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.

14 thoughts on “Controversial California Water Tunnel Project highlights the Worsening Crisis in the U.S. Southwest

  1. The sad part in all that is, there really are no solutions, not within the current mindset of people in general who feel entitled and those who profit from the water and feel they have the greater “rights” to it. For this problem’s resolution rests in Draconian solutions. Huge paring down of agribusiness, shutting down all non-life threatening uses of water (can I write it that way and still make sense?) like no more hot tubs, swimming pools, non-food plant watering, meters that shut down when excess water usage is reached… and yes, massive de-population because bottom line man has exceeded his limits to growth everywhere and the parasite has to come under strict control. If the creature refuses to control its numbers then let it all go to hell and let the Devil take the hindmost. And maybe that is exactly what climate change is doing – putting the brakes on. Right now we’re just smelling the smoke but those brakes could bind and cause a sudden, devastating stop. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, it doesn’t work that way, not in a finite situation.

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  2. I live in Florida. With the massive population growth and climate change we are having a shortage of water. Much of Florida was not fit to to build on or to make habitable for people. Draining of the wetlands and climate warming raising the sea water levels led to salt water infiltrating the wells and water table inland. The growing population requires massively higher water use. Plus, stupidly I think, developments insisted on manicured lawns with a lot of planting including water thirsty grasses and that required lots of irrigation. Plus people wanted to golf, and so people like Trump build golf courses that use a tremendous amount of water. When I lived in West Palm Beach the water district put the home owners on strict water rationing ( for the time ) including we could only water our lawns on certain days and only for a set length of time. However businesses like Trumps golf course got to water every day for much longer times. Yes they had restrictions but the amount they were allowed to use was staggering. Trump was one of the ones that took the country to court and argued he deserved a much higher amount of water. The county caved in and gave him the water he wanted and only made a small decrease in his ration. Still he complained bitterly and loudly about it and screamed it was unfair to him. So I also am seeing a lot more developments with pools and sprinkler systems and almost all developments has a big water pond with sprayers. Also most have a large sign that uses water in front of the developments to attract people. Sadly while we have water restricting shower heads mandatory and low water usage toilets for homes, it is quite common to see sprinklers that are not set right so the water is sprayed on roads and other areas that don’t need the water. It is also common to see local government owned or controlled properties wasting water by sprinkling long hours during the hot days. Many times while driving we see broken sprinkler heads just pouring water out. My point is we have a shortage of water and the homeowner ( average person ) is required to sacrifice to save water, while businesses are not. I remember reading in California an actor with a ranch used water trucks to go around to hydrants, fill the trucks, and bring it back to his ranch. He felt entitled to it, and was not paying for it, and he was totally disregarding the restrictions. I doubt he was the only one to do this. Plus no restrictions on growth or where to build are even being tried. Lastly other than trying to get the homeowners to conserve I don’t see any attempts to add to the water supplies here where I live. I know desalination is expensive, but if we need the water to live, then we need to do it. There must be other ways to store up water for times when we have less rain. We have been lucky this year, after years of low rainfall we are having a very wet year but there are no new storage systems. I can see the problem, I don’t know the solutions. Hugs

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    • Great points. You not only linked the southwestern U.S. water crisis to the far larger issue of global fresh water shortages, you also identified the root cause of these problems. Check out this comment on another blog and you’ll see what I’m driving at:

      My perspective, which is supported by historical evidence, posits that neoliberal laissez faire capitalism breaks down in a closed system. In other words, it must be able to expand and exploit new resources or it will begin destructively feeding on itself. In this 21st century, further expansion is no longer possible to any appreciable degree.

      If this were our only problem, it could be remedied through economic system reforms. But, our political systems – which are primarily responsive to profiteering – are intransigently opposed to such reforms. And, therein lays the “catch-22” scenario. Although we could remake society by conforming our economic systems to today’s physical limitations of the world, our political systems won’t allow it.

      Yes, you do see the problem Scottie. The solutions, if they exist, will require out-of-the-box thinking.

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      • My biggest worry about politics right now is that obstructing the other party has become the norm all the way down to local town councils and selectmen. Today there’s more pride by politicians that they prevented progress on anything, than actually getting anything done. By the republicans getting away with blocking anything Pres. Obama wanted , including his Supreme Court nominee, that is the new norm. They got away with it. That is the sad part, it was clear what they were doing had no moral stance, just hate for the other party. Now every party that can does this. The idea of compromise and of congress ( state and federal ) getting anything done in similar situations is dead. Sad. So the only way to move things in states and the federal government is to have both the executive and the legislative branch of government. What is weird is to see this same dynamic work with local town government, not on political lines but religious ones. Sad. Be well and happy. Hugs

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        • That is true, but the environmental issues we’re discussing here center around excessive growth/over-development and the political mechanisms (i.e. money in politics) which serve it. Putting Democrats in control won’t solve that.

          Reforming our economic systems to function within a finite set of natural and human resources (i.e. out-of-the-box solutions) lays far beyond the practical capabilities of the current political status-quo.

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        • Yes I agree. I was trying to say the same thing but not doing it well. I was saying I don’t think the current government system we have can do anything about the environmental issues, or in truth any problem that violates the talking points of one party or the other. This is because it has become the normal code of acting to sabotage anything not benefiting only your party. It will become gridlock to the extreme and nothing will get done for anyone. The losers are the people, the animals, the environment and the whole dang planet. Thanks. Hugs

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        • So, you need to get rid of the rot. Heave the whole thing overboard and make sure it drowns. Then bring the entire crew up on deck and decide on a new way and a new course.

          A more democratic approach. You want a leader, you elect a leader at the local level. These leaders get together and elect their chairperson/representative at the state level. These chairpersons then gather together somewhere (anywhere but Washington! – that no longer exists) and they in turn elect themselves a chairperson of the whole country. So, you have to support probably full time about 50 or so individuals, 1 from each state, and 1 chairman to replace what was once thought of as a president. Then a small number of bureaucrats to take care of the daily grind, the number to be determined by need versus ability to pay wages.

          Then you pass a very clear and simple law regarding any of your representatives caught taking bribes, i.e., money for their election, or other special gifts from any special interest individual or group: the death penalty. Then you have another law capping the amount of profit any individual or business/corporation can make. Excess is clawed back 100% as tax. Any attempt to hide or bribe: death penalty. No appeal.

          Of course that still won’t work because there is a finite number of people who can be properly represented by an individual and man has long ago exceeded that limit. Collectives, however designed can no longer function except as oppression. Now man is faced with the task of becoming self-empowered, self-motivated, independent, responsible and compassionate. That’s the only “system” that can save the creature and it’s a guarantee that’s the very last thing it wants to engage.

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        • I don’t have any political solutions. I have one individual solution. I just wrote the comment to show how such a simplistic solution makes no sense, but neither does what passes itself off as democracy at the moment. There are no political solutions, as there are no religious or financial solutions. And the more I contemplate the situation, like the fool on the hill of Beatles lore, the more I think there are no applicable solutions; that nature herself will have to do the work of cleaning up and man will be a helpless bystander.


        • Hello Sha’tara. At first when I started to read I thought you were serious, then as I got toward the end and seen how you summed it up I realized what you were trying to do. I think you did it really well. To often I see people write their idea of a solution and it is far too simplistic to work. It does not take into account the many parts of the problem. For example many people will reply Bernie to any government problem they see, but they don’t take into account congress or the limits of what is legal. I agree the problem is entrenched. I can see that almost all the people, even the “good caring” ones are self absorbed and looking out for their own interests first. However, and I may be silly for thinking this, but I have to believe there is a solution that can be achieved. I am not ready to give up hope yet. I don’t know what the solution is, but I have to think that with all our brain power there must be one. Hugs

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        • The Teachers: “Every problem has a solution. It’s not always obvious, and often the price is so high few would consider it.”

          My solution is the solution of one individual who thinks there are no collective solutions left. Two things now argue against any collective solutions: one, we worked our way from way back in primitive societies as hunter gatherers to complex societies ruled by tyrants, and gradually softened that rule to our current pseudo-democracies. Perhaps we could have softened even more, to total democracy, real people rule but our numbers and the condition of the planet rule against it. We’ve allowed “the economy” to take away political choices and we’ve allowed ourselves to create unsustainable numbers, painting ourselves into the proverbial corner. So the “solution” now is up to one individual to change her/his lifestyle to non-consumerism and act compassionately towards ALL. If we do not take responsibility as individuals we are doomed. My view.

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        • I like your opinion. I do wonder why we can’t demand people do somethings to respect the environment like recycling or regulating what can be done with wetlands. Sadly I can’t think of any laws, regulations or even ways to coax people to be nice too or respect each other. So in second thought, it does seem to be down to individuals. But we would have to have a campaign to tell them what is the right thing to do as many will not educate themselves. As for democracy.. how about we start by getting rid of the electoral college? I heard there were several groups pushing this idea and I like it. make it really one person , one vote, and each person’s vote counts. Be well and happy , hugs


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