Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Beach Volleyball, Drought and the Very Very Rich

They're playing beach volleyball in the Rio Grande.  The "great river" of New Mexico and Texas is one long ribbon of sand.

Young people in bikinis are serving, digging and spiking where a year ago flowed the irrigation water that nurtured the Hatch and Mesilla Valleys' crops of pecans, onions, alfalfa, barley, lettuce, cabbage, beef and dairy products and, of course, chile. (New Mexico has an official state question: "Red or green?")

Caballo "Lake," the nearest reservoir to Las Cruces, is a mud puddle after more than a decade of drought.  Nearby Elephant Butte "Lake," the main water management facility for southern New Mexico and west Texas, is 90 per cent empty, man's management efforts mocked by a series of bathtub rings towering above the present surface level. They used to "turn on" the river, releasing outflow from these containments, in March or April when the snowmelt from the southern slopes of Colorado's San Juan mountains brought the Rio Grand to life.  Last year it was early May before they turned on the river; this year's target date is June 1, and the flow season will only be about a month.

This year's snow pack was only about 62 per cent of normal. By the time the melt flow reached Elephant Butte, it was 5 percent of normal. This after a decade of drought had already reduced reservoirs to mere ponds. "Each successive year of short water gets worse and worse," explains Phil King, who manages the Elephant Butte Irrigation District.  "This year is the most critically short in the history of the Rio Grande Project" (the system of dams and containments of which Elephant Butte is part).

The Mesilla Valley still has verdant fields of onions, alfalfa and cabbage and soon the lucky few farmers with access to ground water will plant the beloved crops of chile. "If you can pump," one farmer said earlier this year, "you pump.  If you can't, you're out of business."   This isn't the giants of Argribusiness; these are small, individually-owned farms and ranches operated pretty much the same way they operated two generations ago. But pumping water from the aquifers is a self-defeating process: wells are beginning to go dry or produce brackish water.  Ground water in aquifers is a finite resource, and there are lots of straws sucking away down there.

Not far from El Paso and Las Cruces is one of the last magnificent natural grasslands in the American west.  It sustains an array of biota whose abundance is almost non-existant throughout North America. It has enough ground water to slake the thirsts of El Paso, Las Cruces and surrounding areas for 100 years. It's called Otero Mesa and the congressman who represents this part of the southwest desperately wants to turn it over to his pals in the extraction industries for drilling and fracking. Steve Pearce is a member of the ultra-wealthy one percent.  Like his fellow plutocrats, he looks around and sees only dollars on the bushes and trees and under the mountains and in the canyons.  Since he's already rich enough to truck in his drinking water from Lake Michigan, he cares not a whit that the people he "represents" are perilously close to lacking the water necessary to sustain human life, let alone crop life or animal life.

And he's just a microcosm of the planet-raping, corporate-controlled, money-grubbing U .S. of A.

Let them eat cake.

Let them drink  champagne.

Pearce periodically conducts "job fairs" in his impoverished district, designed to prove that if the jobless ones who live here had any gumption, or got off drugs, they'd have their own hunk of the American Dream.

He seems not to notice that most of those jobs pay the minimum wage, less after unscrupulous franchise holders in the fast food joints siphon workers' money off the top.  Or pay nothing after the crop is picked.

The jobless can always join the volleyball game under the bridge.

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