In Arizona: Can a Million New People Find Enough Water?

April 12, 2022

CNBC’s Diana Olick strikes again.

Is putting a million new residents in a hot desert environment as the Southwest aridifies in response to Climate Change.
Is this a good idea?


My friend journalist Keith Schneider recently completed a weeks long investigation of Arizona’s “Desert Civilization”, asking the questions that need to be asked.

His 3 part Report is at Circle of Blue:

Arizona’s annual gross domestic product, nearing $380 billion, has more than doubled since 2000. New solar installations, electric vehicle makers, computer chip manufacturers, data centers, and corporate farming companies are piling into the state.

Arizona added nearly 200,000 new jobs last year and issued construction permits for 65,000 new homes, according to state and federal figures. 

State government has amassed a budget surplus every year since 2016. The general fund last year, in an unmistakable rebuke to the pandemic, collected $2 billion more in tax revenues than it did in 2020. State economists forecast a $4 billion budget surplus over the next three years. 

The economic boom transformed the landscape. Arizona built an impressive array of beautiful homes, attractive neighborhoods, wide highways, thriving businesses, fine universities, high-tech manufacturers, and state-of-the-art irrigated farms. All of it — 114,000 square miles, 73 million acres — is saluted by cactus forests, towering mountains, mesquite desert, and transcendent vistas that touch the horizon. 

Arizona, in other words, reveled in its location in a mighty desert, commanded the contemporary 20th century rules of the development game, and reached the pinnacle of its lifestyle appeal and economic influence in the first decades of the 21st. 

The question now, as it has been since 1911 when the first big reservoir was completed to supply Phoenix with water, is one of longevity. Can this desert bounty be sustained for another 100 years, or even another 50? That question is more urgent and more relevant than ever. Climate change is disrupting the rules of the development game. Drought and extreme heat are emptying rivers and reservoirs, fallowing tens of thousands of acres of farmland, forcing thousands of homeowners to secure water from trucks and not their dead wells, and pushing Arizona ever closer to the precipice of peril. 

The most revealing and menacing evidence of that fact has emerged on the Colorado River, which supplies 36 percent of the state’s water. The river’s flow is 20 percent lower than it was in the 1990s. The country’s two largest reservoirs — Lake Mead, which opened in 1934, and Lake Powell, in 1963 — are on the river and were designed to hold 55 million acre-feet of water. (One acre-foot equals 325,852 gallons.) At 30 percent of capacity combined, they now hold less water than at any time since soon after they were opened. In total, 36 million acre-feet, or nearly 12 trillion gallons, of storage space is empty.

Last August, as extreme heat and drought dropped the lake levels further, the federal government issued a formal declaration of water shortage. Translated into the legal details of the pact involving two countries, seven states, and 30 tribes that guides the river’s management, the declaration meant that Arizona’s share of the river will be cut by 512,000 acre-feet this year, or 166 billion gallons. 

Below, my latest on the Southwestern drought. (worst in 1200 years and counting)


6 Responses to “In Arizona: Can a Million New People Find Enough Water?”

  1. jimbills Says:

    There isn’t a recent content appropriate post to tack this to, but this is a super incisive piece by Jonathan Haidt on the political changes we’ve seen in the past decade, very worth the full read:

    Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth.”

      That’s very wishy-washy. What’s clear is the difference between acknowledging reality and trying to BS around it.

      Of course all humans are cognitively prone to self-delusion and are vulnerable to manipulation by our tribes, but Murdoch, the GOP, and those threatened by corrective regulation have joined forces to weaponize the ignorance of ordinary people, using well-researched and well-proven FUDGE to manipulate voters and the dumber pols: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, Greed and Envy.

      It’s the science of marketing applied for political ends rather than for selling widgets, and all it needs to really be effective is a complete lack of ethical constraints.

      • jimbills Says:

        Rhymes – sorry, but it looks like you read the very beginning of the article and that’s it. The Haidt piece is really about social media and its recent effect on democracy. It really is worth the full read.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          I still think the piece leaves out The Elephant in the Room.

          • jimbills Says:

            Sure. Haidt does flirt with false equivalency with the two opposing political sides, I think in an attempt to reach conservatives as well as liberals with his ideas, but there’s so much in there as well – how AI is likely to be used in the future to spread disinformation, the psychology beneath the destructiveness of social media towards democratic institutions, even possible tracks to prevent further damage.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I think of my honest and ethical hydrogeology classmate who went on to become a government hydrogeologist in the Las Vegas area (circa 2003), and wonder which hydrogeology “expert” the developers will find to say there is enough water in that aquifer to support the new housing.

    Also, low-flow appliances and xeriscaping are a start, but you also have to disallow pools (aka evaporation ponds) and have high tiered rates for water consumption, too. (Bulding houses without outside faucets would help as well.) People have to remain aware that they live in a desert if they choose to live there.

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