the Southwest for the past couple of hundred years, at least.

    There are engineering marvels out here that boggle the mind: Lake Mead, Lake Powell, the Central Arizona Project canal that supplies water to Phoenix and Tucson from the Colorado River, 150-200 miles away, dams on practically every significant flow of water out of practically every mountain range in the Southwest.

    There are hundreds of thousands of wells that allow farmers to produce cotton, grains, produce and citrus using groundwater in the desert - water resources that were not considered significant in Powell's time.

    Nonetheless, he and other explorers were correct in their assessments for one simple reason: all the rivers and all the basins get their water from just one source: precipitation.

    And in the immortal words of Firesign Theatre:

    "Hey, hey, hey capitano, the rain, she is stopping to fall and the corn she is all dead."

    And that is how you go from "rich, verdant pasture land" to a "stinking desert".

    You see, the basins of groundwater out here are being sucked dry. Despite their depth of up to many thousands of feet, good usable water is only near the surface, down to about 600 feet, usually. As the wells go deeper, the water gets more salty.

    And there's the rub. If the rain is stopping to fall, the desert west is going to have to start desalinating water, a very seriously expensive solution. It took literally millions of years to fill those basins. They are not going to refill in our lifetimes.

    And that means no more cheap water. No more cheap water means that it will cost significantly more to live here which means the population growth will slow and when the population growth slows, people have a hard time paying for existing infrastructure and things like schools. And when you don't have good infrastructure and schools it is difficult to attract investment for business in a capitalist economy.

    All because "the rain she is stopping to fall...."

    There are only two types of Republicans: 1) racists; and 2) people who are willing to be associated with racists.

    by hillbrook green on Thu Jul 24, 2014 at 03:08:43 PM PDT

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