Monday, February 27, 2012

Price Could Provide Solution to Water Scarcity

While a newbie resident to the Southwest, I've backpacked out here for 30 years primarily in the Superstition Wilderness where I would plan daily segments on a topo map from one spring to another. 

I remember the surprise one day when I found that the local Safeway in Cottonwood was selling gallon jugs of water for less than it was being sold in Cleveland, OH (bottled, of course, in New York).

About that time I read Charles Bowden's Killing the Hidden Waters and realized I wasn't least there was one other person thinking as I was.

Water is a diminishing resource and should be taxed or priced as such.

The small town of Clarkdale, Arizona, has restructured its water rates and found that usage dropped by 50%.

Growing population in the state is part of the problem and, candidly, I've thought endlessly for a solution of how one would control population in Arizona.

Part of the problem will have to rest in price or rate structure...not a popular solution these days.

Tax water use to a level that prohibits lush lawns in Phoenix, tax it to a level that prohibits economical establishment of cotton farms in southern parts of the state, tax it to the extent that makes stock/stock tanks uneconomical, tax it so you question flushing the toilet every time you pee.

Charge enough so that makes an 8,000 gallon swimming pool in Phoenix a true luxury
The first year or two I was out here, water wasn't an issue.  I've noticed, increasingly, that one water issue or another is becoming a factor in mining or, less so, the weather. 

Realistically, a water inventory for the state needs to be established and maybe the results will point the way to a solution.

The Hard Facts

Ahh...the hard facts. They bring us home to reality. 

The hard facts are that conditions of living in the desert are different than the conditions of living in the Midwest.  Concessions must be made for an unusual environment, an environment  that has little water, water resources that are being over-used.

As a point of reference, the Ogalalla Aquifer in the Midwest forces water upward to within 2 ft. of the surface.  It is one of the key reasons for the veto of the Keystone Pipeline and a resource that distinguishes the Midwest environment from that of the Southwest. 

A common response from residents of Arizona or otherwise in the Southwest takes the tenor of the following conversation:
Yikes! Thanks for speaking up on this, Katie! Just the idea of looking at water as a COMMODITY scares the beejeezus out of me... and i agree, taxing the shit out of those of us who have gardens just seems so wrong. I agree that wasting water is bad, and i try to collect rainwater to water my garden, but for fruit trees and other trees, there's usually not enough. This is a huge issue. Clarkdale doesn't want anybody to water anything so they can continue to grow their population....
In other words, "C'mon, guys, all I want are a few fruit trees. It's not so bad...I use rainwater for other plants."

From a current column "This Tribal Nation" by Paul Krugman in the NY Times:
". . .  having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren."

Our "Yikes!" comment continues. . . for "those who can afford to continue watering, the price of water won't matter. So once again, the poorer will suffer... the rich will have their lawns and pools, the poor will be robbed of growing decent food. And yes, there are just too damn many people already for sustainability."

Water issues are not social issues, hobby farms and ranches excluded.  The availability of water for non-essential uses simply subtracts from the amount that will be needed for essential ones in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Costly Solution

My original premise, posted a while ago, was that increases in Arizona population were aggravating the level of water use.

A response from Dr.Gary Beverly was "How do you control population?  You can't deport people"
The standard response from developers is to demonstrate "100 years assured water supply."

My response to Dr. Beverly was to price (or tax) water to such a level that fewer people would move to Arizona.
He seemed to agree.

In discussions with several friends, this solution was not taken favorably.  The feeling was that the "poor" would bear most of the burden.

Water is a commodity, however...a very limited one with undefined quantities, at least in Arizona.  As a limited commodity it should be priced or taxed according to its value.

As a start to help solve the question the state should probably commission an engineering/consulting firm do an inventory of state water resources. That's just for a start.
IBM, for one, undertakes such huge projects.

As an example, I understand (fr.Beverly) a neighboring town, Clarkdale, has cut per-capita water use by 50% through increasing prices. Commodities are the same as other items in the US economy...luxuries are expensive.  Water in the desert is a luxury.  

I'll stick with my original premise...if you want to know what the desert will support just "look out your back door."  It's not much.

In the future we'll be lucky to consume only our past average of 0.5 acre ft. per person.

Ultimately, the choice will be between the cotton fields in the southern part of the state and water to wash your dishes.  70% of water is consumed by agriculture...your choice.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Population Key to Water Use

It strikes me that we can drown in local legislation while the broader solution is directly in front of us: POPULATION.

We like to think we can beat the numbers.  At least commonly accepted ones.  

The density or concentration of desert flora is a fraction of what it is in
the Midwest.

The density or concentration of desert fauna is, also, a fraction of what it
is in the Midwest.

For example, the density of the deer population in Wisconsin is 30 times,
in a favorable habitat, of what it is in Arizona, a arguably more hostile one.

Why the human animal feels confident it can beat the numbers, I don't know.

We are continually drilling deeper to find aquifers and, frankly, the
handwriting is on the wall.

A developer may be able to demonstrate a "100 year assured supply" until a guy
on the adjoining property drills into the same aquifer and halves the capacity
of a viable aquifer.

I don't question that "
Arizona law allows threats to water resources."  I wonder that solutions have not been laid out.