By Robert A. Vella
The American southwest is primarily desert and has been for thousand of years. Its fresh water supplies are quite limited, and that means the numbers and kinds of species it can support is also limited. Water-intensive species like humans can thrive there only through the use of technology. In the 20th century, humans began constructing massive infrastructure projects to divert, store, and distribute the region’s precious water resources in order to facilitate their expanding agricultural, industrial, and residential activities. That technology was so successful it brought forth the tremendous growth in farming and population evidenced today from southern California to Colorado.
But, these huge infrastructure projects were built with little-to-no regard for long-term sustainability. Now, with the advent of drought-exacerbating climate change on top of over-development, a full-blown water crisis has struck the American West (see: Discovery Channel’s ‘Killing the Colorado’ Brings Together Five Academy-Award Winning Filmmakers to Tell the True Story of the American West’s Crippling Water Crisis and Killing the Colorado).
The Colorado River is central to this crisis because it is by far the region’s most important source of fresh water. The human demands upon it have resulted in ongoing “water wars” not only between the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, but also between agricultural interests and cities and environmental advocacy organizations. Legal water rights are being battled and bartered over, and proposed remedies are being hotly debated from one state capital to another. The situation is so dire that water rationing, conservation, and other restrictions are becoming commonplace.
Most troubling is the inability of policy-makers to find creative solutions to the water shortage. They continue to offer the same old technological measures which have delayed, but not solved the crisis. And, with each passing year, these giant infrastructure projects cost more with diminishing effectiveness. One of the most controversial, that has been raging for decades, is the so-called Delta Water Project which would divert Sacramento River water in Northern California to the thirsty Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District through two new tunnels (see: Will California Be On The Hook For $16 Billion Delta Tunnels Project?). Northern Californians, who have their own water shortage problems, are rightly concerned that this project will damage the ecologically-sensitive Sacramento River/San Joaquin River delta system, the downstream San Francisco Bay, and groundwater supplies depended upon by both agriculture and local residents.