Water, water NOT everywhere!

By Barbara Simpson

People across the country are reeling from wild weather predictions. The East Coast is being told it will be on the receiving end of rain – lots of it – possibly worse hurricanes than they’ve experienced recently, and while they wait – it is hot, Hot, HOT!

It’s not rain but heat that is broiling and moving into the Midwest as well. Reports are that it is so hot in places in Michigan and Pennsylvania that schools are being closed because of health concerns about the students. Most of those buildings are not equipped with air conditioning, which makes the heat problem more than difficult to deal with.

This is a problem that will not go away. The Government Accounting Office issued a 2020 report that concluded some 41% a of all school districts need to update or replace heating, ventilation, or air-conditioning in at least half of their schools. Nothing has changed. It’s a daunting expenditure that most districts cannot afford.

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Further West, the ongoing drought is having a terrible effect – both on nature and on plans that have been made for development. There are lawsuits in progress – conservationists suing over preserving protections for a rare fish and other issues.

One issue is concerning the Tui Chub, which is native to southwest Utah and the California-Nevada line. Officials say it is threatened with extinction. The only place in the world it still exists is in a basin in Esmeralda County between Reno and Las Vegas. The fish are in danger because of plans for urban development as well as demands for agriculture.

Officials say that the fish is threatened by proposed groundwater pumping to support growth in Cedar City northeast of Las Vegas. In addition, proposals for geothermal leases and lithium claims nearby would put the natural springs at risk if they are developed, and they will be.

Now the big hit has occurred. Arizona state officials have concluded from their study of the water situation that there isn’t enough groundwater for all of the housing construction that has already been approved in the area of the city of Phoenix!

What does that mean? It means that the state will stop developers from building some new subdivisions. Developers would no longer get new permits to construct homes that rely on wells for water. That will likely put an end to the development that has made the Phoenix area the fastest-growing metropolitan region in the country.

The issue is that Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs, get more than half of its water from groundwater. Most of the rest comes from rivers, aqueducts and recycled wastewater. When groundwater is used up, it can take thousands of years to be replenished.

With such pressure on water sources, developers and homeowners would be forced to find other sources for their needs, e.g., trying to buy water rights to river water from farmers or Native American tribes.

Since all of them are facing the shortages, it will not be an easy dilemma to solve. It will undoubtedly make housing prices increase in an area that has been known for relatively low housing costs.

Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for industry group Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, said, “Housing affordability will be a challenge moving forward.”

I suspect that’s an understatement!

Interestingly enough, he added, that while the state will be limiting home construction, commercial buildings, factories and other kinds of development can continue.

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State university said, these changes will act as a signal to developers. “We see the horizon for the end of sprawl.”

The official statement concerning water shortages is affecting far more of the state of Arizona than Phoenix. I have friends who live in small towns across that state as well as on ranches. Just in the last couple of weeks I have spoken to many of them, and every single one has told me that their domestic wells have gone dry. That means that they have no water for their homes and ranches, and there is nothing they can do about it. A dry well is a dry well.

Weather predictions are not good for the end of the drought. Science tells us that it is here to stay for the long view. Since Americans have generally been very wasteful of fresh water, it remains to be seen how we will deal with the shortages. Think of all those public service announcements advising you to turn off the water while you brush your teeth.

Be careful how much water is used for washing dishes or clothes. Stop watering the lawn.

We’ll all face that and more – and we won’t like it. But we’ll like it even less when the wells really go dry and there’s nothing we can do about it.

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