Gaius Publius: Considering the Coming Megadrought in the American Southwest

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By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny


Drought status in the U.S. as of 2015. Note the color-coded legend in the lower-right portion of the graphic (source; click to enlarge)

I’ve written in the past about two of the most climate-vulnerable regions of the U.S., Florida and the American Southwest. (A third region, the Pacific Northwest, is vulnerable, but to a non-climate event, a magnitude 9.0 mega-earthquake.) Here I want to look again to the problems of California and the Southwest.

Much of the water that sustains California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and surrounding areas comes from the ever-drying Colorado River. Just as it’s now clear that we’ve passed the tipping point for extreme weather, we’re also very likely passed the tipping point for the long-term habitability of the American Southwest.

The report is from NASA; the write-up is from EcoWatch (my emphasis):

NASA: Megadrought Lasting Decades Is 99% Certain in American Southwest

A study released in Science Advances Wednesday finds strong evidence for severe, long-term droughts afflicting the American Southwest, driven by climate changemegadrought lasting decades is 99 percent certain to hit the region this century, said scientists from Cornell University, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“Historically, megadroughts were extremely rare phenomena occurring only once or twice per millennium,” the report states. “According to our analysis of modeled responses to increased GHGs, these events could become commonplace if climate change goes unabated.”

Rising temperatures will combine with decreased rainfall in the Southwest to create droughts that will be worse than the historic “Dust Bowl” of the 20th century and last far longer. The Dust Bowl lasted no longer than eight years, and affected 100 million acres around the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and adjacent lands in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Dust storms swept through large swaths of former farmland, depositing dust as far east as Chicago, New York and Washington. It is estimated that more than half a million people were made homeless, and some 3.5 million Dust Bowl refugees migrated west, in hopes of finding work.

Just a few thoughts.

First, a megadrought lasting decades is a once- or twice-in-a-millennium event. That’s once every 500 to 1000 years. The American Southeast had two “once in 500 year” storms in the last two years, and that following “Superstorm Sandy” in 2012. Obviously the frequency is changing, perhaps exponentially.

In the Southwest that megadrought could last for the next few decades. I did a major piece here — “California Drought, the “Bigger Water Crisis” & the Consumer Economy” — with a breakdown of elements that went into the current multi-year drought, and a look at the Colorado River basin and its condition. Some of the bottom lines include these:

▪ The social contract will break in California and the rest of the Southwest (and don’t forget Mexico, which also has water rights from the Colorado and a reason to contest them). This will occur even if the fastest, man-on-the-moon–style conversion to renewables is attempted starting tomorrow.

This means, the very very rich will take the best for themselves and leave the rest of us to marinate in the consequences — to hang, in other words. (For a French-Saudi example of that, read this. Typical “the rich are always entitled” behavior.) This means war between the industries, regions, classes. The rich didn’t get where they are, don’t stay where they are, by surrender.

▪ Government will have to decide between the wealthy and the citizenry. How do you expect that to go?

▪ Government dithering and the increase in social conflict will delay real solutions until a wake-up moment. Then the real market will kick in — the market for agricultural land and the market for urban property. Both will start to decline in absolute value.

If there’s a mass awareness moment when all of a sudden people in and out of the Southwest “get it,” those markets will collapse. Hedge funds will sell their interests in California agriculture as bad investments; urban populations will level, then shrink; the fountains in Las Vegas and the golf courses in Scottsdale will go brown and dry, collapsing those populations and economies as well.

Second, about the time frame, obviously there’s a possibility of a once-in-500-year multi-seasonal rainfall, but that’s not expected, to say the least. Will the region recover from this drought? If it lasts two decades, I think its livability, its habitability is finished. And when people figure that out, they’ll move, perhaps in droves, depending on whether something triggers panic-selling.

That is, the area will be livable, but by a lifestyle without modern infrastructure, since it takes a certain critical mass of population and wealth (economic activity) to keep modern infrastructure going. Think of the infrastructure in small towns, where people are leaving and populations are declining, versus the more viable lifestyle available to vigorous larger towns and cities, where there are jobs. Now add multi-decade drought to those small-town lives.

Where will the jobs be if Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas have no water? Where will California agriculture be if farms go dry? And finally, consider the Dust Bowl again. As many as 3.5 million refugees migrated west, to California. Where will those refugees go if they’re forced to leave California, the heart of the dry zone and pressed against the ocean? Utah? Unlikely. North perhaps, swamping the Pacific Northwest with people, or given a slower migration, back across the Rockies.

Civilizations have risen and died in the American Southwest. During the last megadrought, the Anasazi, or Pueblo culture, which was extensive in territory, completely disappeared. When the Mormons arrived in Utah, the Anasazi were identifiable only by their relics. EcoWatch again:

Megadroughts of 35 years are currently rare and have led to severe upheaval in the past. There’s evidence that the Pueblo people of what is now the south-west US were forced to abandon settlements in the 13th century due to a lengthy drought.

For the U.S. to compress and recede to a more habitable center while aggressively converting to zero-carbon is not the worst outcome in the world. Far from it, in fact.

There Is a Solution — A Zero Carbon Economy

I’ve been writing for a few years that there is likely a five-to-ten year window, and only that, in which we could start a crash program toward a zero-carbon economy, what I like to call the Stop Now plan, and what others call a WWII-style mobilization or “man on the moon”-style program. That’s actually good news — that there’s still time — and I still believe it.

If we start in the first term of the next president, we can mitigate most of the disaster nationally, though maybe not all of it regionally. From the Guardian’s report of the same NASA study:

The new report does proffer a crumb of hope – if greenhouse gas emissions are radically cut then the risk of megadrought will reduce by half, giving a roughly 50:50 chance that a multi-decade stretch of below-average rainfall would occur this century.

But the research found that the emissions cuts would have to be far steeper than those agreed to by nations in Paris last year, where a 2C limit on warming was pledged.

“We would need a much more aggressive approach than proposed at Paris, it’s not too late to do this but the train is leaving the station as we speak,” [Toby Ault, a scientist at Cornell University and lead author of the study,] said.

And one last point. The next president will be the last one with a clear chance to turn the ship. It looks like Hillary Clinton, barring the unforeseen, will be that president. She recently gave a very aggressive climate speech, with Al Gore at her side. Can she be brought to see, not just the extremity of the situation, but the extremity of the actions needed to address it? The jury is out on that, and that’s also the good news.

As long as there’s time on the clock, there’s hope. I don’t expect you or I will influence this election; the country is too far down that road, and perhaps not all the influential wild cards have been played. But we can influence the winner afterward, so long as that winner has a modicum of sense and so long as the evidence — megastorms, megadroughts — is incontrovertibly in front of her.

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  1. jgordon

    You are seriously hoping that Hillary will see the light and become a hardcore environmentalist after she is president? I’m sorry, but that is delusional thinking–there is exactly a zero percent chance that will happen.

    I saw this being talked about on the Jimmy Dore show, so I dug up the Intercept link–Hillary brags about being an international lobbyist for the fracking industry in secret speeches (her “private” position) that she gave to rich people:

    I also don’t think it’s as likely that Hillary will win as the media is trying to portray. For evidence, just look at the massive crowds that Trump rallies -always- get and compare those to the tiny Hillary rallies. It’s apparent that very few people actually want to vote for Hillary, whereas Trump has a fanatical base behind him.

    Well, I won’t disbelieve my lyin’ eyes. This seems like more of a desperate attempt from the Hillary-owned legacy media to paint an illusion of inevitability than the actual fact of the matter.

    1. jefemt

      I agree. Hillary is main-stream institution all the way, and keeping foreign oil flowing to our door, at any cost is part of her core.

      If the direction the institutions are headed is troubling, then what?

      Jill Stein. Lone wolf? no political background? Impractical? A vote for the Donal? Unable to lead or govern? If the drought story and others are troubling, why NOT Stein? Here’s a link to an in-depth interview she gave within the last couple weeks:
      (not something you will get on PBS, MSNBC, RT, CNN, or Fox)

      As a Doc, committed to, ‘doing no harm’, we could do a lot worse than Stein.

      It appears we are about to do a lot worse in three weeks.

      Listen to the interview- her conviction, priorities. Review her platform, and ponder it in light of the drought issue, or any of the other myriad of looming disasters that seem to be coalescing in a super-storm of their own. For my own part, she is the only candidate that resonates and passes scrutiny for the 21st Century.

      I can’t possibly vote for Clinton after what her machine and the DNC ‘did’ to Sanders- ever again.

      There is strong pining for a New Direction- palpable among many of very varied perspectives– viz Trump and Sanders popularity. Why NOT Stein?

      A vote for Stein is a vote for Stein, not a vote against anyone, nor a vote taken from someone.
      Most importantly, it sends a signal to Washington, the powers that be and the world that some folks in America have a different set of priorities based on present conditions than the last 140 years of action would indicate.

      Unfortunately, even if the collective rabble gives a strong message to leadership, there is a large amount of institutional and vested interest to overcome.

      I am not hopeful, but as they say in the west, like a steer, I try.

      1. divadab

        “like a steer, I try” – If you’ve ever had to load a steer into a trailer you know they try pretty hard. I ain’t being forced onto the Hillary trailer either fuck that.

      2. juliania

        ” . . . A vote for Stein is a vote for Stein, not a vote against anyone, nor a vote taken from someone. . . ”

        I most heartily agree. Thank you for your comments and link.

        1. shinola

          Well, I for one plan to vote “for” Stein purely as a symbolic gesture since there is no box to check for “NONE OF THESE”

          It is important that whoever wins not get anywhere near 50% of the vote – making no claim of a “mandate” realistically possible.

          1. different clue

            It would be most ideal if neither Big Two Candidate were allowed to reach the magic 270 electoral votes. Could the Berners and the Steinists study how to coordinate their efforts to focus on throwing some Libertarian-leaning states to New Mexiguy/Weld and some Berner-leaning states to Stein/Baraka?

            Could it be done in such a way so as to throw the election into the House of Reps?

    2. DarkMatters

      Agreed. Our ability to accept contradictions is exemplary. We are expressing optimism that Hillary’s position on climate change is honest, at the same time that we watch demonstrations against Obama’s Keystone thingy on TV. A phenomenon that bears close study.

    3. Pepe Aguglia

      I also don’t think it’s as likely that Hillary will win as the media is trying to portray. For evidence, just look at the massive crowds that Trump rallies -always- get and compare those to the tiny Hillary rallies. It’s apparent that very few people actually want to vote for Hillary, whereas Trump has a fanatical base behind him.

      A fanatical base is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to win an election. Numbers trump fanaticism every time. The fact that people don’t want to vote for Hillary doesn’t mean they’ll vote for Trump instead. Personally, I’m rooting for Trump (or more accurately against Hillary) even though I voted third party, but I can’t imagine the recent revelations of Trump’s piggish behavior toward women not being fatal to his campaign. And even if Trump had a real chance of winning, I have no doubt the vote would be hacked in Hillary’s favor. Given the pro-Hillary media coverage, such a hack would never be questioned (although it now appears unnecessary).

      TLDR: Sorry, Trump ain’t got a chance IMO

    4. RepubAnon

      The wild anti-Hillary screeds are getting tiresome. Hillary’s a politician, and she knows that she needs California to win elections. If California is in a drought, you can bet your sweet patootie that Hillary will be in favor of fighting global warming.

      It’s hitting the corporate world, too: large corporations want to be on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices ( Hillary knows this as well.

      If Donald Trump is elected, he and the Republicans have pledged to eliminate environmental regulations and defund the Environmental Protection Agency. Vote for anyone other than Hillary, and you’ve endorsed Donald Trump. (Pop quiz: Ralph Nader’s candidacy help move the country to the left – or to the right? The answer is: the Bush/Cheney Administration, where Cheney and the oil companies met to determine energy policy, nobody else allowed. In a Trump Presidency, Cheney will be derided as a radical environmentalist.)

      Will we have to keep pushing a President Hillary on the environment? Yes, of course! But at least there’s a good chance she’ll listen. With President Trump, whether elected outright or via the House of Representatives, environmentalists will have no voice in government for at least 4 years – maybe 8. By then, the environment will be so damaged that it won’t recover for at least 500 to 1,000 years. Sound good? Then vote third party.

      1. jgordon

        Sorry but you’re wtong. In all the secret paid speeches and every other bit of “private position” material that wikileaks has released, Hillary and her campaign shows complete disregard for the environment, and utter disdain for environmentalists. She hates them through and through.

        In fact, you don’t actually know what you’d be getting with Trump, whereas we are 100% certain that Hillary will gleefully rape the planet should she be elected. You might as well support Trump.

        1. pat b

          Well Hillary also hates “Everyday Americans”…

          Frankly the only people she likes are billionaires.

          1. integer

            I have no doubt that Clinton holds everyday Americans in low regard but that quote was given in the context of a discussion about a speech and it was the phrase “everyday Americans” that was being referred to, not the real thing.

      2. jrs

        “The wild anti-Hillary screeds are getting tiresome. Hillary’s a politician, and she knows that she needs California to win elections. If California is in a drought, you can bet your sweet patootie that Hillary will be in favor of fighting global warming.”

        you know I’d like to believe that but California’s own governor Jerry Brown is pro-fracking …

        “If Donald Trump is elected, he and the Republicans have pledged to eliminate environmental regulations and defund the Environmental Protection Agency.”

        yea Donald Trump is bad here as is the Republican party in general.

        “Will we have to keep pushing a President Hillary on the environment? Yes, of course! But at least there’s a good chance she’ll listen.”

        What does that even mean? Most people don’t even do pushing. Radical activists do, but I doubt their perspective is some optimistic one on a Hillary presidency.

        Ok most of this post was just a senseless bashing of voting 3rd parties apparently regardless of where one lives even if it’s an entirely solid state etc. In other words an argument that doesn’t even make strategic sense.

      3. Brad

        What is “wild” is the notion that a dyed-in-the-wool status quo candidate Clinton will be able to do anything substantial about the US contribution to climate change. Not doing anything that might upset that status quo is the Golden Rule for the Clinton/Obama ilk, key to their method of social climbing. That Rule will always come first, no matter how sincere Clinton might be on the desirability of doing something.

    5. Yves Smith Post author


      We know you like Trump but please refrain from campaigning for him on posts that are not related to the campaign (Links, Water Cooler, debate live blogs, etc).

      It is perfectly fair game to say Hillary’s environmental credentials are thin to questionable and that appearing with Al Gore is opportunism. But you went a lot further than that.

      1. jgordon

        I don’t like Trump. I see him as the lesser evil with a nuclear Holocaust as the probable alternative.

        Also, I wish you would spend more time looking at the wikileaks material. As of today we have complete transcripts of Hillary’s paid transcripts. Wouldn’t it be interesting to pick them apart?

      2. jgordon

        On the environment: Cuba is the only carbon neutral state in the world today. In order to prevent global warming we’ll all have to live like Cubans. When this unpleasant little fact is presented to the rich middle class people who claim to be against climate change they freak out and go into denial. Ergo, nothing realistic will be done about until the circumstances force a reality check on us.

        Regardless, I think it’s likely that we’re going to be wiped out by a nuclear winter long before global warming has a chance to do us in. This focus on global warming dumb because we’ll stop using all the fossil fuels we possibly can the moment it becomes to uneconomical to extract them, and not before. That’s not a statement of nihilism; it’s a suggestion to redirect efforts into productive areas while there’s still time.

    6. craazyboy

      I have absolute confidence Trump will announce a plan to hire a crew of beautiful hand picked beavers to build a yuuuge dam in the Colorado River right at the Mexican border crossing. We will be saved.

      Or maybe not. If CA – SW real estate goes to zero value then the financial system collapses and doesn’t ever come back. So there’s that.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Damn! You’re making me crazy too! — but you and Crazyman haave used up all the good pseudonyms!!!!!!!!!!! UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! goggle +++

  2. aab

    Hillary took a private jet in August to go 20 miles to a fundraiser. Chelsea took a private jet in the last couple of weeks to go to a “clean energy conference.” Hillary is silent on the pipeline protests — you know, the pipeline that she’s invested in, that Goldman Sachs is invested in, etc.

    She’s not doing anything useful if she is installed. She won’t want to, it’s not in her nature to desire or even be able to imagine dramatic change, and she’s incredibly incompetent at policy.

    You described accurately how our current wealthy elite is too selfish to take meaningful action. Hillary is the handpicked leader for that group. She was picked precisely so they can ravage selfishly as the planet burns as you so vividly describe. And we have copious amounts of evidence that she is NEVER going to be pushed left. Have you read the Podesta leaks? Not one of these people EVER talks about actual problems that need to be solved. It’s just optics and manipulation.

    She is literally the perfectly wrong person to lead us out of this crisis.

    1. aab

      Coming back to say I appreciate the concise discussion of what is facing us in the Southwest. And I, like you, still have hope. But how that would happen under President Clinton II is hard to imagine, and would almost certainly be in spite of her, and not because of her leadership.

      1. Quanka

        Amen. This is another one of those topics where HRC automatically gets credit for being “better” on the topic despite all the evidence to the contrary. She takes huge sums of money from the oil and coal majors. She supported Keystone before she didn’t. She supports fracking and won’t even fake a pretense otherwise.

        What evidence is there that planetary burning wont accelerate under a corporate friendly prez, other than her pretty words (which we know mean nothing)?

  3. SteveB

    “Sandy” was a Cat 1 Hurricane (actually a post tropical Cyclone) when it hit the NY/NJ area.
    Kind of a typical hurricane

    There were two components that made “Sandy” special…
    1) A blocking High. The prevailing airflow/front movement in that area is west/Northwest and most times Hurricanes are pushed eastward by the the normal movement. In Sandy’s case there was a stationary blocking High pressure area off the eastern seaboard which directed the storm back into the NY/NJ bight.. Like a bowling ball curving into the strike zone.. This special situation caused the big storm surge along with …
    2) The storm hit on the full moon which normally causes higher than normal tides…

    These two things caused huge storm surge which in turn caused most of the damage… Sandy wasn’t all that strong of a storm as Hurricanes go..
    It was a big (as in large area) storm.. and pushed a lot of water

    I’m a 65 year resident of Jersey shore… not far from ground zero/landfall of Sandy..

    Author claiming “super storm” status due to climate change using bad example..

    1. sleepy

      I have read some concerns among hurricane experts that the present category system of hurricanes based solely on wind speed increasingly doesn’t actually measure the potential danger of the storm surge. There are many factors involved of course–the shape of the shoreline, the depth of the ocean immediately offshore, tides, the size in area of the storm, etc., as you allude to.

      The hurricane center is working on a predictive storm surge model that is supposed to be fully functional by next year. At some point, that model may be taken as much as a “rating” system for storms as the present category system based exclusively on wind speed.

      I spent 28 years on the Louisiana coast where a cat 1 was generally not viewed with a whole lot of concern, at least in New Orleans. Perhaps with more focus on a storm surge potential individualized for particular storms the public will have the knowledge that rating storms solely by wind speed with some standard storm surge based on those speeds, is not as predictive as once thought.

    2. PhilU

      What they mean by superstorm is that things like that tend not to line up often. We can expect them to more frequently.

  4. Carolinian

    Historically the Southwest has always been subject to extended periods of drought and that was true long before AGW was a factor. To say that a vote for Hillary might have some influence on the weather is a stretch to say the least. The water problems are in fact exacerbated by governments–local and national–who encourage people to move to the region.

    1. Ishmael

      Grey Davis said that technology and movie industry does not drive California it is real estate development. Keeping a place in WLA you can hardly go anywhere more than a five mile area due to over development and mass immigration making the streets unpassable. Who supports all of this those same environmental friendly Democrats that you are putting your faith in. I split my time between east of the drought area and California. My goal is to be totally out of California in the next 18 months. Besides water, California is starting to experience huge energy shortages. There were rolling black outs in LA this summer due to energy shortage. With the Diablo nuclear plant closing California will lose 9% of its energy supply. Combine that with a slight increase in temperature and an increase in electric cars you are heading for disaster.

      Enjoy. Think of Katrina on steroids.

      1. sd

        It was “liberal” Henry Waxman who successfully opposed the light rail line to Santa Monica for years. There’s absolutely no reason to believe Hilary Clinton will actively engage in anything having to do with the environment. She’s had 60 years and no record of caring about the planet.

        1. Elizabeth

          It’s the same in the Bay Area – development is driving everything – more housing, more retail, blah blah. Traffic is so terrible because there’s no planning for such things – and lack of water is going to be the nail in the coffin here.

          I plan to be gone from Calif. also – the main reason is the unaffordability, but really, the place has become a hell hole.

          1. Dirk77

            Such a beautiful state. To see it go this way is so sad. But perhaps this is the only way the state can get rid of all these people. I think Asimov’s estimate of a max of a billion people on Earth is looking very true. Too bad no one in power thinks that sustainably is a good idea – except in speeches.

      2. danny

        Blackouts? Where? I live in LA and didn’t experience any. We were warned during Spring that we may face brownouts due to a shortage of natural gas (a result of a massive natural gas storage unit leak) but they didn’t come. It’s essentially a similar warning to the one we got after SoCal Edison shut down San Onofre.

    2. hemeantwell

      It will be “interesting” to see when migration to the area actually starts to fall off in response to realistic forecasting. Always up for some fun, I just sent off a note to the Phoenix Realtors Association, posing as someone thinking about retiring to the area, unsure about climate change but worried about reports of beetles killing trees because they survive winters and so wondering about how property values might be affected. I’d suggest that others here do the same and see what happens. I’ll report back.

      1. hemeantwell

        quick response! I infer that she thinks we don’t have much longer to live.

        Climate change is happening everywhere and should be a concern for all. However I do not believe that in our lifetime that single factor will affect property values. In other parts of the country there are many weather/climate related issues that affect property values negatively.

        Diane Scherer,CEO
        Phoenix Association of REALTORS

      2. Ishmael

        Basically legitimate immigration of US citizens is already negative with a positive from illegal aliens.

      3. neo-realist

        I think the Phoenix Realtors are thinking in terms of what is best for business and revenue in the here and now and the foreseeable future. They’ll cross the climate change bridge when it hits big time.

    3. optimader

      Yes, this remains a latently wealthy country as exemplified by population densities that are far beyond regional/local carry capacities.
      This has not long been the case, certainly on the west coast. Southern Cali specifically. A post dustbowl phenom enabled by the advent of engineered water distribution ie the Cali aqueduct infrastructure.

      Is it worth noting that the July 15 2015 US Dought map (in the article) is much more dramatic than the most current snapshot?

      I will also reflect that I turned off the last debate when HRC stated a claim that the US is “energy independent” in response to the question about Energy Policy. It is a date point projection of the masters she serves IMO.
      There is no Energy Policy in the US and never has been.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Western Oregon is no longer “abnormally dry,” since we’re under the tail end of a typhoon (no local damage, but Manzanita sure caught it), but there’s no telling what the snowpack will be like.

        Dependence on snowpack is limited to the areas that drain the Cascades: eastern but not western Willamette Valley, east side of the mountains. Ranchers in Eastern Oregon (half the state, a tenth the people) must depend on it, too.

        My first reaction to the article was “Oh great, more climate refugees!” But judging by that map, either year, they’d do a lot better to go east.

      2. Fiver

        ‘Is it worth noting that the July 15 2015 US Dought map (in the article) is much more dramatic than the most current snapshot?’

        The ‘Current Conditions’ map is a weekly update. This was a major El Nino year and more precipitation on West Coast was anticipated, eg, there was a typhoon off the Pacific Northwest coast this past week.Trend is similar to momentum – it takes as much counter-trend data to declare a trend ended as it took to establish the trend to begin with.

    4. different clue

      I remember reading somewhere, maybe in Cadillac Desert, that various development-encouragers and planners drove the whole Water Project West and Southwest to develop and populate beyond its water base on the theory that when megadrought threatened to destroy a hundred-million-people/ multi-trillion-dollar region, that all those people and all that money would have the political power to force and extort the rest of the country into developing water projects designed to put the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes into very large pipelines and ship the water to the Water Project Subsidy-Belt.

      If the whole Water Project West goes into Mega Drought, they will get to see whether their big gamble paid off . . . whether they really do have the power to extort the whole rest-of-the-continent for its water.

      1. danny

        No, it won’t happen. It’s a non-starter. It would take too much energy to pump water uphill to the Southwest from the Mississippi River watershed.

        1. Fiver

          Past plans for California (and Mexico) have targeted water from the Canadian west and northwest, not the Great Lakes. ‘Too much energy’ is a question of cost/benefit and with billions upon billions of barrels of tar sands and fracked oil at whatever price the US wants to pay for it readily available it’s a political question. Alternatively, one can easily imagine supertankers running 24/7 with water through the Panama Canal. Still, the western Canadian water would be more threatened for California use, but the Great Lakes water will undoubtedly be targeted for other drought areas from the US Midwest south to Texas, areas of Florida, Georgia etc., and even parts of the Northeast as per the drought map. Make no mistake, Canadian water and Great Lakes shared water absolutely are both up for grabs in the years to come and it will be a major, major fight.

  5. Moneta

    I think it will be everyone cutting down until one day they notice they are living in favelas. Instead of investing in the inland states, these will be used to finance the propping up of the coasts or problem areas. You can already see it in the flooding states where everyone is blaming bad politics instead of moving inland.

    Of course there will be some winning areas, there always are. But in general, I see the story of the frog in boiling water…

    1. HopeLB

      I just read The Water Knife about this very topic. In it, states use their National Guards to protect water and water rights and will not allow water refugees into their states. California, having the most money/fire power commands most of the water in the SouthWest. Texas and Pheonix are left to die. Someone should make sure Hillary reads it.

      1. Carolinian

        Phoenix, as I understand it, gets most of its water from the Salt River system. The Colorado sourced CAP supplies Tuscon and farms to the south. So California will be invading Nevada, Utah to make sure movie stars can water their lawns.

  6. I Have Strange Dreams

    Good piece except for the attempt at the end to pull a rabbit out of the hat:

    “There Is a Solution — A Zero Carbon Economy”

    OMG. I actually burst out laughing. What planet is the author from? Has he met many Americans? The country is actually going to elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as its leader.

    1. optimader

      A Zero Carbon Economy
      No matter who is POTUS, if Zero Carbon is ever achieved, by design or inadvertently, I doubt we will be typing about it on the internetz

  7. timbers

    “Where will the jobs be if Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas have no water? Where will California agriculture be if farms go dry? And finally, consider the Dust Bowl again. As many as 3.5 million refugees migrated west, to California. Where will those refugees go ….’

    Russia. Isn’t it benefiting from global warming? All the more reason to cultivate friendly, normal bilateral relations with our fellow human beings instead of hostile regime change and choas so George Soros & corporations can plunder Russian oil and resources to make his heirs ever richer. If Soros donated $10 million to promoting friendly relatins with Russia and conservation and renewable energy – instead of giving it to Her, we’d all be much better.

    1. Ishmael

      You must be taking a hit off of your bong! Do you know how much money it would cost build a pipeline to transport water (transportation of water is a big energy consumer) that far to keep an unsustainable lifestyle going!!!! Okay let us mention water desalination. Also extremely energy dependent and read my earlier post about declining energy supply in California. Do you think people in largely red areas of the US (the deplorables) are going to do anything to save people in California. Generally I find a let them die attitude in the red states. I know where I am at now accept me because I was born and spent my early life in Texas and went to University in both Texas and Oklahoma but in generally I find a vast hatred of California here.

      1. BecauseTradition

        Of course money is not a problem given MMT and the slack economy. And yes, transporting water is energy intensive and so is desalinating it, currently, so the system would have to be carefully designed and take natural advantage as much as possible. And given fission and fusion possibilities and/or increasingly inexpensive solar and wind power, energy should be less of a problem as time goes by.

        And politically, I don’t see why North Carolina, for example, would mind sharing its current deluge.

        So the drought and flooding may be a blessing in disguise to validate:
        1) MMT.
        2) Infrastructure spending.
        3) National cohesion.

        1. HBE

          While climate change certainly plays a role in the southwest water shortage a larger part of the blame in my view is on Urban planners and states promoting cities and industries (water intensive farming in arid California) in areas that could never naturally support them. 30+ million people living in arid near desert conditions was and is not sustainable, we should not prop up unsustainable Urban centers and industry with water imports to arid regions where it can be poorly used to farm almonds in the freaking desert, water lawns in Arizona, and water desert casinos and suburbs in Vegas.

          Maybe Arizona should ban lawns, California should work to draw down water intensive farming (and fracking)or maybe we shouldn’t build cities in the desert.

      2. Aleric

        It isn’t just red states that oppose sending water to California. Diverting Great Lakes/Mississippi basin water to the South West US is a violently unpopular idea in the Upper Mid West, from the environmentalist left to corporate center to arch-conservative farmers/miners/loggers.

        So you want to cut our water connection with the outside world in order to subsidize our agricultural competitors? (As my Farmer-Labor Party supporting Grandfather would say.)

        Perhaps stop trying to raise cranberries, wild rice, and dairy cattle in the middle of the desert first.

        1. phichibe

          I grew up in the midwest so I can attest to the truth of this. In addition, there is a bigger constraint than the popular opinion: there is an international treaty with Canada that bans the export of water from the Great Lakes. The Southwest (where I now live but in New Mexico, which isn’t dependent on the Colorado River) is on its own.


      3. oliverks

        Desalination is perfectly reasonable solution for consumers. Farmers will be SOL. It won’t work for them. Here is the basic math.

        A typical household uses about 400 gallons per day. With current reverse osmosis technology, it takes less than 1KWh to produce 400 gallon of fresh water from sea water. At wholesale 1KWh is about $0.20. Hence for a typical family the cost per month is $6. Now there is infrastructure cost for building the plants, but all the same, it may add $20 to a users water bill per month.

        This is real money, but it is cheaper for most people than pulling up and moving.

        Another thing is desalination can be run when there is excess energy. Fresh water can be stored, so you can utilize renewables and do it very effectively.

        Farmers and water intensive industries may have some real problems however.

        1. cnchal

          I have no direct knowledge myself but those numbers seem wildly wrong from a gut instinct level.

          Do you mind sharing how you got them, particularly the less than 1KWh to produce 400 gallons of ‘fresh’ water from seawater?

          It would seem if these numbers are accurate, them farmers would be in the pink by scaling up the desalination process.

          1. Vatch

            The Wikipedia article on desalination gives cost estimates from $0.40 per cubic meter to $0.81 per cubic meter (264 gallons). So I guess the cost would range from about $0.60 to $1.25 per 400 gallons.

            The article also mentions using 1.5 kWh to desalinate 1 cubic meter (264 gallons).

            1. oliverks

              Thank you for checking my math. I did miss calculate. I did 400L not 400G, which throws my numbers of by a factor of 4.

              The actual curves I used came from


              which I think are in agreement with Wikipedia.

              So you are looking at $24/month for water and say another 24 for fixed costs. Hence about $50 not $20 per month. My current water bill in California by the way is $150 per month for using 300 gallons per day.

              I think the basic conclusion is correct. It is real money but it is not going to cause California to depopulate.

              1. anon

                Somewhere it’s written that 15g per capita per day is a human right.

                It can be done even in detached housing. (That’s me, but then I’m not typical!)

        2. Skip Intro

          Combine desalination requirements with hydrolysis needed for a hydrogen-based energy economy. Excess wind/solar energy is used to generate H2 and O2 from seawater or waste water, and the subsequent combustion of the hydrogen produces clean water. We just need something to do with the brine/sludge produced as waste. This is left as an exercise for the reader.

        3. Ishmael

          When you talk storage I really do not believe that you have any idea of the quantity needed. Another key energy problem is moving that water. Now days a lot of the water is moved by gravity down from the mountains towards the ocean. The path would have to be reversed. Also, a plant large enough to desalinate the quantity of water we are talking about would be mind boggling and finally where is the energy going to come from for this grand scheme! As I mentioned above California is moving towards a 9% energy decrease in the near future and is already having rolling black outs this summer. Combine that with increased need of A/C for higher temperatures.

          Lastly, I can tell most of you have never experienced the Santa Anna winds. These winds are unbelievably hot and drying coming off of the Mohave. Well they dry everything in their path until it is tender looking for a spark. This is how deserts come about. First the vegetation dies, then these hot dry winds come along and dry everything to a tender and a spark comes along and starts big fires. Now having top of my house burned off by some vagrants playing with matches has given me real respect for this process.

        4. Oregoncharles

          Solar distillation makes a lot more sense than reverse osmosis. Could have salt as a byproduct. The structure involved would have a substantial energy cost, and the water would have to be pumped, but the latter could be done with solar electricity, too.

          All of this assumes that people will be living in a climate-appropriate manner, of course; no lawns or thirsty crops. That’s going to happen in any case, of necessity, despite the p…ing and moaning.

          1. nippersdad

            I have been wondering for a long time why there have been no plans for solar distillation of seawater in Death Valley. The valley is fairly close to the coast and below sea level; once the first batch was pumped over the mountains the rest would be siphoned until such a time as the flow was interrupted. Pumping water back over the mountains seems to me to be the only real energy cost once the plant was in place.

            You would end up with a lot of salt in Death Valley that would have to be dealt with, but I’m not seeing any other downsides.

    2. Tom_Doak

      When I was in college [35 years ago], one of my younger professors told us that before we retired as professionals, the migration of people from the Great Lakes to the Southwest would start to reverse, because of water. I’ve always remembered that, and now that I live on Lake Michigan, one of the few local political topics I take seriously is anything to do with the water in the lake. A few years ago they were talking about reversing the flow of the Chicago River to keep an invasive species out of the Lake … I was immediately skeptical of a plan that could siphon some of our water off the top.

    3. HBE

      I live on the edge of Lake superior the last facking thing I want is water being piped from here to prop up shiite Urban planning and idiocy.

      Great Lakes water stays where it’s at, it should never be used to prop up unsustainable cities half way across the country (I’m looking at you Las Vegas).

      1. BecauseTradition

        Wasn’t thinking of the Great Lakes but rather to distribute water from flooded regions to drought stricken regions. For example, North Carolina currently has too much water while other parts of the Southeast are in drought.

        But speaking of the Great Lakes, it does seem a waste, except for energy production, to dump so much fresh water into the sea (via Niagara Falls?). The same could be said for the Mississippi River and wrt the West, the Columbia River, for example.

        1. HBE

          A waste, you mean supporting wholly natural ecological systems of which countless others feed off of. To “waste” in support of unsustainable human industries and urban centers (not to mention the local populations and industries that utilize the natural flow).

          You mean like what was done to the Colorado River (see link), where a thriving ecosystem was turned to a desert to enable the unsustainable.

          How about instead of recommending decimating sustainable areas to support the unsustainable practices of other ones, practice local sustainability and start placing limits on unsustainable industries and populations.

          1. BecauseTradition

            Let’s not forget that beavers, who no one accuses of being unnatural, modify their environment too. Not that we shouldn’t be cautious wrt modifying ours.

            And the low humidity of deserts is sublime; I should not like to be forbidden to live in one.

            1. HBE

              You have every right to live in the desert, just don’t expect or ask for water imports to enable that unsustainable choice.

              1. BecauseTradition

                So dry States must be self-sufficient wrt water while other States are flooded with it?

                What’s unsustainable is a house divided against itself or so I’ve read.

                I’ve also read that Global Warming shall cause both floods and droughts so it seems we should apply some thought to mitigating one with the other.

              1. BecauseTradition

                Well, if we won’t tackle root causes such as government subsidies for usury and private debt creation, treating symptoms alone is ultimately pointless, not to mention risky.

            2. nippersdad

              Actually, studies have shown that reintroduction of beavers to their formerly native habitats improves the hydrology of the area. Their actions tend not to make deserts, but oases.

        2. Eleanor

          The Great Lakes water is protected by agreements between Canada and the Great Lake states. Granted, a lot of agreements are going to be broken due to Global Warming, but… Both the Lakes and the Mississippi are major trade routes. The agricultural products of the Midwest move on barges along the Mississippi. Salt water ships take grain out of the Lake ports and bring in wind mills, among other things. Lake boats move grain as well as iron ore, limestone and coal for the steel industry. (Apparently the US still has a steel industry.) The river is a barrier that makes it difficult for cougars to move into the east, though some of them manage it. I think they wait till night and cross bridges. Finally, the Lakes and the river are beautiful. Sucking them dry so people can have lawns in Arizona would cause a lot of trouble.

          1. BecauseTradition

            sucking them dry so people can have lawns in Arizona would cause a lot of trouble.

            I lived in Tucson and lawns were not that common – it was mostly just rock, sand, bushes and cactus in people’s yards.

            Perhaps because the low humidity is treasured?

            1. bezoff

              There’s nothing sustainable about Tucson or Phoenix or the cities in the desert SW in general. Keep in mind that if Lake Mead, a reservoir for the Colorado River, falls below a certain level, California has the right (established by a century old treaty) to divert a good chunk of the flow from the Colorado currently being used by AZ. The lake is very close to that level now and when it happens, where will that leave the economy of AZ as that water is its lifeblood and makes the American lifestyle in Tucson, for instance, possible?

              After doing quite a bit of research on the supply and trajectory of water in the desert SW, I decided the situation was hopeless and moved last year to the Great Lakes. I wasn’t going to wait for the day that I would own an unsellable and/or worthless home.

            2. reslez

              No, you can’t have our water. Just accept that you and millions of other people are going to need to move somewhere else. You’ll probably be welcomed as new neighbors. That’s not so terrible, is it?

              1. BecauseTradition

                The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25

                Not to thump you, reslez, but it is Sunday and since ignoring Scripture wrt usury, for example, has served us so well?

                Also, Arizona might easily say “No, you can’t have our solar energy since solar farms are a visual blight on the landscape.”

                But I suppose we could sell the desert West to China if we’re determined to not use it.

                So much then for the UNITED States of America?

                1. different clue

                  Well, let Arizona say that, then. It will force Great Lakestan to live within its own energy budget.

                  Let the Low Water zones live or die on their own water. And let the Low Energy zones live or die within their own energy.

        3. Oregoncharles

          And speaking for another water-rich (well, sort of) region: Angelenos can have the Columbia water when we’re through with it – that is, at the mouth. Of course, it’s a little salty by then, but they have all that solar energy available.

          Of course, it might be more efficient to just use sea water in the first place.

    4. John Wright

      Re: Interstate Water System


      “Don’t think the idea of a raid on Great Lakes water is that far-fetched. Plans were in the works to allow a Canadian company to sell Lake Superior water to Asia via tanker ships as recently as 1998. A coal company in 1981 wanted to pipe Superior water to Wyoming to move its semi-liquefied product back to the Midwest. And in 1982, Congress mandated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study the feasibility of using Great Lakes water to replenish supplies needed for the heavily agricultural Plains states. (It wasn’t feasible.)”

      The Great Lakes region passed the Great Lakes Compact in 2008 to make water diversion more difficult.

      If one sums up the future water consumption of a human in a multi year drought, transporting people and jobs/factories to the water seems to make more sense,

      And the USA is well experienced in moving jobs and factories (at least overseas).

      But will millions of water refugees be welcomed at their new destination?

      Not likely.

    5. Waldenpond

      Yep, CA diverts north state water, but that is impacted now so you’ve got the demand for the Columbia. No thought to banning pools, lawns and aquifer depletion. Don’t even try to track aquifer depletion here. You’ll piss the oligarchs off.

      1. danny

        FWIW, California is slowly moving towards having groundwater regs. Basins were due to submit plans to the State earlier this summer. Also, some urban aquifers like the Raymond groundwater basin under Pasadena and surrounding communities are already regulated through an adjudication process.

  8. TG

    Question: are these meteorological droughts, or hydrological droughts? In other words, is rainfall really that low, or could it be that jamming 40 million people into the state is sucking the aquifers dry?

    The “Palmer drought index” is a supply and demand model of drought: it is not a direct indicator of reduced rainfall.

    There used to be tables published on total annual rainfall on California. Around 2002 these stopped being available. I’ve tried contacting various official sources but get no response. The official tables from NOAA etc. are so complex, divided by zone etc. that it would be a major effort to get the overall number. So far this is the best I’ve been able to find, it suggests not that great a fall off:

    Let me know if you find something better. Odd, though, how people who write about the California drought generally seem to have no idea where to find these numbers nor do they apparently even care.

    Question: if California’s population had been allowed to stabilize at 20 million, would the current ‘drought’ be easier or harder to deal with? But the neoliberals have proven that more immigration causes more water to fall from the sky, so that can’t be it…

    1. pretzelattack

      well, the lack of rainfall makes the droughts worse. there are some links in the article on this issue.

    2. John Wright

      Is total annual rainfall simply too gross a measurement?

      The problem of water supply in CA needs to account for rainfall timing and where the rain actually falls.

      If rain comes as a deluge with much runoff to the ocean, that is not as useful in replenishing reservoirs and aquifers as a slow steady rain over a longer period of time.

      If the precipitation falls as snow in the Sierra Nevadas, that is a real timing benefit with snow melt water available for the summer.

      Then there are rain distribution issues, where a good rainfall in an area with little storage capacity (LA, for example) may result in little improvement in stored water.

      Perhaps reservoir levels over the years are good indications of the effective rainfall available to support the population.

      But that doesn’t account for the groundwater pump down that is occurring in the Central Valley currently.

      Of course, CA water issues go back a long time.

      There is even a (1:1000) scale model of the San Francisco Bay in Sausalito, CA that was used to model effects of possible public works (such as fresh water capture dams) on the SF Bay.

      The National Parks Service is responsible for visitor access to the SF Bay Model.

      I recommend it as an off-beat SF Bay area tourist attraction.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Why would LA, of all places, have “little storage capacity”? The do have reservoirs, they play a role in numerous movies.

        Seems like a remediable problem.

        1. JTMcPhee

          Who’s gonna pay for all that concrete and rebar and petrochem-based plastics?

          Who cares? If the takers have the clout, it will happen…

        2. John Wright

          A lot of LA water is just in time supplied from the North. Some from the Owens Valley, some from the Sacramento Delta and maybe some from the Colorado. It is transported hundreds of miles. If the supply is predictable, there is not a lot of need to build much local storage.

          If one drives down I-5 in the Central Valley, the large aqueduct carrying water to LA from the north can be viewed in places.

          A massive amount of rain falling in LA would not be captured and would instead be routed to the sea. The replenishment of the reservoirs is from water imported from the north and elsewhere, not as a result of local rain fall.

          My point was that distribution of rainfall in CA matters as far as it being captured and stored and there is little likelihood that LA could capture much of a local, to LA, drenching.

    3. Fiver

      ‘Question: if California’s population had been allowed to stabilize at 20 million, would the current ‘drought’ be easier or harder to deal with? But the neoliberals have proven that more immigration causes more water to fall from the sky, so that can’t be it…’

      The conditions of multi-decade, extreme drought portrayed in the forecasters’ scenarios are so severe the cost-to-inhabit per square mile or per thousand people is going to radically down-size the viability of any investment across the entire built environment, all the infrastructure of California’s industrial agriculture, accelerating desiccation of forests and soils, etc. Considering the size of the region involved in the US Southwest that is going to be affected well beyond California, 20 million is still far too high – I rather expect most of the ‘immigrants’ and most of the original Californians (the first 20 million) are going to have to leave. And somewhere down the line some of the large, worthless tracts will be ‘gifted back’ to Native Americans of the Southwest, and who knows, maybe their deep roots in the region before water was plentiful will give them the edge for the next few centuries.

  9. ColdWarVet

    Pretty decent summary overall, but predictably, diverts to baseless cheer leading and optimism toward the end. The disastrous effects of mass migrations of western populations in particular will be enormous. Lots of wealth wiped out, greatly increased population pressures on eastern destinations that are already overcrowded and without employment prospects, increased pressures on all levels of government in their path, etc.

    Not only is Queen HRC the wrong person to implement it, but there’s absolutely zero evidence that there exists a national consensus to implement a zero carbon economy any time soon, nor is there much evidence that if it were done tomorrow it would mitigate AGW in the short term anyway. And make no mistake, if such belt tightening were somehow to be implemented, immediate, undeniable, and overwhelmingly positive results would be expected immediately. Anything less than that would be completely politically untenable.

    It’s going to be increasingly important as AGW progresses that we at least learn to be honest with each other and accept some of the bitter pain of greatly diminished expectations up front. Failure to do so will only result in more of what we have now, where news from the front lines are consistently worse than expected, disinformation campaigns for all sides rule the day, political demagogues arise and thrive while taking advantage of the situation, and the common man grows disillusioned and then simply tunes it all out.

  10. Arizona Slim

    Here in Tucson, we are trying to become part of the solution. Permit me to introduce you to a local group that is leading the way.

    Watershed Management Group –

  11. Thor's Hammer

    “There is a solution– A zero carbon economy” The author is right— except he is living in Dreamland if he thinks the path to it is by electing the prostitute Hillary Clinton or the buffoon Trump, or by Americans and Chinese Consumers suddenly becoming conscientious planetary citizens and completely rejecting their biological imperatives and the social conditioning of their societies.

    The path homo sapiens will choose to arrive at a zero carbon economy is the same one they have chosen over the ages— warfare. But now that we have become so proficient at producing weapons of death, the path is open to reduce the population from an unsustainable 7 billion to a zero carbon producing 500,000.

    A few years of nuclear winter will do wonders for reversing global warming.

    1. Sluggeaux

      History is replete with examples of the herd being culled by war. Gaius mentions the Anasazi — who were long theorized to be victims of a climate event. Recent archaeology suggests that their disappearance was in fact due to visits by Toltec turquoise raiding-parties marching up from Mexico. The Toltec were a particularly vicious and well-organized group, who terrorized their victims for sport, practicing torture, human sacrifice, and cannibalism — scientists have analyzed coprolites (fossilized human turds) from burned Anasazi dwellings and found them to contain Anasazi DNA. The Anasazi are now believed by some researchers to have retreated from their cities and irrigated farms into the deep canyons in order to hide out from Toltec raids.

      Should be fun once the Clinton War Party starts stirring up hornet’s nests around the world. She and her military-financial complex pals will have a major impact on climate change by encouraging more culling of the herd. I just hope that I’m not one of those culled…

      1. Tony Wright

        Culling the herd would be better via diseases, preferably ones that selectively target humans with no regard for other species , or the environment generally. Now there is a startup biotech opportunity for someone…… Culling via war doesn’t leave much- have a look at pictures of Syria next time it is on the news.

        1. different clue

          You’re talking about “doing it on purpose”. Doing it on purpose through purpose-engineered plagues would be seen and known.

          The OverClass would rather foster gigadeath attrition by fostering conditions whereby gigadeath slow plagues and such could develop and play out over a century or so and look like “an accident”. Global Warming would be such an “accident”. So would the rise of drug-immune totally incurable giga-slow-death diseases like tuberculosis and etc.

          Maybe lone madmen might work on designer plagues with their Junior Gene-Splicer Home Science Kits. But the OverClass will work on giga-death processes which look like an accident or like the playing out of fate and which leave no fingerprints.

          1. Fiver

            Not so sure – quite apart from the capabilities of nations, there are now corporations more powerful than most nations, and indeed mere very wealthy, and skilled, and connected individuals who could in total secret develop a bio-weapon, the means to deliver it and the ability to select any desired number of ‘winners’ who survive. I think it would be naive not to think that the US and others (Russia, China, Israel, UK, India, Germany, Japan at least) don’t already all have advanced biological/genetic weapons programs targeting either humans themselves or the food or water supply in the manner desired. The history of the last century demonstrates beyond doubt we have a surfeit of individuals disposed to acquiring and deploying power in the most brutal or careless of fashions, and no shortage of very highly skilled people willing to serve with gusto.

            When the realization of what’s at stake finally shatters Management’s group-delusion of self-important Agency as demigods who ‘run the very world’, there will be a scramble like nothing we’ve ever seen, all over the globe, between and among States and giant corporations. That one of these entities, or some combination, could take it upon itself to resolve the not-enough-Earths problem with a radically rational, monstrous program of de-population is no less likely than any of the truly horrible decisions taken at or proximate to the top at times of great stress.

            Note: the current manufactured hysteria re Trump is so obviously as phony as the supposed ‘existential threat’ he poses the net effect is parody within parody. What the US currently is experiencing is a splendid day in a park relative to the coming global panic, i.e., when we all know it’s for real.

  12. Qrys

    Here’s an interesting interactive infographic on Water Usage in the West:

    Gotta roll my eyes at the punchline though:
    “As population continues to grow we will either need to find new sources of water or find ways to use the water we have more efficiently.”

    Yeah, new sources of water? Besides “glacial melt” I don’t think they’re makin’ any more…

    Somewhere I read that the average European uses south of 40 gallons per day. That’d be a good target to start with.

  13. jef

    The problem defined is infinite growth on a finite planet.

    In broader terms the extraction, processing, production, refining, then burning, shaping, forming, buying,selling, and disposing of ever depleting resources… then the ungodly waste stream that all of that generates and is released into the environment.

    The solution that the author, as well as all other technocopians proposes simply maintains growth and in fact requires a significant increase in resource extraction in order to achieve that growth.

    IN less every effort to “transition” to this new economy is matched and even exceeded by reductions in the current population/economy there will be no carbon reductions happening for a very long time.

  14. ExtraT

    Global warming is a socioeconomic problem. It cannot be solved by activism. If a solution exists, it probably will be based on a new political framework. Unfortunately, political changes in positive direction never happen before TSHTF.

  15. Stephen Verchinski

    New Mexico is rolling out its first sets of regional water plans. Should be interesting.

    Water and the carbon based economy are intertwined. More carbon fueling growth by coal (Trump) uses more water and ditto with fracking (Hillary) Both have no problem with one of the largest users of fossil fuels on the planet, the world military.

    Dr. Jill Stein acknowledged the problem. Its a daunting task to say the least and she is not afraid to look at the patient and move a prescription for treatment. Plus with Sanders now looking like the next Senate Budget Chair she would have a spirit in kind.

    The others have none of our best interests at heart. They would put bandaids on a sucking chest wound.

  16. Rosario

    I agree we need a zero carbon economy, though I must add that the zero carbon economy will mitigate the climate problem in 50, 100, 500 years (probably more), and that is if we start now. Our carbon is cumulative, and considering we are already in a catastrophe we have to, in addition to moving toward renewables, prepare for mass climate induced migrations in the coming years. There is no way around this. We missed the train years ago WRT curtailing fossil fuel usage without having to redraw the map of major population centers.

    The two “ideal” (not business as usual) paths I see us going down are:

    i) Move toward renewables without acknowledging or preparing for mass migrations. This is the most likely of the ideal routes, but ultimately it will be inadequate. We go this route because the market can, kinda, solve this problem.

    ii) Move toward renewables with preparation for mass migration. The least likely considering the level of required commitment from the government. We probably won’t go this route because the market absolutely cannot solve this problem.

  17. Life Is Like A Beanstalk

    The last 200 or so years have been the wettest in the last 2,000 in the southwest. In a very real sense we are simply regressing to our mean of temperatures and precipitation. Once the thermometer and lack of rainfall portend the current lifestyle as unsustainable we will see quasi government & privatized projects (similar to our fascination with taxpayer built but privately managed Toll Roads) to desalinate ocean water. It’s gonna cost a lot to take a shower and flush a toilet. And societal need will be translated into private profits.

  18. juliania

    I do not wish to disagree with the assessment of this article, but simply to point out that the following sentence is inaccurate:

    “. . . During the last megadrought, the Anasazi, or Pueblo culture, which was extensive in territory, completely disappeared. . .”

    The Pueblo culture is alive and well in New Mexico and Arizona, though indeed the Anasazi did decline and perish. The story is fascinating, and it does include drought, though perhaps not of the scale envisioned in the article.

    I highly recommend “Anasazi America – Seventeen centuries on the Road from Center Place” by David E. Stuart, published by the University of New Mexico Press. I quote from one of Dr. Stuart’s concluding paragraphs:

    “. . . As the Chacoans, too, discovered nearly a millennium ago, greed is not a badge of honor. It is the signature of a dying society. Let us not further tempt fate; rather, let us get right to the simple, straightforward work of incremental efficiency and rebuild our national community. “

  19. jawbone

    There’s already been a breach of the Great Lakes compact, as Waukesha County over-developed for its available underground water resources, which were contaminated with radium, and desperately needs to get water from Lake Michigan. The compact of the 8 states on the Great Lakes has been to deny any use of the Lakes’ waters to any areas outside the Great Lakes water basin.

    The only reason Waukesha could ask for the water is that the county straddles the water runoff line, which is only a few miles inside the Waukesha County line.

    I’d read earlier that Canada has a say in what the 8 states can do with Great Lakes water, but that seems to be moot…?

    From the article:

    There are also concerns about the treated wastewater passing through the Root River on its way back to the lake. Officials with the Wisconsin DNR say there is no need to worry.

    This is a somewhat naive reaction, as the Scott Walker was county exec of Waukesha County, and he and his Repub buddies do on the barest minimum in terms of enforcing any clean water regulations, and so forth. So, if a Repub is in charge of the state Division of Natural Resources, good luck to all east of Waukesha County….

    This article goes into more depth about the international aspects of Waukesha’s request.

    Environmentalists argue that the Waukesha clause sets a bad precedent: If approved, it would distort the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin and lead the compact down a dangerous slippery slope. Of the 68 counties that straddle the basin line, some presumably will consider a diversion request, if Waukesha’s plan is approved. John Dickert, the mayor of the lakeside city of Racine, told me he has already received inquiries from two mayors in Arizona regarding the possibility of a Keystone-like pipeline from the desert.

    “The battle over water is just beginning,” Dickert said in February. “You’ve already seen it out in California, in Arizona. Our aquifers are drying up around this country. You’re seeing it everywhere.”

    Now, let the games begin. Feds are reviewing and Canada is beginning to seem a bit more interesting in this change to the compact.

    1. Fiver

      There is very substantial opposition to this proposal in Ontario, the Canadian Province which borders all the Great Lakes except Lake Michigan. Canada must approve this, and there is considerable fear that corporate Canada and corporate-friendly political parties in power in Toronto and Ottawa are in the grasp of a combo of greed (water = big money) and fear vis a vis ever saying ‘no’ to anything the US wants done. And with the TPP and other deals, public and secret, on the table, there is every chance nothing is done to take water off the table for good, if anything the reverse. It would of course be madness to do anything with Great Lakes water other than to bring its quality back up to where it was before we all started treating the Lakes like limitless toilets and industrial/chemical/pharmaceutical/hormonal dumps.

  20. Ché Pasa

    I’d like to echo Juliania.

    Things are always on the dry side in Central New Mexico where I live, dry tending toward drought. Population in this region is small. There are lots of Pueblo ruins in the area, all of which were abandoned by the 17th century. Anthropologists claim that the Pueblo population of this area at its height was approximately what the Anglo/Hispano population is today — which isn’t a lot. There was a lengthy drought between 1670 and 1680. The Pueblo peoples in this area might have adapted to it by moving or other means — but because the Spanish colonists insisted they stay in place, and still required tribute payments, thousands died of starvation. Eventually, the remnant few were allowed to move to the other side of the mountain, along the Rio Grande, where their descendants still live. Shortly thereafter, the Pueblo Revolt drove the Spanish out of New Mexico.

    Drought no doubt had a severe impact on Chacoan society, but it’s completely wrong to assert that Pueblo culture is gone. It’s very much alive and vibrant in the 19 surviving Pueblos in New Mexico, each of which claims an ancestral connection with Chacoan society. They know what happened to the ancients and why. Drought played a part in the collapse of Chacoan society, but it wasn’t the only thing, and it may not have been the main thing. (“Scholars disagree.” And the Indians would rather not say.)

    In the meantime, those of us who live in this high and dry land have experienced drought conditions more often than not. We adapt. And if that proves impossible, we cope in other ways — including moving away. We have even had experience with dust bowl conditions (the most recent severe example was in the 1950s, but there was an intense dust storm here three years ago.)

    So far, at any rate, the more or less permanent drought in this part of the Southwest is manageable and survivable.

    How much longer it will be so, who can say?

    1. different clue

      Many years ago on PBS I saw a program ( perhaps NOVA?) about the astronomical and astro-physical timekeeping aspects of some of the ancient Pueblo ruins and centers. I think Grand Chaco was one of those discussed.

      At the very end of the program, a Pueblo-member Park Ranger at one of the ruins-focused parks offered the very sparely-stated theory that the Chacoans developed such accurate and far-reaching methods of measuring astronomical time and astro-physical cycles that they verged on aFFECting those cycles and began throwing the cycles and forces themselves out of balance by excessive knowledge and attempts to manipulate time and the forces. That’s all he said for the benefit of the TV audience. Perhaps that’s all he was ever going to say no matter how much he was asked.

      I think I remember that back before the end of the program, the abandonment of Gran Chaco was described. It was not just fled from. The Grand Kiva was carefully dismantled step by step in exact reverse-order from how it had been built to begin with. The “containment dome” is still there, but all the “time-works” were removed. Or so I remember (perhaps wrongly) the program explaining it.

  21. John k

    Water usage down about 20% due to drought.
    Ag use down to 28mm ac-ft, urban (includes ind and golf courses) down to 6mm ac-ft.
    Ag generates 2% of state gdp.
    Ag has lock on legislature because corruption, but ca allows constitutional amendment, which could reverse preferential treatment for ag… And ease the pain with compensation.

    So without touching wild rivers, which account for half of all water, but assuming just a further 20% decline in urban use, we could accept an 80% reduction in water vs today.
    Beyond this, congress would accede to ’emergency’ use of wild river water in northern ca before an exodus occurs… Dems would know that if they block it the state would flip rep in a heartbeat.

    Of course, farm workers have to leave as land returns to nature.
    Less fresh fruit veg for east coast, beef and dairy moves to Minnesota where rain is plentiful.
    Granted, golf courses either go to nature or condos…
    I guess ca pop stagnates but maybe worse in other sw states.

    1. Synoia

      There has been a great amount of work on this subject.

      Here’s one solution:

      Salt water greenhouses are basically transpiration recovery mechanisms. The ones proposed in the article above need to be located near the sea, because the yrely on deep cold seawater.

      This make seawater greenhouses of this design useful only by the coast. Coastal Land is generally at a premium and expensive.

      In addition, irrigating desert makes the soil more alkali, and tomatoes are the chosen crop because the are somewhat alkali tolerant.

      The alkali can be controlled by use of rotting organic matter, which is more acid. This could include pig and cow dung from CAFOs.

      Much research is required to bring this into widespread commercial use.

  22. Jeremy Grimm

    A crazy idea — what is the possibility of using human power coupled to a bicycle drive to create the 100 psi required to move brackish water to fresh water on the other side of a membrane based diaphragm? It won’t do much for crops but my San Diego relatives might be able to get drinking water and if they saved the occasional rainwater in a cistern — showers (?) or I would advocate for the Asian method for personal cleanliness [wet — soap — scrub – rinse – repeat for next area to be cleaned]. I’m not saying the West doesn’t have water problem but I wonder if it is as devastating as suggested.

    Next consider agriculture in the West — in the drought areas — does the efficiency of getting water to the West and its agriculture with its multiple crops per season and good yields offset the costs and complexities of getting water for the crops.

    What of some of NASA’s solutions for how to provide water for astronauts on their way to Mars? Could any of those “solutions” provide solutions for California houses to take them off city water?

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Please call me a liar where my notions are bafft. But I would most appreciate — for very practical reasons — explanations for how and where I’ve fallen off my rocker.

    2. Synoia

      A crazy idea — what is the possibility of using human power coupled to a bicycle drive to create the 100 psi required to move brackish water to fresh water on the other side of a membrane based diaphragm?

      Reverse Osmosis requires between 900 psi and 1200 psi to work. Your person on a bike would have a hard time producing enough to drink with any system involving those pressures.

      Better to use the sun and evaporate and then condense the water required.

      1. John Wright

        Producing high psi is not a problem. A 200lb human putting half their body weight (100lbs) on a 0.2887 inch square target produces 1200 lbs/sq inch.

        100/(0.2887″)^2 = 1200.

        But that is an extremely small area of the proposed membrane that has water forced through, about 1/4″, so absolute volume of water produced is the problem.

        It is probably more realistic to work from the 1.5KWH/264 gallons desalination figure quoted above.

        Someone in very good shape can produce 100 watts (about 1/8 of a horsepower) for a quite a while, assuming they are riding a stationary bicycle and this is converted with 100% efficiency and they pedal 15 hours/day, they would produce 1.5KWH, producing 264 gallons of water/day.

        I don’t see human powered reverse osmosis water desalination being a popular pursuit.

    3. Michael

      When I read or hear about the grandiose plans to inhabit Mars, I first laugh at solving the problems such as cosmic radiation causing cancer on the trip out due to the lack of a magnetosphere and lack of gravity making everyone blind.

      However, in the back of my mind I’m wondering if they are really trying to accelerate research for survival on this planet, when it becomes more like Mars.

      Domes anyone?

    1. Suzanne

      I second your recommendations. The Windup Girl also deals with post-GW sea level rise in SE Asia. Both also deal with corporatization/privatization of public natural resources and offer lots of food for thought.

  23. phichibe

    I think the best book on the Western water system is probably still “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner. Here’s the Amazon link

    PBS did an excellent six-part documentary based on it.

    In a way it’s amazing to me that 15 million people in Southern California have staked their futures on the Colorado River and specifically the one aqueduct that carries its water to LA, SD, etc. Talk about a single point of failure. I’m sure it’s well guarded but an 800 (?) mile long pipeline seems awfully vulnerable to me.


    1. different clue

      A 2,000 mile long pipeline from Lake Michigan would be ever so much more vulnerable. And rest assured that the people of Great Lakestan would study such a pipeline to analyse every single vulnerablity it would have . . . . and would probe each of those vulnerabilities to see which ones could be transformed into multiple points of irreversible failure.

  24. Stan

    I do not see how the train didn’t leave the station 50 years ago. There are simply too many of us and even if we all lived as third worlders, it would still not be enough to stop this.

    Someone in their 70s would have experienced a tripling of the human population. That would not have happened without fossil fuels and would have required humans to understand the problem way back when and done a course correction.

    If everyone panicked, could we as individuals rowing the boat in the same direction do enough to avoid calamity? I doubt it at this late date but since no one except a few of us are panicking (kind of post panic now truth be told) it is a moot point.

    How do we get people to internalize this? It cannot be a top down approach made up by policy wonks. All of us have to, well, panic.

    1. Fiver

      Humans did understand ‘way back then’ but they were painted as ‘prophets of doom’ at each and every milestone by the corporate brain trust.

      1. Skippy

        ‘prophets of doom’ has now been upgraded to “environmental terrorists”….

        Disheveled Marsupial…. you can’t make this stuff up….. eh…

  25. different clue

    There is no way for America to develop a zero carbon economy in a Free Trade world. America would first have to abrogate and cancel and withdraw from every single free trade agreement and treaty. Then America would be free to erect an Economic Wall of Militant and Belligerent Protection behind which Americans could develop their zero carbon economy.

    No Protectionism? No “Zero Carbon” economy. Sorry about that.

    1. BecauseTradition

      Are you suggesting that Divine Providence exists? Good for you!

      But, of course, the US is exceptional so why would God wish to withhold rain as He did with another exceptional people, the Hebrews? /sarc

      May the prairie dogs prosper! If only we were as wise.

        1. BecauseTradition

          Do you think it’s fair to use one’s truthfulness against him? Think it’s clever, do you? Like a Nazi asking a German Christian if there were Jews in his attic during WWII?

          So no, I’m not that person.

          1. different clue

            Your response makes me think you are.

            So welcome back, again. And if you start thumping the bible so loudly that everyone gets tired of it again, then goodbye again.

  26. Heron

    I don’t know if it’s really a question of bringing her to see it. Will she have a Congress willing to do anything about it? Will she have a population invested and motivated in making the needed changes? Will she be dealing with non-state institutions that value that necessity more than their short-term interests? A president can understand the importance of action as well as they like, but without the support of the other political actors they have to work with and through, that understanding won’t amount to much.

  27. Svante Arrhenius

    Meanwhile, Hillary’s still spewing Rick Berman’s K Street party line: we’re either with HER, or evil Rooski nudniks!

  28. Russell

    The rich & the powerful can pay to have people hurt you. The rich & powerful do not listen to anyone but other rich & powerful people.
    Generals make foreign policy as weapons salesmen.
    Limited nuclear war & limited nuclear winter, and to some all is solved.
    There is already a great deal of missing land as around Chernobyl.
    We are getting by with Cesium 137 circulating with its 15 on 15 half-life, meaning what, effective life of bouncing rays of wonder & mutation, depending on your point of view, or what glows in your stomach.
    I have told in writings, youth, to get as far from tanks as they can.

  29. Fiver

    The question re Clinton’s role cannot be taken seriously if action towards a real solution is the object. That does not mean she won’t ‘do something’ recommended by Goldman Sachs or the Pentagon, though everything to date indicates those 2 institutions are far more concerned with extending predatory neoliberalism to encompass the entire planet than they are in dealing with Climate Change or any other consequence of fossil fuel- powered super-growth – in fact everything points to a US policy to tackle this the old-fashioned way, with most of the planet’s population kicked to the curb in a major population crash.

    The combination of uses of solar power to produce hydrogen and fresh water from sea water afford the best option. Nobody has the courage to pick an option and go all-in.

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