Friday, April 25, 2014
Deserts Will Be Deserts
Southern California is experiencing "a crippling drought" (to quote Miguel Almaguer of NBC News). My, my, my. What a surprise. A desert is acting like a desert!
We moved some 28 million people into a desert, planted millions of fruit trees and other food plants there, and lived in blithe oblivion of the fact that the area was a desert. Now the fact that the entire region is a desert is finally being brought home to Southern Californians, and they haven't a clue as to what to do about it.
Meanwhile, the Midwest, South, East, and even Pacific Northwest have been inundated over and over by deep snows and/or drenching rains. But the precipitation in those other parts of the country does nothing for the desert Southwest.
Seventeen years ago, I sent a letter to the editor of The New York Times to urge the creation of an "Interstate Highway System for water", to move it from where there is too much to where there is too little. Every year, billions of dollars of damage is done by (freshwater) flooding in some parts of this country, and other billions of dollars of damage is done by drought. Why isn't it obvious to everyone that we need not passively suffer such damage of either sort, but can create a system of canals, impoundments, lakes, wetlands, pipelines, irrigation systems, and structures by means of which to inject water into the ground to recharge aquifers, to move water from place to place in order to cut both harmful extremes?
The cost of such a system would be immense, but not as compared to the harm we suffer from both flooding and drought over decades. That is especially true if we factor in deaths to people, livestock, and wildlife. We can't really make up the loss of topsoil blown away during droughts or washed out to sea during floods, but we can feel better about it if we can partly make up for it with soil-conservation measures, soil conditioning, and fertilizers. We cannot really make up, except over decades, for forests obliterated by fire. We can plant new trees, but if drought continues, new forests may not take hold. In similar fashion, we can recover from the loss of houses, stores, cars, trailers, and possessions burned up or carried away by floodwaters, tho many people lose fotos, home movies, and other recorded memories that effectively destroy parts of their lives, even if their actual lives remain. But when a person, pet, horse, cow, mountain lion, or member of an endangered animal or plant species is killed, there's no making up for that.
We devote trillions of dollars to "defense" spending that is mostly wasted on matériel and salaries of people who are not actively engaged in warfare, and hopefully never will be. They are mostly just standing by in case they're needed. None of that spending and preparation does anything to save us from vast devastation suffered essentially every year due to droughts and floods, against which we mount no defense whatsoever. And every year we have to replace, to the extent possible, massive losses that we could and should have predicted and taken measures to prevent.
Moreover, the creation of all the structures and systems that such an Interstate Highway System for water would require would entail vast numbers of jobs, at all levels of labor and educational preparation. These are jobs that would not and in most cases could not be outsourced offshore. Canals, lakes, impoundments and such could not be created abroad and imported afterward. So essentially all of the money spent on such projects would stay within the United States to benefit Americans. Why would we not do this?
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