I’ve written about the possible collapse of the United States in Issue VIII mostly based on economic mismanagement and poor political leadership after reading Jared Diamond’s great book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I forgot to mention environmental mismanagement and failure to adjust cultural attitudes in the specific cases of the Southwestern United States, and I’ve been inspired to write after reading about the current Georgia drought and the growth of the American West while the northeastern and Midwestern United States dies slowly from depopulation.
One of the top 100 nonfiction books of the 20th century is a book called Cadillac Desert: American West and Its Disappearing Water written in 1986 by Marc Reisner. In it Reisner shows how the entire United States western United States has developed on faulty assumptions and premises that were known to John Wesley Powell, the man who first mapped the region. The western United States, basically, is a desert civilization. But unlike Egypt, backed by the huge Nile, the entire region has to rely on the shitty Colorado River which most years doesn’t even empty out into the sea.
Meanwhile millions upon millions of people move to the driest states in America while the water laws used (and the assumptions of plentiful rain behind these laws) in these areas come from British common law and the eastern United States. Furthermore, the people who move from the East to the West want to maintain grassy lawns and play golf all year long, using scarce water in a region that in no way could possibly support the population it has much less the lawns and tremendous agribusiness that has developed on irrigated land. Meanwhile fish and marine estuary life suffer from too much river water being diverted so big agribusiness can grow sugar beets in the desert WHILE we pay farmers in the east to not grow crops because there is a crop surplus.
Little known fact: California’s number one industry by billions of dollars is not movies, music, software, or defense contracting. It’s agriculture.
California, and Los Angeles in particular, are a fiction built from imported water from dams on the Colorado River and the other puny rivers in the area. California itself wouldn’t really exist without federal government support via the Bureau of Reclamation and the aqueducts which the LA Department of Water and Power built at the turn of the century. Reisner describes the first aqueduct made by Commissioner Mulholland (ever heard of Mulholland Drive?) as being the work of the anti-Moses. “Instead of parting the sea to bring his people to the desert, he parted the desert to bring water to his people,” he wrote.
The aqueducts deliver spring water from the mountains which have ice packs that melt in the spring, but I wonder if with global warming, the amount of ice that lasts the winter would reduce the amount of water at the time that the population is growing.
And apparently Georgia has the same problem too! No planning for the future population swelling in the past is blamed for the water shortages in Georgia, not to mention incredible traffic headaches.
Salon.com – “How to solve America’s water problem”
Salon.com – “Turn on the lights Michigan”
Washington Post – Kenya to lose drinking water in 25 years when Mount Kilamanjaro glacier melts away
Wikipedia – California water Wars
Jared Diamond – “What is your Consumption Factor?”
Oh, and see Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. It’s about water in LA too. And badass wardrobe.