I’ve been closely following the news reports and videos of the precarious situation at Hoover Dam and Lake Mead this summer. The ongoing drought in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah has seriously affected water flows of the Colorado River system. The drought reminds me of severe dry spells I’ve lived through in both California and Nebraska where water conservation was then a top priority.
The migration of millions of people to the southwest U.S. has proven to be the major factor in the decline of the desert ecosystem. Meanwhile, past efforts in favor of conservation have been half-hearted and insignificant in the face of the necessary needs of still increasing population numbers. As many commenters have stated, it seems foolish and short-sighted to build great metropolitan cities in the middle of a desert. However, the fact is that people who live there need resources in order to survive. Also, southwest U.S. agriculture is important to the rest of the nation and other parts of the world. It affects us all.
That said, people cannot just pull up stakes and migrate elsewhere without encountering terrible difficulties and survival risks. History is replete with examples of suffering refugee populations. Yet humans are infamous for our inclination to procrastinate with remedial solutions until we’re on the brink of disaster. As a whole, we are reluctant to trigger the initiative to change due to our obstinate inertia. Our feeble efforts to preserve the environment give us the illusion of peace of mind.
Human civilization has major elemental needs. A place to live, a reliable potable water source, a way to produce food, and a way to allow for meaningful living. Take away one of these, and civilization fades away either through lack or violent competition for leftovers. Thus, conservation and sustainability are of utmost importance for our species.
Only a century ago, the U.S. and much of the world were suffering under the cloud of the Great Depression. Resources and employment were difficult to obtain. In addition, most of the North American Great Plains struggled through the Dust Bowl–a tragic drought and famine of epic proportions. Recovery was enabled through sustainable agricultural techniques and other methods of conservation. In the end, preservation of the environment and ecology proved to further the best interests of humanity.
The situation at Hoover Dam is a similar scenario. Less water in Lake Mead translates into less water for agriculture and human consumption. It also means less or no water for hydro-power–less cheap electricity. In cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas where inhabitants rely upon water for basic survival and air conditioning to make buildings liveable, the current drought should be of dire concern. If climate conditions continue as they have been, mandatory resource and utility cutbacks will become unavoidable.
Without sustainability and conservation, those who live in the future will have to pay the costs of degradation with less prosperity, less progress, and more suffering. Conservation isn’t just a stopgap measure for the U.S. Southwest; it’s a world-wide practice to help assure fair, reasonable access to resources by all people. Without natural resources we are all at risk.
Conservation methods are not without opposition and powerful critics. There are many special interests that do not want land and water set aside. This means the path to sustainability and conservation will be rocky and contentious. It is important that inertia not win the day.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 20th century film and television actor, Raymond Burr. “Growing up during the Depression, I worked for the Forest Service and CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). I tend to work very, very hard. I wouldn’t change that for anything.”