Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Little Cloud That Deceives Us

There are too many straws in the drink.  Making the drink bigger doesn’t solve the problem, although it might alleviate the symptoms for a while.

These are lessons we were exposed to this year in the Rio Grande valley.  We were exposed to them but I doubt if we learned them.

The winter snow pack in the San Juan mountains, which delivers water to the Rio Grande, was not big enough to suggest any alleviation of the severe drought  that had plagued the area for a decade.  But then came what we call the monsoon season, and it delivered more rainfall than we’d had for almost a decade.  Even without release of stored water from the diminished supplies in the River Grande reservoirs, the river flowed bank-to-bank for weeks on end.  We’d become accustomed to walking across dried sand where once the river was, beginning as early as August.  Farmers once allocated 11 acre feet of irrigation water from the river drew less than three, and tapped ever deeper into ground water tables, where there was ground water. Here it is October, and only recently has the Rio Grande in our backyards begun to recede into mudbanks and sand flats.  

Glory Hallelujah!

But wait.  The total of all water resources currently available and predictable is insufficient for the needs of the booming population.  Our agriculture, a mainspring of our economy, relies heavily on income from pecans, chile, lettuce, cabbage, onions and alfalfa.  Of these, only alfalfa is sustainable from naturally available water resources. If current per capita levels of water consumption are allowed to continue, our growing number of people will drink and bathe us dry in half a century.  Limits on human use are the obvious answer, but these would be politically unpopular and our politicians are loathe to even consider them. We are rolling merrily along —toward disaster.

Wake up, people!

No, as long as Nature continues to tantalize us with years like 2015, giving rise to a million false hopes and a regeneration of lies about “cyclical” drought, we’ll stroll down to the nearest bridge across the Rio Grande, look over the side to where they were playing beach volleyball last year, and say, “Look at all that water!”  

And we’ll go back home to admire green lawns in the desert, green golf courses in the desert, swimming pools in the desert and Vegas style fountain-filled landscaping around our desert mansions.

Life is good, we’ll tell ourselves.

But the water table beneath our feet is 100 feet deeper than it was ten years ago.

Climate science warns us that weather swings from one extreme to another will be more frequent and more pronounced.  This year’s rainfall might never be replicated. The drought that  saw brief respite this year might never really end.

We’re treading on dangerous ground, ground whose natural state is dry, dry, dry. 

But what the hell! The shrubs are green and there’s another rain cloud, off there to the southwest.  We’ll drink to that!

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