« The new red line | Main | 'Til Kingdom come »

May 12, 2015


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Jon is that Malthus, Powell, Devoto, Abbey, Stegner and Bowden I hear smiling? Nice piece.

Are you aiming for the 2015 chicken little award. The one kunstler has won 40 years in a row.

We will lower taxes to absolute zero. We will seal the border. We will ship out all the illegals and anyone they are related to. We will end all abortions. We will ship out all gays. Every resident over the age of twelve will carry a gun. Religion will be brought back into schools, government , everywhere. McCain will be senator forever. Joe will be sheriff forever

God will smile upon us and it will rain.

Your god said the "Rain will follow the Plow. "
Charles Wilber

I disagree with Grady Gammage about a lot (particularly his assertion that "growth pays for itself" - I don't even think he really believes that, but I suspect he must say it so his clients don't fire him) But, his idea to use water use policy as the tool to regulate land use is a good one.

The ADWR should use its existing authority to allocate water use by land use: industrial, agricultural, residential, commercial. The agricultural allocation should be enough to feed the entire state's population sustainably. There will be cries of "social engineering" but that is the society we have in AZ - one completely engineered by government water infrastructure.

This idea could be taken a step further with a context-based regulatory approach where car-dependent suburban neighborhoods are more water restricted and walkable urban neighborhoods less water restricted. This would encourage more lush vegetation where it is being used for thermal cooling and discourage it where it is being wasted on aesthetics. It would also end up saving more water because it would encourage more density, and dense neighborhoods use far less water per capita - even with lush grass and high water use trees - than low density suburban ones. All this would entail would be pretty uncomplicated tweaks to landscaping and plumbing codes.

Stegner's "Angle of Repose" should be required reading in every western high school.....or perhaps all our secondary schools.

Phx Planner -- you have been missed!

Fine column!

No, don't head back to the Midwest or the East. Go to wonderful Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. There is no income tax in Washington state. It isn't as rainy as Des Moines or DC.

No! In Seattle, it rains all the time and it's cold as hell. And there's a real-life socialist on City Council.

You'd hate it here.


Phx planner good thoughts but I'm sure U know the Biggs led legislature has no interest in your thoughts?

maybe u all can research this but I think a female spokes person for az water resources and some man from the agriculture industry recently stated AZ has plenty of water.

Cal, you are right about Biggs and the Arizona legislature.

So it will be the hard way.

What will be the next significant signs of environmental meltdown for the good citizens of Metro Phoenix other than the obvious ones that are already occurring?

OT: Seymour Hersh has the Bin Laden assassination mostly right. A staged event between American and Pakistani military officials.

1) No way Pakistani officials weren't aware of Bin Laden's long residency in the heart of their country.

2) No way US helicopters could enter Pakistani airspace without Pakistani detection unless the Pakistani military was in on the deal.

3) Pakistani government had to appear ignorant of US staged operation to avoid significant internal riots and disruption for open cooperation with Great Satan.

4) No US politician would pass on the political capital gained from taking direct credit for putting Bin Laden's head on a spike.

The corporate media prostitutes who call themselves journalists today with their 7 figure compensation packages can't hold a stick to to Sy and others in his generation of reporting.

"Every resident over the age of twelve will carry a gun."

Ha! Sounds like an infringement on FREEDOM! Why deny infants and toddlers their 2nd Amendment rights?

AZ will buy the necessary water from Nestle (that'll teach those Californtards!).

It's too bad voters overwhelmingly passed Prop 100 in 2008 that prohibits the government from charging any new tax on the sale or transfer of real property in Arizona. A lot of cities and states have modest (under 1%) real estate transfer taxes paid either by the buyer or seller of real property. If AZ or cities within it had transfer taxes, it would diversify their stream of revenue and be a small step to changing the landscape of cities. There wouldn't be as much pressure to build beige strip malls, big box stores and chain restaurants.

Nestle- hey chocolate milk bunny, harmless, cute, tasty! The Swiss corporation is getting rights to "spring water" in southern Washington by leveraging the city council so that there will be some jobs. http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/01/bottled_water_wars_nestles_lat.html
What's missing in the article is any mention of the long game. For now, the bottled stuff will compete with other brands in the 7-11 stores. In the long run the Swiss chocolate bunnies will be able to sell it as a biological necessity. Northwest water rights will be a hallmark of the best investment portfolios.
When there was a referendum last year to make portland's water district an elected board, I wondered whether I was being paranoid. ( it was defeated, and I don't think that I was.)
BTW, Oregon and Washington snowpacks are paltry. The Midwest is the place to go. Tons of snow, perhaps, but think of it like the troublesome goo in the Clampetts' backyard. contain the snowmelt and y''all will be rich someday.
Also, see the drought maps that include so much of Oregon. Better to stay away.
I was chatting with a renter neighbor who has to move and is concerned with being able to get a place in her current school district. Talking about upward pressures on rent here in port burg she mentioned "climate refugees." Maybe the Arizona idea of a tall, long southern fence isn't such a bad one after all.

Every time I see the tragedy of the commons played out in real life it makes me sad. Every time it plays out in my back yard it makes me even sadder. Economics moves along day by day bringing concepts like asymmetric information in to challenge deeply held precepts, but this one old econ 101 concept never fails to kick in. I can think of three separate commons in play here just off the top of my head, making the hard way pretty much inevitable regardless of foibles associated with the sitting legislature and a governor who reads like a preschooler (sorry preschoolers!). I have been told that my house is the perfect place to sit out the zombi apocalypse (roller shields, 1960s rebar/concrete inset diamond windows, 50+ fruit and nut trees and a full garden) so you all come on over when the guns come out. More out than they already are, I mean.

But it's a failure of the commons that has resulted in the water problems.

For years, water has been incorrectly priced. Politicians and boards did not have the guts to include replacement reserves and infrastructure additions to the cost of water.

And now, the bill is coming due. Quickly.

This is the fundamental problem in this country and most of the world. Most of you grasp it in terms of carbon based fuels and defense.

But it permeates almost everything we do.

Too often, the common good has, at least in part, been provided for.

But it has not been paid for.

So. here we are. We need a bazillion dollars to fix the water problem in Arizona and California. The recent storms in Kansas and Oklahoma will cost a couple of billion. No one can even count the war, pension, medical, and other deferred liabilities that are not even factored in. Chicago debt is now at junk bond levels.

The current federal accumulated deficit is about 100% of GDP with no end in sight.

Carry on

Colleen, thanks for your post. I had to read up on your comments as they were not within my limited understanding. Hardin was interesting and somewhat contradictory but he was affiliated with one of my heroes.

"Like Lloyd and Thomas Malthus before him, Hardin was primarily interested in the problem of human population growth. But in his essay, he also focused on the use of larger (though finite) resources such as the Earth's atmosphere and oceans, as well as pointing out the "negative commons" of pollution (i.e., instead of dealing with the deliberate privatization of a positive resource, a "negative commons" deals with the deliberate commonization of a negative cost, pollution)."


I agree. INPHX, "For years, water has been incorrectly priced. Politicians and boards did not have the guts to include replacement reserves and infrastructure additions to the cost of water."

Did you glance at my “SE ACABARON” that Jon posted for me on Writing off the news.

How about you talk about what you think of earth Population.
We didn't build a wall against the white invasion of the Southwest but short of a huge disaster (like a lot less water) it's time to discourage those that want to escape the land of sunshine to shovel sand and chase thir balls around green sand dunes

Let's try another table napkin calculation, using Rogue's own numbers plus a couple more he won't object to.

In Arizona, agriculture (which includes ranching) uses 68 percent of the state's available water. That means cities (including residential, commercial and industrial) use the remaining 32 percent.

In 2014 Arizona's population was 6.7 million. Rogue suggests that 2.5 million, or about 37 percent of the population, leave the state. That means reducing the cities' 32 percent share of state water by 37 percent. Simple arithmetic shows that 37 percent of 32 is about 12.

So, Rogue's proposed exodus would increase Arizona's available water supplies by only about 12 percent of the currently available supply.

Another way to look at it is that if instead of cutting population by 37 percent, the existing population cut non-agricultural water use by 37 percent, this would only save 12 percent of the currently available water.

Of course, that ignores population growth from births, even if we could somehow prevent further net migration to the state from both other states and from other countries.

It isn't necessary to eliminate state agriculture; though I might point out that Arizonans import many basic goods (including many agricultural goods) from other states (Florida oranges, anyone?) as well as from other countries, seemingly with ease.

What it is necessary to do is reduce agricultural water usage. Currently, flood irrigation is very popular because agricultural users pay no premium for wasting vast amounts of water and thus have no incentive to invest part of their profits in efficient drip irrigation systems.

There is a "real world" success story which shows the way. Israel began as a farming country and even today agriculture is still both very important as well as politically powerful.

Israel faced its own serious drought problems six years ago. It set an affordable water quota for individuals and farmers so that ordinary folks and small farms could afford water, but taxed excess use (above the quota) at a much higher rate. This forced farmers to either switch to efficient drip irrigation systems or to less water intensive crops.

Israel purifies 85 percent of all household waste water, but it isn't used for drinking: it's mostly used by farmers for drip irrigation of crops. This is a safe use of recycled wastewater that requires less treatment.

P.S. If the proposed exodus occurred, it's unlikely that any water, even the 12 percent mentioned above, would be saved.

First, note that agriculture wouldn't shut down a commensurate number of farms if 2.5 million residents left the state: they would simply increase the amount of produce exported out of state, to make up the loss of in-state demand. And after all, those 2.5 million Arizonans would have to live someplace else, so they'd increase demand there.

Second, note that the 12 percent decrease in water use by cities would simply give the agricultural sector that much more to play with. Farmers would likely increase water use to increase production in order to increase agricultural exports and thereby increase their profits.

So agriculture would simply increase its share and even the reduced population would be right back where it started, facing water shortages as regional population grows and climate change reduces snow-pack and thus river water from snow melt.

P.P.S. Note that California has similar problems with its agricultural water use, only worse.

California's agricultural sector uses 80 percent of the state's available water. That means the cities use 20 percent. So if California residents (as opposed to farms) cut their water use in half, it would only free up 10 percent of the state's available water; and nothing would prevent the agricultural sector from (literally) sucking up the newly available 10 percent in order to increase its exports of lucrative but highly water intensive crops like almonds.


It's really pretty simple. Increase the cost.

Give business a reason to reduce water use, and they will.

Just to be clear: My calculation was solely for Phoenix, not Arizona.

I see no future for large populations outside Phoenix. Once little desert and mountain towns would become so again. Exurban sprawl in the Verde Valley would be gone. Pinal County would not be an exurban developer's frontier -- dependent on groundwater, it would likely not even sustain its circa 1960 agriculture.

Tucson presents a difficult problem, too -- dependent on groundwater and the CAP. So a radical downsizing would be necessary.

Only Phoenix has the plumbing and geography to support something of a sizable population. But, again, in quality density, shady, using less water.

Agricultural use would necessarily diminish -- but to keep up with climate change's affect on snowmelt, not to water more sprawl. Gotta stop and roll back the sprawl.

I think you are still missing the point of massive use of water by agriculture. If you cut back the wasteful use of water by ag, the current footprint is easily sustainable in terms of water. Sacrificing cotton and alfalfa will generate enough water for another million people or so, without even a stretch.

Pricing will do a lot to change the rest of it. I also find the current climate predictions to be most likely, inaccurate. This is not going to turn into the Sahara tomorrow. https://weatherspark.com/history/31259/2015/Phoenix-Arizona-United-States page down and look at that humidity. Those spikes are pretty high.

In short, you can't go back to where it was the ag paradise, because those days are done. Paved over paradise.

Now, moving forward with greater population, and higher water prices, I do see the underclass being priced out of anything over 1 acre foot per year per household.

Jon, what you want is not what will happen, instead it will start resembling Mos Eisely in the poor sections with much cheaper and more efficient energy and water footprints coming from direct cost applications.

Charles Bowden in Credo: Ground Zero. His High School and college years in Tucson:

“absolutely baffled by how the city could be green lawns and trees in a place where there was very little rain and the rivers were all dead. It was like living in a community where everyone was on some kind of drug that deaden their senses to a simple and obvious reality. They were living in a desert.”

Rogue wrote:

" Just to be clear: My calculation was solely for Phoenix, not Arizona."

Yes, but as you've noted before, Phoenix gets its water from the state of Arizona: it doesn't have its own independent supply. If 2.5 million Phoenix residents were to leave the city but not leave the state, the draw on the state's water supply would remain the same. So the calculation really needs to be based on state population and water available to the state, regardless of where the proposed out-migration originates.

Also, if the solution is to be based on population reduction rather than water use reduction, the reliance on shared water sources like the Colorado River suggests that regional rather than local or even state population shifts would be called for.

As for sprawl, that's largely (though not entirely) a different issue. If the suburbs of Phoenix shifted inward enough to eliminate what you consider to be sprawl but without any population reduction the water draw would remain about the same.

Two other practical problems: first, a substantial portion of urban water wastage comes from leaky pipes. Israel has managed to reduce this so that only 8 percent of urban water is lost through leakage, which suggests a far more sizeable problem prior to municipal fixes.

(This also suggests another means for Arizona's urban populations to free up substantial amounts of water, by the simple (if somewhat costly) expedient of fixing leaky city pipes.)

An exodus of 2.5 million Phoenix residents out of the city (and state) would be the result of individual, rather than state orchestrated action.

That means it would be impossible to cut off water mains to neighborhoods and areas which remain partially populated. The reduced population however means countless properties going unmaintained as well as areas where local authorities have little incentive for keeping public sections of pipe in good working order. The lack of monitoring by owners, residents and others means leaks from decaying infrastructure are likely to go unnoticed and unrepaired.

All those abandoned properties also mean substantial loss of lawns, shrubs and trees, while asphalt and concrete remain. That means an increase in the heat island effect and potentially increased water usage as a result.

Concern Troll wrote:

"Now, moving forward with greater population, and higher water prices, I do see the underclass being priced out of anything over 1 acre foot per year per household."

That's equivalent to 325,851 gallons.


In fact, that works out to about 893 gallons per household per day. So if that's where the price break occurs, the "underclass" would seem to have nothing to worry about. In fact, it seems way too high for a reasonable household allotment.

The source linked to says this is sufficient to meet the freshwater needs of a family of five, but I think that must be predicated on a calculation which starts with total water use by all parties in the state (agricultural, industrial, commercial, and residential), then divides the total population into that to get per capita water usage, which is then multiplied by five to derive a household figure.

blade it and let the desert reclaim it. better yet 6 millon people leave az and make it all a Wilderness.

6 years of water left, at the outside. No more rainfall of any significance. Golf course galore. Anyone that sees a way out is in fucking dreamland. This place (Phoenix) will be a ghost town by 2025.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

My Photo

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz