Water in the west

October 22nd, 2007

Posted by: admin

In case you missed it, the NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story yesterday was the western water problem. Brad Udall, director of the Western Water Assessment, which is closely affiliated with our Center, got a lot of ink, as did other CU and NOAA affiliates.

One thing (among many) hinted at in the article that deserves highlight: Western agriculture is done. Not tomorrow, not even in the next decade or two, but eventually. Without a check on urban expansion and with every drop of water spoken for, the economics are obvious: people in urban areas need water and have the cash to buy it from the agricultural senior rights holders.

Over on the Post-Normal Times, Sylvia adds the variable to the west’s water equation that the Sunday Mag article left out: the ecosystems and endangered species angle (here and here).

7 Responses to “Water in the west”

  1. jfleck Says:

    The real question is how we get from here to there. The doctrine of prior appropriation and the encrusted edifices of western water law make this process extraordinarily difficult.

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  3. kevin v Says:

    Yea, that came out well between the lines in the article in the discussion about how Las Vegas would love to be able to pay for desal in other states so that it can take more Colorado River water.

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  5. The Heretic Says:

    It’s too bad we’re putting the cart before the horse. If CO2 affects climate, it will be the first time since CO2 has never affected climate before – as opposed to the strong correlation of temperature leading CO2 – the warm coke effect.

    Similarly, rainfall decreases over the last millenium correlate very well with temperature increases – very well, that is, in terms of the thermodynamics of latent heat moving energy from the surface to the mid troposphere via evaporation. X inches of rain > Y joules of latent heat energy.

    It seems that alarmists of all persuasions should be mandated to take Thermo – especially Al Gore, the Udalls, et al.

    Here’s the secret password anyway:

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  7. kevin v Says:

    SH, please. This is a problem with or without anthropogenic climate change, which was made clear in the article. AGW just increases the risk, which is already there. And as far as the CO2-T leading/lagging link, get over it already. You read this site enough to know that we approach the climate problem from a risk/no-regrets angle, not from a we-need-iron-clad-evidence-before-we-do-anything angle. It doesn’t take much process thinking to see CO2 leading T, so let’s not waste our time on this, huh? That’s what RC is for. 8-)

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  9. The Heretic Says:

    Sorry Kevin, but you missed the points. First off, AGW doesn’t necessarily “increase the risk” beyond the potential reward. The more we find out, the more we know we don’t know. Like that rainfall in the SW is inversely proportional to muons (not to be confused with neutrons) getting through to the atmosphere and enhancing cloud formation, so any correlation pointing to decreasing precipitation due to warming is putting the cart before the horse, as thermodynamics confirms – not to mention the question of the effect of increasing CO2 on convection.

    The second instance of putting the cart before the horse is the CO2 leading temperature concept – which is not shown in *reality*. Again, the more we know, the more we know we don’t know, so that said CO2 leading temperature dogma is increasingly the refuge of the simpleton. Speaking of RC, I’m surprised you would point to them knowing how much they censor posts. If you don’t agree, ask them “Is it true that if random numbers are put into the MBH98 procedure, a hockey stick shape usually results?” See if *you* can get the answer posted…

    But, those are mostly (although not completely) irrelevant, as the biggest point, by far, is not that water is in low supply in western America, but that it’s misplaced. Google NAWAPA for the concept.

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  11. kevin v Says:

    Steve, we don’t censor out of the philosophy that we’re happy to give somebody enough rope to hang themselves. (Unless somebody is clearly hijacking a thread with non-sequiturs.)

    Your comments are actually helpful, though, because they point out that often the argument between “those who believe” and “those who don’t” are much less about the science and “believing in” science, and much more about philosophy. Your philosophy, clearly stated, is “AGW doesn’t necessarily ‘increase the risk’ beyond the potential reward.”

    I agree that we do not now know — and will never know until it hits us — the answer to that question. But my philosophy is that I would much, much rather us play carefully than say, “Oh well, things might be better in the end so even though there are potential (huge) problems, there might also be rewards, so we might as well continue on.” That’s just plain reckless.

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  13. The Heretic Says:

    Kevin, I agree with you that we may not know until after the fact, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to find out. That means a massive commitment of resources along the scope of the Manhattan Project. The existing computational power is way too meager, and there are way too many assumptions and biases in the models.

    It would be much more beneficial to society to spend the money on research than to hobble civilization for the benefit of a few carbon traders.

    However, that’s not important, especially in terms of the water supply. Greenhouse gas problems, if they exist, are many decades away.

    What’s important now is that the abuse of Earth from overpopulation is the immediate concern, and why we really need to spend those resources on climate study. Warming from changes in evapotranspiration would be even worse if it were not for enhanced flora from increased CO2. How much is that? We don’t know that either, but what we do know is that arable land is quickly being used up by people who are only concerned with living through the next year. Considering the spatial distribution of the modification of mass balance (air going up vs. air going down) in the area of the abused land, we could be seeing drastic changes in climate soon *that have nothing to do with changing CO2 levels*. That problem can be visualized as consumers divided by the food supply. The fact that consumers are increasing is a concern, but it’s the denominator in the formula that’s the most critical here – much closer on the horizon than a degree or two of “global warming” from increased concentration of greenhouse gases – and as I said, we don’t even have a clue about how much increased CO2 is affecting e.g. convection – all we know is that globally, precipitation has been going up for the last century.

    Given that, I don’t think it’s a far stretch to admit there is a *possibility* that enhancing the food supply with increased CO2 is a good thing.

    Back to the subject line here, we don’t have to build the entire NAWAPA project. All we have to do is get the water to the Green River…