Friday, January 1, 2010

Making the Desert Cool?

One of the multitude of subjects talked about around the table New Year's eve was water. Clean, drinkable water is going to be a major concern in the United States within the very near future. It is already a serious problem in cities like Las Vegas, Nevada, Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The major problems is nobody that lives there seems to know it.

Phoenix is a town in a desert which gets only 8 inches of rain in a good year and more often just 6 or less. It has, at last count, more than 150 golf courses. Residents like their water features such as outdoor swimming pools and cool misting systems that make the desert heat tolerable. Swimming pools require chillers (not heaters) to remain usable. Clearly with technology we have come a long way from the Bedouin Tents. But should we have?

The nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouins makes sense. It leaves a very small footprint upon the sands. The were light weight loose clothing rather than slaver their skin with sun screens. And they confine their major activities to the cool of the mornings and evenings rather than drill wells deep into the earth to spray precious water to evaporate into the dry desert air. It would not be so bad if Phoenix used only its water to waste on sprinkler and misting systems and water features. But no, they take water from the Colorado river via a huge canal and thereby deprive Mexico of the benefits of being downstream. The water originates in the high snow-capped Rocky Mountains and is trapped in reservoirs like Lake Powell so it can be managed to produce electricity for Los Angeles.

Here in the mountain west we consider that water precious. It is a resource that should be conserved and managed. And yet we watch it be wasted by energy generation companies and pleasure seekers living where they were not meant to live as they do.

New Mexico has fought over water rights it the past. Texas is finding out its huge aquifer is not as exhaustive as once thought. Santa Fe has put a curb on new housing because of the limitations of water. Las Vegas is trying to buy up water from areas north of the Great Basin and approaching the Canadian border to prime its fountains, misters and fill swimming pools. It will not be long before residents of Phoenix and Las Vegas and Tucson fight over the last few drops out of their taps. A deed on property in Phoenix once contained a clause guaranteeing the purchaser at least 100 years of water. Some experts say they cannot now guarantee ten years. And with all the new ways they are "using it" maybe not one.

Anyone want websites for Bedouin tents? You can get a good deal on a slightly used subdivision outside Phoenix. Sorry, no misters or pools possible. The wells went dry.

Oh, and sorry but no golf course either.