Friday, June 8, 2007

The Desert Reclaiming Its Place

My wife recently returned from visiting her mother in Scottsdale, Arizona. She was amazed at the continuing pace of development in the Valley of the Sun. The highways are clogged, housing developments continue to spread in every direction from Phoenix toward the mountains that bound the broad flats of the valley. People apparently continue to flock to that location, where the recent summers have seen extended stretches of 110-degree-plus heat. I've written here about the concern over water supply for the millions of residents of this desert region. Today, USA Today published a story about the prospects of a moister future, and those prospects are slim to none. The lede:

Drought, a fixture in much of the West for nearly a decade, now covers more than one-third of the continental USA. And it's spreading.
Of course, the Southwest is not the only region suffering extreme drought. The Southeast is about 50 inches behind in precipitation. The central valley of California sees cattle ranchers selling off their herds.
"It seems extremely likely that drought will become more the norm" for the West, says Kathy Jacobs of the Arizona Water Institute, a research partnership of the state's three universities. "Droughts will continue to come and go, but … higher temperatures are going to produce more water stress."
So what I'm looking for is the first indication that growth in population and land development is slowing down in these desert regions that were only settled because technology allowed water to be supplied through unnatural means. When even our dams, pumps and deep water wells aren't enough, and rationing cuts into lifestyle issues, what will residents do. And where will they go?

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