Back East we’re freezing and snow covered. Out West, we’re getting thirstier… California is in a drought emergency after its driest year on record… And an uncomfortable reality sets in through the arid region stretching from Colorado’s Rockies to the Pacific coastline. Lack of water may dramatically alter the prospects for growth and livability in what has been one of the country’s fastest growing areas for decades.
Now weather is a fickle force… Back in 2007 Atlanta had just a one month supply of water and the Governor held a prayer session, bringing relief in a series of heavy rain storms. .. The Southwest recovered from the Depression era Dust Bowl and California bloomed in the post World War II era, producing an agricultural bonanza of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and rice. From time to time every region endures some sort of water shortfall. Rains or snows eventually bring deliverance, if you wait long enough. Currently, Texas experiences some mild recovery after its worst drought on record in 2011 when 88% of the state was in a worst stage of water emergency and some small towns saw wells ran dry.
But the long-term trends do not bode well, according to climatologists, who predict a hotter and dryer future for the West and Southwest. They forecast a need for rationing water from the Colorado River, the primary source of supply for Nevada, Arizona, and Southern California where populations have been mushrooming. Lake Mead, the giant reservoir south of Las Vegas is now only half full, and the city races to build an $800 million water tunnel to tap water below levels where the operation of current pipes appears threatened.
To Nevada’s credit, Las Vegas treats and recycles gray water from sinks, showers, and hotel fountains back into Lake Mead—overall water consumption is actually down in the region over the last decade plus despite the addition of nearly 400,000 in population, according to the New York Times. Arizona and Southern California will need to go into full scale conservation mode too and water costs will continue to spike, increasing the local cost of living from higher water bills and the installation and operation of various water saving and recycling infrastructures. More back yard swimming pools and green lawns will be replaced by rock gardens and cactus plants and golf course memberships are bound to become pricier. Many folks living in the desert will not be able to afford the trappings of lusher environs as in the past.
And some places just may run out of water—developers could be faced with challenges to building that cannot be overcome--no wells, no supplies, no projects. Water wars between states and localities will heat up. Do Imperial Valley farmers sacrifice crops for Phoenix resorts or Las Vegas casinos? Do LA and San Diego residents have a larger stake in water than lettuce growers and other agricultural interests, which help feed the entire nation? And can California continue to farm rice, one of the most water intensive crops?
In order to retain more water, developers may face other restrictions and hurdles involving preservation and even restoration of some wetlands. Eventually northern California must spend tens of billions of dollars to rebuild its crumbling water delivery infrastructure, which stands vulnerable to potential earthquake damage. That’s a disaster just waiting to happen.
Water—we can no longer take it for granted. Maybe it’s time for Jerry Brown to clasp his hands.
For an irreverent take on the macroeconomic environment, check out GlobeSt.com's Chief Economist authored by Dr. Sam Chandan.