Running dry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jan 28 07:28:55 MST 2003

NY Times, Dec. 27, 2003
Arizona Starts to Feel Impact of Long Drought

GLENDALE, Ariz., Jan 24 — The weather was mostly sunny and pleasant 
across much of Arizona today, just as it has been for the better part of 
eight years. That is not such a good thing.

A persistent drought in rural Arizona and large parts of most other 
Western states is bearing down on Arizona's largest population centers, 
Phoenix and Tucson. Cities where green golf courses, swimming pools and 
shopping mall fountains have long been taken for granted are worrying 
for the first time that a shortage of water may end the days of 
unbridled growth. They are facing hard decisions about water use as the 
state confronts the drought's long-term effects on farms and forests, 
including dwindling crops, a growing threat of devastating wildfires and 
a worrisome infestation of tree-killing beetles.

This month, Salt River Project, the company whose dams and reservoirs 
provide the Phoenix metropolitan area about 75 percent of its water, 
announced that it was cutting deliveries by a third. This was the first 
time since 1951 that Salt River, a 100-year-old company, had rationed 
water. Several reservoirs have fallen so low that Indian ruins, some 
estimated to be 800 years old, have been exposed for only the third time 
in a century. Weather forecasters do not expect them to be submerged soon.

In Tucson, where the main water source is the Colorado River, city 
officials are storing river water in wells for drier times. Smaller 
cities are also doing so.

Farmers and ranchers throughout the West have long grappled with 
cyclical water supplies. In some states, drought has led to fights over 
water rights and financial losses to farmers and ranchers. Summer 
wildfires have been made more voracious by a steady buildup of dead 
trees and underbrush. This week, the Senate approved $3.2 billion to 
help farmers and ranchers offset drought losses.



NY Times, Jan. 26, 2003
Saudis Worry as They Waste Their Scarce Water

QASSIM PROVINCE, Saudi Arabia — From the air, the circular wheat fields 
of this arid land's breadbasket look like forest-green poker chips 
strewn across the brown desert. But they are outnumbered by the ghostly 
silhouettes of fields left to fade back into the sand, places where the 
kingdom's gamble on agriculture has sucked precious aquifers dry.

"I've had to lower my pumps 100 meters" — 328 feet — "in the past 10 
years," said a local wheat farmer driving past huge pivot irrigation 
systems whose 1,000-foot sprinkler arms sweep in a circle like the wand 
of a radar screen, turning the dry land an almost miraculous green. As 
the subterranean reservoirs run dry, his 4,000-foot-deep wells bring up 
water that is increasingly mineral-laden.

Saudi Arabia may sit atop the world's largest oil reserves, but the 
other side of the geological coin is that the country also sits atop one 
of the world's smallest reserves of water. It does not have a single 
lake or river.

Its only renewable water source is in shallow aquifers, 100 to 150 feet 
underground, which are replenished by brief, infrequent rainfalls. Wells 
dug deeper than 1,300 feet draw from ancient reserves trapped in layers 
of porous rock where the water is no more renewable than the country's oil.

Yet, like oil-short America with its gas-guzzlers, Saudi Arabia wastes 
plenty of its scarcest resource: fountains spew, swimming pools slop 
over and irrigation sprinklers seem to spray everywhere, letting water 
evaporate into the dry desert air.



The New York Times, January 19, 2003

Rio Grande Choice: Take City's Water Or Let Minnow Die

A three-inch-long endangered fish is standing between this city and its 
plans for a well-watered future.

The fish, the silvery minnow, native to the Rio Grande, has been the 
subject of years of court battles. But now a federal appeals court is 
about to decide whether, to save the fish, Albuquerque must give up 
drinking water it has set aside behind a federal dam for the years 
ahead. The case poses the most direct confrontation yet between the 
Endangered Species Act, which ranks the protection of threatened animals 
and plants above human needs, and the water rights held by cities like 
Albuquerque in Western states where water is becoming increasingly scarce.

Among the states that have joined with the city of Albuquerque and the 
State of New Mexico in asking the court to reserve the water for people 
are Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Wyoming. Their 
actions reflect wide expectation that the ruling could have broad 
implications, with a potential impact on scores of federal water 
projects and endangered species in 17 Western states.

The mayor of Albuquerque, Martin Chavez, says the case involves "the 
highest stakes imaginable" for his city, whose rights to the water 
stored behind the dam date back to a 1962 contract with the federal 
government. The city now relies wholly on water pumped from the ground 
at rates that cannot be sustained. But under a $200 million transition 
plan that would leave the city using ground water as a small part of its 
supply, the water behind the dam would become essential.

Environmentalists who are challenging the city, however, say the water 
right is not absolute and can be superseded by the need to address the 
threat to the fish, once the most plentiful in the river. Like the flow 
of the Rio Grande itself, the minnow's numbers have dwindled, to the 
point where experts say the fish will not survive in the wild if the 
river, heavily tapped by farmers and others and now stricken by drought, 
is allowed to go dry. The river nearly did go dry this fall along a 
60-mile stretch south of Albuquerque, which is the most critical habitat 
for survival of the minnow.

If the drought continues, only the release of water that Albuquerque and 
other users have stored behind the federal dam could keep enough water 
in that section of the river to sustain the minnow. While agreeing that 
an order forcing the release would be a radical step, the 
environmentalists say it would bring about a reckoning that is both 
necessary and long overdue.

"In my view, we can either come to terms with our problems while we 
still have a river, or we can wait until we no longer have a river," 
said Aletta Belin, a Santa Fe lawyer who represents a coalition of 
environmental groups that are suing the city, the state and the federal 
government to force the water release.



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