When Your Faucet Runs Dry Don’t Count on Your Neighbors to Care

English Cat Completely Misses Water While Trying to Drink From Kitchen Sink

A long time ago I conversed with a senior Democratic official.  The conversation went something like this:

World War III will not be fought over oil, or land, or even food.  It will be fought over water.  Water is the most critical element necessary to sustain life, and it is indeed running in short supply in many areas of the world.  How short?  There are lists of cities that are projected to be uninhabitable later this century.  Will that happen?  Here are a list of cities facing

  • São Paulo. In São Paulo, Brazil a drought has left the reservoir system dangerously depleted in South America’s largest city. …
  • San Diego. …
  • Las Vegas. …
  • San Antonio. …
  • Beijing. …
  • New Delhi. …
  • Mexico City. …
  • Cairo.
  • Istanbul
  • Tokyo

And will it cause a world war?

Perhaps those are not the right questions.  My contact said, and this was in 2000 mind you, that the most likely outcome to cause a world war would be a split in a superpower, or what we might call a civil war.  Though none of us were enamored with the petulant Texas Governor, in the summer of 2000 I do not believe we could have predicted the split the country now suffers from.

We know that California and Arizona, and Nevada, along of course, with the never-gonna-admit-it-needs-help Texas is in dire need of drought relief.  There have been many solutions proffered, one of which is to build desalination plants, another would be to create a pipeline from the Great Lakes or Mississippi River.

We are after all, the United States, and we would never allow our brethren to dehydrate, would we?

I live in Red Wing, Minnesota. Recently I have noticed several letters to the editor in your publication that promoted taking water from the Mississippi River or the Great Lakes and diverting it to California via pipeline or aqueduct.

I will save you some time by informing you that it is not going to happen because the local citizenry here doesn’t want you to have that water. There are very, very many people living along the Mississippi River and around the Great Lakes that really, really don’t like California or Californians.

Well that is neighborly.

That is just one person, however.  And Minnesota still leans blue.

Years ago a more modest proposal met with shall we say, skepticism at its viability.  This one would have moved water via pipeline from Kansas to Colorado.

In 2019, in even more of a micro-approach, hands in hats were sent out on a search intrastate, in Colorado.  When developers sought water for thirsty Denver ‘burbs, the response was fairly clear:

Thousands of feet under irrigated green crop circles, Colorado’s low-income San Luis Valley holds vast water in a super-deep aquifer, and developers 180 miles away on the booming-yet-water-stressed Front Range want to tap it to supply suburban expansion.

San Luis Valley leaders say no way, though the developers point out farmers privately have inquired about selling water rights.

The dominant sentiment: “Over my dead body,” as Ken Salazar, the former U.S. senator and interior secretary whose family has farmed in the valley since before the United States existed, told residents at a public forum this year. Once you let outsiders set up a spigot, Salazar warned, they will hold the power to drain your future dry.

If we were to look at what is being done now, Arizona is trying to work with, shockingly, Mexico!

Arizona is already working with other Lower Basin states and Mexico on possible desalination in the Sea of Cortez. Those efforts could deliver up to 200,000 acre-feet of water a year – at a unit cost on par with similar projects in California.

That’s a lot more than what we pay for water today, but it’s still doable, knowing that water in Arizona is only going to get more expensive.

Meanwhile, Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources may join Nevada in an effort to recycle 170,000 acre-feet of California wastewater instead of dumping it into the ocean. It’s too early to estimate costs, but California has agreed to refund our seed money if it doesn’t pencil out.

But what do the above exchanges tell us about our willingness to share water?  It tells us clearly we do not want to share water.  All over the west, people are turning their backs on each other.  Nowhere is that more evident than Scottsdale, AZ.  Scottsdale is a generally affluent Phoenix suburb that is not exactly known for its benevolence.  It is known for lush golf courses, courses that have huge appetites for water.  This is where now we ask, if my water faucet runs dry, will my neighbor fill a canteen for me?  Early signs are not encouraging.

As the Southwest enters its second decade of megadrought, and the Colorado River sinks to alarmingly low levels, Rio Verde, a largely upscale community that real-estate agents bill as North Scottsdale, though it is a thirty-mile drive from Scottsdale proper, is finding itself on the front lines of the water wars. Some homeowners’ wells are drying up, while others who get water delivered have recently been told that their source will be cut off on January 1st.

The fight over how best to address the issue is pitting neighbors against one another. “Water politics are bad politics,” Thomas Loquvam, the general counsel and vice-president of epcor, the largest private water utility in the Southwest, told me. “You know that saying, ‘Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting’? That’s very true in Arizona.”


Now we can debate the wisdom of building a community in the middle of a parched desert that relies on infrastructure thirty miles away.  But if it isn’t a community in need, it would be a farm.  Farms make food.  Humans need food.  Food needs water to grow.  We know all this.  But..

Pinal County farms are losing river water this year because Lake Mead, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam, dropped low enough to trigger cutbacks under a multi-state drought plan. Farm groups have said it could mean fallowing 30% to 40% of the acreage typically planted there.

Though the pain will be spread among growers from west of Phoenix to the Tucson area, the worst of it will fall on Pinal County, where agriculture is critical to the economy. A 2018 University of Arizona study found that an expected reduction of 300,000 acre-feet would cost the county up to $104 million in sales and 480 jobs from the county’s $2.3 billion farm economy. It ranked Pinal in the top 1% of U.S. counties for production of cotton and cottonseed, cattle and milk. County farms also grow abundant alfalfa and barley to support livestock, as well as wheat.

Pinal County crops feed cows that produce the region’s milk. “We know it was on the farm less than 72 hours before we put it in our refrigerators,” said Chelsea McGuire, the bureau’s director of government relations. Less local dairy means less freshness and a less assured supply.

If you have made it this far and have concluded:

1.  Americans might be selfish.

2.  Don’t buy a house and hope the well in the desert stays full.

3.  Golf is more important to Scottsdalians than their neighbors having drinking water..

you have company.

A group representing golf courses has been pushing back against a proposal by state officials that would reduce overall water use on courses, instead offering a plan that would entail less conservation.

Opposition to the state’s proposal for golf courses has emerged over the past several months, aired in sometimes-tense virtual meetings where representatives of courses have said they understand the need to conserve but are concerned the proposed reductions in water allotments would damage their businesses.

The latest proposal by the Arizona Department of Water Resources would require Phoenix-area golf courses that use groundwater to reduce their total combined water use by 3.1% compared to current allotments under a previous plan.

A massive lobby of country clubbers is complaining about a 3.1 percent request to reduce water consumption, in a desert, while desperate Pinal County could lose 40 percent of its farming capacity.  This will mean less food, but what the hey, let’s try to get to the green in two!

Sounds about right (wing.)

Arizona is not alone in this battle, as states all over the country are engaging in turf wars over water.  But the juxtaposition is striking.  One could imagine aliens visiting and seeing homeless heat victims lying on the pavement, only to pan to the north and see cigar smoking CEO’s playing golf on a lavish green course.

How would they react?  They might decide to stick around to see what happens when there are no more water hazards on the course, only sand traps.  They might hang around and monitor how long it takes for the privileged to realize they have made a tragic mistake.  They might wait to see if it is too late to reverse impending hydrological disaster.

An intelligent species would ask questions.  “Why didn’t they share?”  “Why didn’t they plan better?”  “Why is the planet not able to hydrate itself because it prioritized prep boys in pop-collars ability to hit a white ball into a shallow cup?

These are all valid questions.

And we need to think about them before green fees are cheaper than a gallon of milk.

-The Claw