Monday, July 28, 2014

Well, it is a desert...

Via SurvivalBlog I was led to a stub of an article on a topic about which I've long wondered. What happens to Phoenix when the drinking straws start making that bubbling sound in the bottom of the cup?

We've built some humongous cities and agricultural areas in the middle of a desert that are awfully dependent on a watershed and various aquifers that maybe ain't gonna keep up with the demand.
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60 comments:

Anonymous said...

We here in South Florida are actually in the same boat: the aquifer beneath the Everglades can not keep up with demand and does not replenish fast enough with water flowing down from Lake Okeechobee.
Kishnevi

Old NFO said...

Houses go cheap, and people move or die... To put it bluntly...

Lewis Bysshe Shelley said...

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

TBeck said...

The position of Shadout Mapes will be added to the municipal election roster.

KevinC said...

Back in 1998, I was personally assured by the head of the biggest utility company in the state that Arizona had plenty of water for 50 years of future growth.

Of course, it would go against the success of his business to tell me otherwise.

Phoenix is a great place to live, as long as there is water and electricity there, and if there isn't, it's all over and it becomes Detroit x10.

Paul said...

But, the water can't run out?

Bunch of democrats if you ask me.

Greg in Allston said...

A very good book on western water and land development is Marc Reisner's "Cadillac Desert". Well worth the time if one is interested in such things.

Shermlock Shomes said...

History may repeat itself: "The city of Tughlaqabad, the previous incarnation of Delhi, was abandoned in the 14th century due to severe water shortage. Akbar's capital at Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned in 1585 due to paucity of water. Leading global cities like Sheba and Babel declined and subsequently disappeared because water sources had dried up."

Firehand said...

As I recall, that was one big reason Chris over at Anarchangel & family left Arizona: if almost anything took out power or screwed with the water supply, it was going to be monumentally bad very fast.

fillyjonk said...

I don't know about Phoenix, but some cities try to put in place "agreements" with more water-rich areas that say they can take water from them. (And sometimes, the people in the more water-rich areas go, "Wait....this means you get to keep watering your lawns while we face water restrictions. Not cool.")

I suspect in the future there will be wars waged over water. I hope I'm not still around to see them.

Reno Sepulveda said...

It's already come to mandatory water rationing here. Used to be we watered the lawn every other day. Now we've traded the lawn for indigenous landscaping and webathe every other day.

We seriously pray for rain and genuinely give thanks when it comes like it did yesterday. But yeah, this place is a desert that butts right up against the Pacific and we can't pretend otherwise.

Scott_S said...

Well we will get to see property values "contract".

Knucklehead said...

The cities will slowly become ghost towns as the exodus happens. Before that will be water restrictions... no lawns, no fountains, things of that nature. There are perfectly understandable reasons people don't live in deserts in large numbers. It will get ugly and then uglier and then collapse.

Or, to quote some brilliant guy from the past, "What cannot continue will not continue."

RevolverRob said...

What happens? Well one of two things. 1) Everyone leaves for greener pastures (literally). or 2) They truck water in, until they can build an aquaduct/pipeline from someplace with water.

I have my personal entrepreneurial ideas of where to get it, but suffice to say, if you did things right, Detroit could once again come back as a premier city in the world, selling water to those in need.

TBeck said...

Just run a tap from the Colorado River. Problem solved.

Chas Clifton said...

Also Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, and associated communities in New Mexico.

KM said...

Phx w/o water would go the way of the Hohokam, the original canal builders in the area.
Droughts don't last forever...it just feels like they do.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I want Detroit to be selling water it doesn't own. I would much prefer that most of you move back with your money and skills and make the Rust Belt work again. The Great Lakes stay here!

Bubblehead Les. said...

The Apache, Navajo and Hopi Reservations suddenly become REALLY, REALLY BIG?

Richard said...

Water law in the west is that water flows uphill to money. Phoenix has money, rural areas don't so that is where the water comes from. The infrastructure is already built (Central Arizona project etc) so you just need to put more water in upstream. LA and Las Vegas have already pioneered the method.

Precision270 said...

I say we build fusion reactors that fuse 2 hydrogen atoms with one oxygen atom (obviously on a large scale). Hydrogen and Oxygen are free in the air and the end result is water and energy.
This will stop the brown outs and stop the brown water in California. Everyone wins.

Oh wait. nuclear equals no go for caliweenies and we haven't perfected synthetic unicorn fart matrices to contain the fusion reactions.

I guess we'll just have to pray for intelligent political decisions and rain.

Alien said...

A great deal, more than most people realize, of modern societies is artifically supported. There's not enough natural water in many areas, so wells get drilled, and drilled again deeper, pipelines get built, use restrictions get applied.

While today's focus is water, our economy is no less artifically supported. Welfare states, or pseudo-welfare states, can exist only as long as there is sufficient economic, materiel and energy surpluses to support them; much of that support is artifically created.

When any of those run out and the artificial support mechanisms fail or prove inadequate, the resulting difficulties will be termed "bad luck".

staghounds said...

The people don't leave, they arrive somewhere else.

Following hugely expensive programs to fight nature, of course.

Anonymous said...

TBeck said...

Just run a tap from the Colorado River. Problem solved.

We already did. It wasn't. We're in the fifteenth year of drought, which doesn't help, even when you only get six inches of rain in a good year.
But don't think the Southwest is exceptional. Turn off the spigot in, oh, say, Indianapolis, and things will get very different quickly.

John of the GMA

The Raving Prophet said...

You think running out of water is bad, wait until the Shai-hulud start running amok thereafter.

armedlaughing said...

Agree with KevinC

I've been here since 1956 - but, the Law doesn't hold with 'first dibs' rights!

gfa

RevolverRob said...

@Anon at 10:37 - I misspoke - Detroit doesn't sell the water - the entreprenuers in Detroit do. Ideally they reinvest that money back in the city, but it's not necessarily so...maybe the Detroit citizens need to get together on this.

As for the whole great lakes thing - They are getting drained. You've got a lot of this country that needs water and not everyone from Los Angeles is going to move to Michigan, nor would you want them too...trust me.

-Rob

azmountaintroll said...

What can't go on forever - won't.
Who can leave - will.

Ask the Anasazi what happens next.

ChrisCM said...

I second Greg's recommendation of Reisner's Cadillac Desert. I found the writing almost unbearable (Reisner apparently can't simply describe how big something is, he has to compare every big thing to a number of small things. "Ten thousand Buicks stacked atop one another." "Enough cable to travel the distance from Portland to Jacksonville and return via Cleveland." Etc.) but the information is endlessly fascinating, if a little dated.
Phoenix already depends largely on water shunted down from the Colorado River at great expense (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Arizona_Project). Almost the entire west, in fact, depends on absurdly expensive, environmentally destructive, and economically inefficient dams, aqueducts, canals, and tunnels. Bunch o' welfare queens.

Don M said...

Of course one thing that could happen is the water rates are permitted to rise. That does two things: It funds finding future water supplies. It reduces water spent on less critical uses, say very green lawns, or even cotton fields.

In LA in the middle of the drought, the fire department would move around, taking water from their hydrants (which are unmetered) and spraying it at high rates into the sewer system. It seems that the LA people were entirely too good as saving water, and the sewage system, which needed a certain ratio of water to crap, demanded more water. The Fire Fighter's time was typically charged to over time, and calls for saving water continued unabated.

Melody Byrne said...

Precisely why we left for somewhere with good water rights where meeting water needs through catchment is possible and legal. Now we're staying in central Florida for a while. Water catchment isn't just legal here, it's also encouraged.

Don M said...

Unless your atmosphere is very different from mine, you won't find free hydrogen in the air in any significant quantity.

When petroleum is burned, one by product is water.

As southern California funds desalination plants, and the water is used for agriculture (even the 'bushes around McDonald's" kind, some of the water from the plants transpiration can go to the atmosphere, which blows to Phoenix. A cold plate can then condense water even from the low humidity air in Phoenix, which could be saved. That isn't the most efficient way to get water to Phoenix, but it would take advantage of things going on elsewhere. Alas, the cold plate would also extract heat from the air, which heat would have to be processed by the refridgeration

Anonymous said...


Either the cities become ghost towns which is economic disaster for the homeowners & mortgage-holders or someone builds massive desalination plants on the coast with pipelines to match. Diverting flow from a river takes away from everyone downstream so there will be trouble if it is attempted.

Al_in_Ottawa

Precision, nuclear fusion is banging two deuterium or tritium hydrogen nuclei together to fuse them into one helium nucleus. You need a fission type A-bomb to develop the temperature needed. Good news, when you burn those evil hydrocarbons you get water and carbon dioxide. Buy an SUV and drive it!

Anonymous said...

If you can't find a copy of "The Cadillac Desert" a quick read from Jon Taltons blog will give some background

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2014/07/the-water-questions.html#more

nml

Comrade Misfit said...

Jon Talton's "David Mapstone" mystery series has a veiw of Phoenix from those who have lived there for a few generations.

Basically, nothing good is going to happen.

Will said...

Las Vegas is going to have a water and power shortage in a very few years. They have been sucking up Lake Mead, which now provides only 1/3 of their electricity. IIRC, the turbines are expected to be shut down about 5 years from now. Maybe less, with the drought. The city expects to steal water from the farmers/ranchers in the east side of the state (ground water), by building a large pipeline to them. Price is estimated at $7 billion, which the city can't afford. Wonder what the cost of power is going to be, and can the power net handle the increased demand?

bluesun said...

The main reason why Western Coloradans think Denver is full of idiots is that the easterners keep trying to siphon water over the divide, seemingly without realizing that every single drop is already committed to two or three other places. I'll bet you money that when the water war starts it'll be in Colorado.

Steve Skubinna said...

At least Phoenix has aquifers. LA sits in a basin that has no - as in not any - potable water.

When I mention that were you to seek the worst possible place on the West Coast to site a metropolis you'd end up at LA people look at me funny. So far as they know, water comes from the taps and electricity comes from the wall outlets. Always has, always will. Just the same way that food magically appears on the shelves of the stores.

Urban dwellers have no clue how fragile their infrastructure really is. One Nork nuke in the stratosphere over the West Coast and you have a bunch of dead cities and millions of dead humans.

On the other hand, that would be an awesome name for a band - One Nork Nuke.

Sherm said...

When I was a kid in Las Vegas in the mid-60's we used to joke about drinking Lake Mead dry never expecting that 50 years later it was reality.

Actually you don't need to look to Las Vegas to see what will happen to Phoenix but to Los Angeles which pioneered taking water from elsewhere. One of the reasons we left SoCal was water. Anyone with any sense can see there is no way out of SoCal except through a desert (unless everyone heads north along the coast to NorCal - hardly a solution) when there is a water emergency. 23 million thirsty desperate people are not my idea of a good time.

Ed Skinner said...

Phoenix and Tucson started sucking the Colorado River upstream from where Los Angeles drains it almost dry before a trickle enters Mexico. Carried in a very long meandering canal to the AZ cities, that's why the tap tastes like a river. Shortages in southern CA are our fault now but we'd be glad to talk prices any time.

Kevin said...

There are large aquifers still untapped in Arizona, they just require power to lift the water to the surface, and more power to pump it to where it's needed.

Which means nuclear.

Which ain't gonna happen.

That's OK, the world economy is going to crash sooner rather than later, and who knows? There may indeed be an archduke or two that gets assassinated in the interim.

Somehow, I don't think "excess population" is going to be as much of a problem as current planners worry about.

Patti said...

It's not just the Southwest that's having the problem with reduced groundwater. It's not uncommon to run into water restrictions during the summer in the Puget Sound as we're so dependent on mountain snow. And in Eastern Washington agri business is depleting the aquifers at a rate of 10ft per year in an area that only gets 10in of precipitation every year. It's fairly frightening to contemplate the massive farmlands here going dry like that and the result on food availability. Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, and the rest of the farm belt are facing this issue too.

And then there's the problem everywhere of granted water rights exceeding the available water, but that's a rant for another time.

Kristophr said...

They will have to recycle each other I guess.

Or move to states with water.

Bugger.

Just My 2¢ said...

Hmmm. This question is something that I actually have some experience with. Here are some likely options:

1. Complete recycling and purification of all wastewater.

2. Development of brackish water sources and purification by Reverse Osmosis or other desalination technology.

"Drinking Water" will never be an issue, even in Phoenix. You can install an atmospheric condenser (a high-tech dehumidifier) and get enough from water vapor.

Non-potable uses would be drastically curtailed, however. Car washing, lawn watering, and possibly even laundry would come with sticker shock.

Anonymous said...

The brutal truth is that the CONUS area is now beyond its sustainable carrying capacity.

The US was at a nice level of population in the early 60's, when a fat homicidal womanizer from Massachusetts came along and, because some people were mean to Irish drunkards in the 19th century, decided to throw open the gates to immigrants.

The CONUS area has a long-term carrying capacity of about 200 million people. That's it.

What most people don't realize about the water situation in the southwest US is that the water allocations (ie, start from the assumptions of how much water there actually *is*) were initially made in the very wet period of over 100 years ago.

Geological and Native American evidence shows us that the southwest US has experienced droughts of over 100 years long before. Being short of water isn't anything new in the southwest. What's new is all the stupid easterners who think that they simply must have a friggin' lawn of bluegrass in their yards.

The worse part of the issue is that the southwest is just the leading edge of the issue. There are aquifers in the midwest that are now restricted and the ag irrigation rights are are allowed to pump on a seniority basis. Western KS, some places in OK, up into CO, SD, etc - have irrigation from groundwater layers that are showing signs of systemic depletion.

Here's a little factoid for you people: See those green circles when you fly over the midwest? Those are irrigation pivots. They're typically about 1/4 mile long (440 yards) and these typically require about 1,000 gallons *per minute* of water to water that 125 +/- acres just to keep up with envirotranspiration in the summer in the less humid areas.

Andrew S. said...

another +1 for Cadillac Desert. I greatly enjoyed the story of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers dynamiting eachother's irrigation projects in a power struggle to see who would be the .gov agency in charge of irrigating desert so western farmers could grow crops which farmers in the Mississippi river watershed were being paid not to grow.

Puts some perspective on how long "dumbfuck government" has been a thing.

ChrisCM said...

I guess I didn't learn my lesson last time I broached this topic:

For what it's worth, a vegan diet places far lower demands on the country's limited water supply than does consumption of farmed meat. Embrace individual responsibility and ditch the burgers!

[ducks]

Geodkyt said...

Instead of pumping water through the deserts and over the mountains to Los Angeles, the Southern California coast should be positively infested with nuclear plants - both solving California's electrical shortage and driving desalinization plants that can not only supply SoCal, but are actually pumping water east over the mountains and through the desert.

Absent the realization that the nuclear physics expertise of hippies (who couldn't spell "isotope" or "ionizing", much less define them) is somewhat less than authoritative, SoCal and the Southwestern desert will end up depopulating back to about where they were at teh turn of the century, as that's what the local fresh water supplies can handle.

Ken said...

I read Cadillac Desert, but it was about 20 years ago. Wasn't the Grand Dream something like diverting the Yukon into the Great Lakes and then the Great Lakes to the Southwest, or some such?

As southern California funds desalination plants, and the water is used for agriculture (even the 'bushes around McDonald's" kind, some of the water from the plants transpiration can go to the atmosphere, which blows to Phoenix. A cold plate can then condense water even from the low humidity air in Phoenix, which could be saved. That isn't the most efficient way to get water to Phoenix, but it would take advantage of things going on elsewhere. Alas, the cold plate would also extract heat from the air, which heat would have to be processed by the refridgeration."

Also, you'd need a droid that could speak the binary language of your vaporators, and we all know where that ends up....

B5K said...

Where in the hell are Jami Gertz and Jason Patric when Phoenix needs them?

Joe in PNG said...

Business idea- start manufacturing stillsuits now... plus fremkits, thumpers, maker hooks...

Kristophr said...

"This is our hardest stone ..."

Dr. Coyote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TBeck said...

John, I was being facetious. Last year I left the Texas Panhandle. I know how dry things are out there.

Joseph said...

The cost of desalination is 20 cents per day. Transport and lifting costs might double that. I think Phoenix should be able to afford it.

You can think of the above figures as coming from the warm equations.

DaveFla said...

I think this might help:
The Ice Pirates (1984) Trailer: http://youtu.be/B-YZ8WOU1-w

mikee said...

What happens when the water dries up?

Google "Big Lake, TX" and look at the sat picture. There is a 3 mile long by 1 mile wide dry lakebed where the lake was until the 1930s.

The town used to be a bit of a tourist resort for west Texans. Now it is a crossroads for oil workers in the Permian Basin.

Steve C said...

In answer to some comments of tapping the Great Lakes, it's against the law. The Great Lakes St-Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, which is international law. You can't even pipe Lake Michigan water to Indianapolis.

Will said...

Plug the Miss river at/near Nawlins and dig a ditch to the southern half of AZ, then run it over to San Diego/Los Angeles. Might need a few pumps. Hmm, if you start the ditch a bit farther north, might help with some of those spring floods.

Seerak said...

I'm reminded of an old Canadian lefty conspiracy theory about "The Grand Canal", supposedly a plot to coerce Canada to surrender its ample fresh water supplies to feed the arid West.