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Tue Jan 28 07:28:55 MST 2003
NY Times, Dec. 27, 2003
Arizona Starts to Feel Impact of Long Drought
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
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
By CRAIG S. SMITH
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
By DOUGLAS JEHL
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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