“Water, water everywhere, and yet the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Those immortal lines are from “The Rime of The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first published in 1798. It tells the story of a crew of sailors aboard a sailing vessel, and how one of the crew accidentally shoots and kills an albatross; then considered to be an omen of good fortune for sailors when at sea. By killing the albatross, the crew’s good fortune quickly turns bad, very bad indeed. The ocean winds necessary to propel the ship’s sails die down and become nil. The sky becomes nothing but sunshine, with no rain in sight as the thirsty crew begins running out drinking water. Their vessel becomes stranded at sea, “like a painted ship upon a painted ocean.” If you’re interested in how it all turns out, read the poem. Anyway I thought I would use this literary classic to segway into a discussion of the brutal drought that is currently afflicting California; which I’m pretty certain is not the result anyone killing an albatross. Instead, it’s been brought about by decades of overpopulating and over farming one of the driest places on the planet, the Southwest United States. And it’s not just California; the drought also affects southern Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico. But it appears, at this time, that Southern California is being hardest hit.
California is well into its fourth year of severe drought, with mountains to the north that would normally contain about 6 feet snow at this time, being completely bare. It’s the runoff from these mountains in the Spring when the snow melts that replenishes California aqueducts and aquifers, and what enables the state to maintain its huge agricultural industry. California is the 8th largest economy in the world, and this country’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables. With reservoirs beginning to run dry, farmers and county officials have begun to rely heavily on tapping into underground water in aquifers, which are now also being seriously depleted. As a direct result of the drought, the California economy is expected to lose more than $2.2 billion this year. More than 17,000 jobs, mostly agricultural, have also disappeared. Some farming operations have ceased to exist, especially in the dairy and livestock industries. The news just keeps getting worse with each passing day. The “wet season” is over now in California, and it won’t be until October at the earliest, that any hope for relief from the drought will occur. If there isn’t any significant rain or snow come next winter, Americans better get used to the fact that drought in the Southwest is the new normal.
Governor Jerry Brown has called on residents to reduce by 25% all water usage. A desalinization plant is being completed and should be on line within the next few months. One theory of solution is that if California could build a string of desalinization plants along its Pacific coast, it could suck in enough ocean water to fill its needs. The problem with that theory, however, is that desalinization plants are enormously expensive to build, and then would provide only a fraction of the water requirements for the entire state. One plant costs in the billions to build, so it would take hundreds of billions of dollars to construct plants up and down the state that would still provide less than half the clean water needed. Where would that money come from. Turning salt water into the drinkable kind is apparently a very complex and costly effort.
As I mentioned previously, the Southwest is vastly overpopulated, and the population just continues to increase. The entire region is desert dry, yet it’s inhabited by tens of millions, with more continuing to relocate there every day. I’ve written several times before about the dire water situation here in Las Vegas where I reside at the present. About 2 million people live in the Las Vegas Valley, which gets, in a good year, maybe 3.5 inches of rain. Las Vegas receives almost all its water from Lake Mead, which is provided for by the Colorado River. Or, as it should be more aptly called these days, the Colorado Streamlet. The same barren northern mountains with the missing snow pack, which is supposed to replenish California’s water reservoirs, also provides for the Colorado River flow. Just this past week, the local LV newspaper had a front page article about how the water level in Lake Mead is expected to hit a new all-time low, just in time for the big fight taking place Saturday night at the MGM Grand. A fight, I might add, where scalpers are charging tens of thousands of dollars per ticket, and unbelievably, some people are actually willing to fork over that kind of cash for a ringside seat. Wouldn’t it be a hoot and a half, if, after the fight, these big spenders went back to their hotel rooms, turned on the water facet or shower, and nothing came out. After all, MGM Grand never promised them free flowing water for their $2,000 a night room.
I may be old enough to where I can ride out the water shortage and drought existing here in the few remaining years I have left. But for young people moving to Las Vegas, or Southern California, or anywhere in the Southwest for the that matter, it could be a very rough future if unyielding drought does, in fact, become the new norm. Residents here could become like those mariners in Coleridge’s poem, stuck in a “painted ship upon a painted ocean.”