I tend to voraciously read anything well-written I come across concerning the climate-change-induced water crisis in the United States and around the world.
I am old enough that I suspect I will not witness the worst of it: famines, global food disruption, and subsequent wars over water.
I get the impression that most people are aware of the crisis, but are hoping or assuming it’s temporary or being taken care of by governments somewhere. Or they just have more immediate concerns, not realizing that soon farmers in California, the source of much of our food in America, will be forced to go out of business or severely limit what, and how much, they can plant.
Young people, on the other hand, seem more keenly aware than anyone else about the climate disasters that the older folks are leaving for them. That gives me some hope.
ProPublica has a new Q&A piece up by writer Abrahm Lustgarten that examines the worsening water disaster in the American west and southwest:
I recently sat down with Jay Famiglietti, the executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, to talk about what comes next and what the public still doesn’t understand about water scarcity in the United States. Before moving to Canada, Famiglietti was a lead researcher at NASA’s water science program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and a member of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine. He pioneered the use of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites to peer into the earth’s mass and measure changes in its underground water supplies. The Colorado River crisis is urgent, Famiglietti said, but the hidden, underground water crisis is even worse. We talked about what U.S. leaders either won’t acknowledge or don’t understand and about how bad things are about to get.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with the Colorado River because it’s in the news. The federal government has put some extraordinary numbers out there, suggesting water users cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water usage starting this year — roughly 40% of the entire river’s recent flow. How could that possibly happen?
It’s going to be really hard. We’re looking at drastically reduced food production and the migration of agriculture to other parts of the country and real limits on growth, especially in desert cities like Phoenix. My fear is that groundwater will, as usual, be left out of the discussion — groundwater is mostly unprotected, and it’s going to be a real shit show.
Remind us how that happens. States and farmers cut back on the Colorado River, and California and Arizona just start pumping all the water out of their aquifers?
Yeah. This started with the drought contingency plan [the 2018 legal agreement among the states on the Colorado River]. Arizona had to cut nearly 20% of its Colorado River water. To placate the farmers, the deal was that they would have free access to the groundwater. In fact, something like $20 million was allocated to help them dig more wells. So, it was just a direct transfer from surface water to groundwater. Right away, you could see that the groundwater depletion was accelerating. With this latest round, I’m afraid we’re just going to see more of that.
Some of that groundwater actually gets used to grow feed for cattle in the Middle East or China, right?There’s Saudi-owned agriculture firms planting alfalfa, which uses more water than just about anything, and it’s not for American food supply. Do I have that right?
There’s been other buyers from other countries coming in, buying up that land, land grabbing and grabbing the water rights. That’s happening in Arizona.
It’s not a happy interview. At least it does point to some things that can still be done. But, as Famiglietti points out, we are past the point of stopping these problems. We can only mitigate.
In related news, Nevada has finally, after all this time. started discussing ways to limit attractions such as golf courses, giant water fountains, and other ginormous water features in and around Las Vegas.
Isn’t that crazy? The city’s main source of water is drying up before their eyes, and Las Vegas is finally getting around to telling casinos they can’t recreate the canals of Venice just to entice gamblers.
See video below of renowned scientist Carl Sagan testifying in 1985 about the looming climate change crisis.