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The Colorado River is shrinking (sciencemag.org)
166 points by SquibblesRedux 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 251 comments





Approximately 27% of the water used in Utah comes from the Colorado River and 60% of Utahans benefit from the river. 82% of Utah water goes to farmers. Significant amounts of that water usage is to grow Cotton and Alfalfa. Two water intensive crops that are largely exported out of the country.

In my opinion we have absolutely no business growing these crops in a desert, especially just to ship them out of the country. Unfortunately the Governor of Utah makes his money (you guessed it) growing Alfalfa in a desert, and he recently gave an impassioned speech about how those of us asking for certain types of agriculture to stop in our desert don't understand how important farming is.


> 82% of Utah water goes to farmers.

Of the remaining 18%,

~ 8% goes to commercial/industrial use

~ 10% goes to municipal residential use (outdoor: 6%, indoor: 4%) [1]

[1] https://le.utah.gov/interim/2012/pdf/00002706.pdf


i.e. taking shorter showers ain't gonna cut it

There was also a segment on water usage in Cowspiracy for California I think.

Water usage in industry is massive. Individuals aren't to blame and shouldn't take any part of the burden. Similarily, CO2.


While the effect of residents is small, the usage of other sectors is, ultimately, in service of residents. People raise cattle in response to or anticipation of demand. Those cattle use more water than if we raised chickens or wheat for seitan. I consider it unlikely that a top down campaign to ration beef, in service of water usage, would succeed without a change in residential culture.

I am more apt to agree with Hank Green [0] that success in major social restructuring requires involvement at the individual level, too, because this encourages secondary behaviors that reinforce the restructuring. People who are voluntarily quitting hamburgers and steaks are more apt to write to their representatives or donate to NGOs that do in support of this issue, initially and to check in later on that promises are kept.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvAznN_MPWQ

As another example, Alec, who publishes youtube videos as _Technology Connections_, recently published a video about using his house as a thermal battery [1] so he can offset his energy use to night time, rather than running his AC at peak hours. He suggests that utilities involve residents to widen this strategy, in favor of brownouts or other centralized tools for shedding load in extreme circumstances. A policy solution that did not burden individuals with brownouts, ex by overprovisioning generation, would fall back on their shoulders in the form of higher utility rates. I allege the same would be the case for adverse climate change or overallocated water usage.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0f9GpMWdvWI


You're taking it for granted that a market-based system isn't going to work. Why?

Utah farmers get their water almost for free, while city residents pay closer to its marginal delivery cost.

This isn't wise public policy choice made by 21st century philosopher-legislators, but simply the path-dependent product of an anachronistic 19th-century framework of "water rights" plus 100+ years of lobbying. It doesn't help that the state senate (like all state senates) is designed to over-represent rural areas.

Second-order solutions like rationing beef might be morally laudable, I just don't think they're really in play until you address the main structural failures, which almost everyone agrees on.


Agree. Markets and prices are super useful tools, but they must be constructed thoughtfully and maintained rigorously. Property rights must be refactored to allow price discovery. Regulators must price in externalities by force of law. Corruption must be minimized.

Above all, you need an effective government at the core. Markets are fantastic for helping large groups of people make locally optimal decisions within global constraints, but you have to be able to establish those global constraints effectively. Water rights, climate impact, employment structures, supply chain resilience… none of that stuff is inherently baked into prices, and governments won’t fix those problems unless they’re solution-focused with low levels of corruption.


> It doesn't help that the state senate (like all state senates) is designed to over-represent rural areas.

I don’t think this has been true since Reynolds v. Sims almost 60 years ago. Since then state senates have been pretty pointless (just small equivalents of the lower houses) and really should be abolished.

In California, for example, it’s just a mechanism for assembly members who want to stick around beyond their term limits to have a chance at another couple of terms. As I understand the problems of term limits I probably shouldn’t complain.


Huh. You're absolutely right. Learned something today :)

> While the effect of residents is small, the usage of other sectors is, ultimately, in service of residents

As long as unsustainable water usage continues to be subsidized, I, as a customer, have little ability to prioritize less water intensive products.

If you want consumers to make informed choices, either add the externalities to the monetary price, or enforce rationing.


The sad part is the current state of water affairs is so far from this. Discounted commerical water rates (liable to change when your local representative gets a donation from industry), unclear water usage by individuals (how many folks really know how much water they use when?) of tiered pricing, shaming as a mechanism to reduce water usage, etc. It's asinine that we have such an unclear, complicated systems. No wonder even motivated individuals have such a hard time decreasing water usage.

I'm going to be super pedantic here because your phrasing confused me and I wanted to be clear:

It's not that 8% of the remaining 18% is commercial/industrial; it's that 8% of the total (not part of the 82% agricultural) is commercial.

In other words:

* 44% of non-agricultural use (8% of the total, within the 18% non-ag) is commercial/industrial,

* 33% of non-agricultural use (6% of the total, within the 18% non-ag) is outdoor residential, and

* 22% of non-agricultural use (4% of the total, within the 18% non-ag) is indoor residential

^Data are on page 4/16 of the linked PDF


The US exports massive amounts of water in the form of hay and alfalfa.[0] This practice may not survive once the reservoirs completely dry out.

[0]https://alfalfa.ucdavis.edu/+symposium/proceedings/2019/Arti...


Chinese and other overseas investors own those US desert farms. They were attracted here by the massively generous water rights they get automagically.

ref: https://grist.org/agriculture/u-s-southwest-already-parched-...


While the US is unlikely to mess with the private property rights, export restrictions are easy to change.

Damn I want a dessert farm

I want to visit the Maybel Syrup Dessert Farm

Very little of the water used to grow hay and alfalfa actually ends up in the hay and alfalfa to be exported. Most of the water ends up in the atmosphere via evapotranspiration.

The amount exported is something like 0.005% of the evapotranspiration amount.

Here are some numbers [1] for Idaho crops. There might be some differences in Utah but they should be in the same ballpark.

> Not much water is exported with alfalfa hay. Potential irrigated alfalfa hay yield at elevations near 4000 feet is about 7.5 tons/acre. Hay harvested at 12% moisture removes 240 lbs water/ton hay, or 1,800 lbs/acre for a normal crop of alfalfa hay per year.

> Evapotranspiration (ET) is the primary use of water by alfalfa and averages about 36 inches/year (900 mm) at Kimberly. The ET at peak periods of 0.4 inches/day (10 mm/day) can reach 4080 tons of water per acre and 45 tons per acre per day.

[1] https://www.uidaho.edu/-/media/UIdaho-Responsive/Files/cals/...


The opportunity cost is there, whether the actual water is exported or not. Especially if the local resource is somehow subsidized either directly or indirectly.

In Southern Utah, which is part of the Mojave Desert, the farmers still doing plain old flood irrigation.

It's so staggeringly wasteful it's hard to understand


Are there good figures on how much of that water is “wasted” and how much ends up replenishing groundwater reservoirs? Utah isn’t that close to the Pacific so that water has a lot of opportunities to do something other than flow into the ocean.

Virtually all agricultural irrigation evaporates. It doesn't even run off into local streams (which you can verify by, heh, the lack of local streams in the Utah desert), much less seep into the ground.

Underground aquifers fill over decades and centuries, and in this environment, almost always laterally, not from seepage from rainfall. I think the demand for proof needs to go the other way, honestly. Presumptively this water is pretty clearly "wasted".


I think the question is how much less water would be used with a modern irrigation system rather than flood irrigation.

Ostensibly you could grow hydroponically and have very little waste but order of magnitude cost increase in power needs. Every other solution falls in between I guess.

Electricity is orders of magnitude easier to move than water, and its price is dropping too.

> Virtually all agricultural irrigation evaporates. It doesn't even run off into local streams (which you can verify by, heh, the lack of local streams in the Utah desert), much less seep into the ground.

The evaporation figures I can find range from 30% to 50%, which is hardly virtually all. I've never been to the Utah desert, but in the California desert I've dumped out water and watched it disappear into the ground. The absence of streams only indicates that seepage and evaporation together get all of the water that would otherwise flow in them.

> Underground aquifers fill over decades and centuries, and in this environment, almost always laterally, not from seepage from rainfall. I think the demand for proof needs to go the other way, honestly. Presumptively this water is pretty clearly "wasted".

Unconfined aquifers will fill as fast as rainfall can seep in, which depending on the area can be a lot less than decades.

How is letting the Colorado flow into the Pacific more of a "waste" than using that water to grow food and letting the excess seep into the water table and fall as rain on the other side of the Rockies?


Those figures are for water that doesn't enter the plants, though. All that water, except for a tiny fraction represented in the shipped output (nuts, whatever) still ends up locally in the air.

And "disappearing into the ground" is absolutely not water entering an aquifer! All you get is wet dirt. Which then... dries out. Again, this isn't how aquifers work.

There's no free lunch here. Growing plants in a desert under the open sky requires a staggering amount of water. It just does. If you want to push efficiency measures look at greenhouses.


> Again, this isn't how aquifers work.

Are you confusing confined aquifers and unconfined aquifers? That's exactly how unconfined aquifers work. Where I live the wells never go dry because every time it rains they are replenished.

Maybe the desert doesn't have unconfined aquifers and that's why you're so strident on this? I really don't know, but I'm curious so please elucidate if you can.


I don't know any numbers, but we're over 100 all summer, so I imagine it mostly evaporates.

Flood irrigation here is just as bad as if they were doing it in Phoenix or Las Vegas


Many of the old neighborhoods and a few remaining urban farms are flood irrigated in Phoenix. The small city park in my old neighborhood was also flooded once a week to keep the grass green all summer.

nit-pick, but only a tiny portion of Utah is in the Mojave desert.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mojave_Desert


While that may be accurate, it's still a lot of acerage that is specifically Mojave. At the same time, if I stand on the border of the Mojave in Utah, I'm still in a desert anywhere I go.

Humans love taxonomy, nature does not.

If you stand on the border of the Mojave, you probably have one foot in the Great Basin desert that covers the west half of the state. The parent probably simply described or generalized to the wrong desert.

A climate map [1] shows that the only parts of the state which aren't desert are arid mountains; the Salt Lake area has a bit of lake effect snow but that's not in the Colorado River watershed.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/95/Utah_K%C...


We grow crops in the desert because there is so much sun there that the crops grow faster and to a higher consistent quality, and because there is much fewer pests that damage the plants.

Right, but crop selection and farming practices matter.

Replace water-intensive crop with something more appropriate.

Replace flood irrigation with something like aquaponics which is leagues more water efficient.


If this is an argument, it is a very poor one and if this is a justification, it is entirely irrelevant.

Deserts have ecosystems that are adapted to life with limited water. Trying to transplant a crop that evolved with plentiful water into an ecosystem with very little is a bad idea. Even worse is the capitalistic incentive to divert natural watercourse to farm in an arid region.


This has nothing to do with capitalism as communally (or otherwise non-capitalistically) owned food production entities would also be highly incentivized to grow crops in the desert because it just works better, assuming adequate water supply from pipelines or rivers. This is observably true as many countries are using desert/dry land areas to grow crops more efficiently, including those more on the "socialized" spectrum of mixed economies.

The thing we should do in this situation is increase our ocean desalination efforts (not to an extent that would counteract sea level rise, but it wouldn't hurt), alongside creating more water pipelines to achieve better distribution into areas which need it. We aren't going to stop crowing crops in desert conditions. It's too effective. We should build more water pipelines to bring water into regions like the California central valley and Colorado and Utah where water is more scarce but crop conditions are good aside from the water availability.


Downvotes because people can't handle the truth?

I appreciate the context here.

Expecting all the modern amenities of life while living in the desert is just pure arrogance. I seriously don't know why governments subsidize it.

According to the stats above, modern amenities of life aren't the main consumer of the water:

> 82% of Utah water goes to farmers.

In 2021, we don't need to grow Alfalfa in the desert. Especially not when it's being exported out of state anyway.


From your perspective and mine yes, but politically one needs a policy that also addresses all the people already involved making their living from that activity.

This is a micro sized problem of the larger scale fractal problem of climate crisis and industrial shifts needed to address it.


What is the number of people directly involved in production of alfalfa in the desert that would no longer have work if the alfalfa production in the desert stopped. Do these jobs absolutely 100% depend on alfalfa, or would they "pivot" to other crops? Is the "farming" sector in Utah that artificial that there is no other crop?

Change to “another crop” is like a farmer telling a software company built on Java to switch to a C++ stack because it’s just another language. There is crop specific knowledge that makes it not just planting something else.

It’s also not just the knowledge and technology capital involved, like many startups here, it’s connection to markets that matter to produce income. Ag wise it’s not clear what other, lower water-usage crop one would switch to, or how our system would encourage, or require, or incentivize that change.


While that may be true, how many people is it? The water from the river that is wasted in Utah means it is not available for more viable uses downstream. What impact will that have? I'm guessing the number of people positively impacted from stopping this use of water will be greater than the number of farmers impacted. If the main reason that this is not being discussed is because the person in charge has literal skin in the game, then it makes it even worse (potentially criminal?).

Correct, but we can have many logical, systemically positive reasons for changing it, but if we can’t address or overcome the concerns of those holding the power then it’s a largely a moot discussion.

The more macro question is can enough alfalfa be grown elsewhere, in areas that don't need so much artifical irrigation, or is the Utah production required to meet demand?

Not a farmer, but alfalfa can be grown many places. I watched a gabe brown video where he mentioned growing it for cattle grazing in North Dakota, which is basically a cold desert. Presumably US farmers in wetter climates like the upper midwest and southeast are capable of growing more profitable crops than cattle feed.

Just one example: If we switched to electric cars and eliminated the need for the midwest to grow corn for ethanol, then a tremendous amount of farmland would open up. So you're right to ask the macro question, it's just that the answer is complicated.


>then a tremendous amount of farmland would open up.

I'm not so sure. CorpFarmUSA will still want to continue growing the exact same crop, and would probably just find alternate buyers. They have so much clout with their lobby. Knee jerk reaction is to Save The Farmers!!!, yet if people actually stopped and looked at what how these farms are operating, the knee jerk reaction might change.

However, it is 2021 and I'm very cynical, so I do not believe people are willing to consider any view outside their own to be able to come to comprimise.


Also consider the markets that depend on the alfalfa that you'd disrupt.

I'm not arguing it's not worth disrupting, but it's not a simple problem.


You are right... but if I understood the above, it's not the modern amenities using up the bulk of the water, it's the agriculture.

Because people don't really "use" water. When you flush the toilet or take a shower the water doesn't get destroyed. The vast majority of it gets treated and put back into the river.

The water used in agriculture will mostly evaporate or become part of the plant. Little of it will make it back to the source.


People absolutely use water by this metric, but most of it goes to their lawn.

Evaporated water eventually falls as rain, though probably somewhere else.

People absolutely should live in the desert.

It's better than what we usually do: destroy natural bio-diverse habitats along rivers and coasts and replace them with housing and strip malls.


I live in an area of the country that has some of the very best environment in the entire world for growing crops. Length of seasons, rainfall, topsoil depth and quality, etc. The very best in the world, no hyperbole.

And yet, due to this land being near a major metroplex, we are busy paving it over with roads and buildings. Mostly what is grown now is Kentucky bluegrass, which doesn't do so great here (or anywhere besides Kentucky?) and so needs frequent applications of pesticides and water to stay green.

Market forces, I know. But from a larger perspective, how does this situation make the slightest bit of sense?


Deserts are natural bio-diverse habitats.

Talk about sending people to Mars...

> Approximately 27% of the water used in Utah comes from the Colorado River

63% goes to California for growing almonds and oranges? and 0% left for Mexicans?

https://www.kold.com/story/25067593/colorado-river-flows-int...


Incorrect. Per the Colorado River Authority agreement, Utah is allocated up to 24% of the rivers water. Utah is not even consuming it’s allocation. Due to the obviously increasing scarcity, Utah is pushing to increase its usage to meet its already agreed upon allowance. And that is because other states are greedily eyeing what is left in the banks and murmuring, “if Utah isn’t using their entire share, *we* should have it!”. And like Utah local leaders are supposed to, they are fighting for their local constituency interests, because that’s what we elect them to do.

We have removed conflict of interest completely from the conversations of today. Jesus, that's one huge conflict of interest, but no one in power and the voters just don't care. Depressing!!

And Utah wants to build a pipeline to divert even more water.

A very small (single digit) percentage of Utah grown alfalfa is exported out the country.

California is still worse. NO ALMONDS. They are water pigs and if you eat almonds you are aiding and abetting environmental damage at a grotesque scale.

The Salt Lake in Salt Lake City won't even exist in a few years. I think it's lost 50% of it's volume in the last 20 years.

>In my opinion we have absolutely no business growing these crops in a desert,

You might as well just say people shouldn't be living in most of the western US then since a majority of it receives very little rainfall.

It's very easy to call these people out when you're not directly affected. Yes just strip them of their major sources of income. No issue there....

You need a better plan than just telling the Governor to shut up and be ok with losing money.


Why should we subsidize the cost of them making money?

Most of those crops aren't directly subsidized. The problem is water rights which are legally tied to real estate. So there's no way to force farmers to pay market rates for water.

The externalized costs are absolutely being subsidized.

You can live out there with little water impact if you don't insist on importing the kind of green water intensive landscaping that the rest of the country wants. People living there is relatively ok from a water point of view (though from a power usage perspective we really should be building very different homes in that area too) it's doing farming in some of the drier parts of the US that seems wasteful when we know water is an issue there.

Nitpick: in the wet areas of the country it's not that we want green landscaping, it's that it is almost impossible to not have green landscaping because of how much rain we get.

Lay down a layer of rock landscaping over landscaping fabric around a home in suburban Minnesota without maintaining it (e.g. by aggressively applying weed preventer and weeding it) and in 3-5 years it will be covered with native prairie grasses and weeds growing between and around the rock.


What I mean is the grass monoculture, trees, shrubs and flowers that for the ur-lawn in the US most of the us that requires a lot of extra watering to maintain.

>grass monoculture, trees, shrubs and flowers that for the ur-lawn in the US most of the us that requires a lot of extra watering to maintain

It does not. I lived in the midwest for the majority of my life and never once had to water my lawn to keep everything green and alive.


> You can live out there with little water impact. it's doing farming in some of the drier parts of the US that seems wasteful when we know water is an issue there.

Ok then they'll use it up and the problem will solve itself.

I don't agree that you can live there and have the infrastructure to support jobs, food etc. with "very little impact"


Most of the water usage in the US west is farming not from residential use and a lot of residential use isn't destructive since it's treated and released.

Farming feeds people and gives them jobs. It's not a separate entity that has nothing to do with the people living there.

For the whole US only 1.3% of people are employed directly on farms and for Utah the number is 1,442 or 0.04% of the population. [0] There are other places farms can be other than a desert. Some jobs have too big of an impact to just support endlessly simply because it's someone's job. These water intensive processes have massive impacts on the environment, look at the valley in California that's sunk 11 feet because of the immense amount of water that's been pulled out of the land.

[0] https://jobs.utah.gov/jsp/utalmis/#/occupation/452093/report


>here are other places farms can be other than a desert.

Where?

You act like these farms are just there because they like wasting water. Someone is buying the product or they wouldn't exist.

If you want a modern lifestyle deal with it. Deserts are going to have to be used for growing stuff.


They should grow drought resistant crops that use less water, because what they're doing now isn't sustainable and will end soon. Maybe wheat, maybe some livestock grazing, maybe nothing at all in some parts.

So that's your opinion, and it's a perfectly valid opinion. We also need a better plan on how to use the water sooner rather than later, so we need to tell the Governor to get off his damn ass and do something productive rather than wasting water for his own damn benefit. If you can't see how that's just not conflict of interest, then we really can't have a proper conversation.

The farming will stop, one way or another. That much is certain, since the river is drying up. Whether it will stop in time to prevent other issues is the question.

The same is true in California, where almonds, which consume massive amounts of water, are grown, along with alfalfa which is largely exported. Also, stunningly, rice is even grown, which requires flooding fields with water.

All of which is to say, our water problems are as much a political problem - due to overuse in farming - as anything.


> Also, stunningly, rice is even grown, which requires flooding fields with water.

Flooding fields is not required for rice farming. Its done to control weeds, not because the rice crop demands it.


There’s an argument to be made that states/nations should have some amount of self-sufficiency, or you risk running into the current issue where all of our Chinese import microchips are potentially compromised. I can see how Utah wouldn’t want to be entirely beholden to other states for its agriculture.

That said, arguments like yours present a powerful reason not to waste resources on what is largely illusory security.


Just like we fight deforestation by planting trees maybe we should fight drought by re-watering our land. It's a massive logistical problem, to be sure, but it seems like humans already have a pretty good handle on draining water from the land.

They could start by banning lawns and golf courses in the desert. No reason someone living in Phoenix needs a verdant green lawn. Maybe place some limits on unsustainable agriculture in the desert. I imagine such bans would be a tough sell in most parts but it's hard to imagine how else the land can recover.


The lawns and golf courses are a small fraction of use compared to farming.

Definitely, but highly wasteful nonetheless. Easier to tell someone to stop growing their lawn than telling a farmer to stop growing their crops

Lawn is definitely wasteful. But residential water use in California is only around 10% of water used. This is a population that has already cut their per-person water use in about half over the past 30 years.

You could probably get another ~30% reduction in residential use by eliminating lawns. Depending upon how you go about it, trees are probably more important in that environment though as a cooling element. Our backyard patio increases heat by a good 5-10 degrees on sunny days.

But it's still not much water saved. The only reason to do it would be to sell it politically - "everyone has to sacrifice". Which I'm fine with. But if your goal is to make residents do this but tell farmers they can do whatever they want, it's kinda pointless.

Edit: I also think there's somewhat responsible ways to have lawn in California. Subsurface irrigation can reduce lawn water usage by 30-40%. And certain drought tolerant grasses require 60-80% less water. These setups seem very rare though.


Is it? Farming represents 3% of California's GDP, but 40% of the water. If California decided to simply sell that water to other states and then give the money to the farmers in exchange for not farming, the farmers would probably come out ahead. It's also a lot easier to enforce than making sure people don't grow lawns.

> It's also a lot easier to enforce than making sure people don't grow lawns.

It might be easier to convince people to not grow lawns if we'd do away with some of the stupid laws and ordinances that require people to have "well groomed" lawns in places where such grass is an unnatural imported occurrence.

Perhaps even offer some tax breaks or other incentives to "zeroscape" or landscape their yards using native plant life suited to the climate. A yard without a lush verdant lawn need not be an ugly yard. It can still have plants and look nice without grass, if we'd "normalize" more nature/planet friendly practices instead of punishing people for not being destructive to their environment.

I bring this point up because here in Utah many neighborhoods will actually fine you if you don't have a lush green lawn in your yard. (Unless of course you're rich, then somehow you magically get approval to go the zeroscape route if you so desire.)


I definitely support a statewide ban on requiring lawn watering. Luckily here in California, because of continuing drought, most cities have already made it legal to not water your lawn, and you can't require tenants to water a lawn.

I would definitely like to see it taken farther as you have suggested -- give tax breaks and subsidies for people xeriscaping or replacing lawns with synthetic turf.


In the last drought, California actually started fining agencies for over-using water. And our water provider established water allotments based upon our residence, and if we went over we would get fined.

And it definitely works. I knew a lot of people in HOAs that mandated residents eliminate a certain amount of lawn due to these fines.


Depends on the definition of easier. Telling a multitude of voters they don't get to have their Normal Rockwell painting of a life, versus telling a handful (relatively) of farmers that their water usage is now restricted? Lawmakers will choose their interpretation based off of that.

Phoenix is a desert but it wasn't ever devoid of water like people think. Its more like a "green desert" of sorts. Its very existence is the result of the sheer amount of water naturally running through the area. Was once the alfalfla capital of the US due to the water and the number of growing seasons.

The only reason it started growing so quickly is because A/C became available. Prior to that they couldn't use swamp coolers mid summer due to the monsoon season making it too humid to work. Water, power, etc, all of that was already there.

A better example is someplace like Las Vegas.



Yeaaaaaah, if cities could stop doing that endless unsustainable sprawl thing that would be great

Yeaaaaah, if our whole society could stop doing that endless unsustainable growth thing that would be great.

The whole "unsustainable" part is what gets me. Why is "growth" so important that we must do it to a point where it becomes unsustainable and risks literally all life everywhere on Earth becoming extinct (or at least knocked back to pre-stone age levels)?


It's only necessary because people think deposits are sacred. The problem isn't some capitalist cabal. Every single individual is responsible.

Came across a recent 10-minute VICE video about the desert area of Washington County, Utah trying to build a new pipeline to pump water from the Colorado River: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWpui1P9cAY

Although the Utah officials are aware that the Colorado River is drying up, they basically justify it saying (paraphrase), "Utah hasn't gotten its fair share yet".

Also as trivia... if you're familiar with the popular Youtube channel "What's Inside", the family lives in St George UT which is the growing city the VICE video is about. The family often mentions the advantages of St. George after recently moving from SLC. (https://www.youtube.com/c/WhatsInside/videos)


My parents own some land in the west zoned for farming. For $100/acre/year they get unlimited irrigation water on that parcel.

And now I understand why farms waste so much of it.


Does anyone have educated views on desalinization tech? That seems to be the few ways out of this that's totally within our control. I imagine we'll rob Peter to pay Paul with it via extincting a bunch fish we didn't mean to in desal turbines or something unexpected like that, but that aside..

It works just fine, but it's expensive and requires a lot of power as well as access to an ocean. You can read about the one that San Diego uses for something like 7% of total water needs here: https://www.carlsbaddesal.com/ and here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_%22Bud%22_Lewis_Carlsba...

thanks!

I've read about some pretty interesting recent developments in desalination and other water "cleaning" technologies lately, but they're all still "in the lab" as it were. Nothing of the newest and most amazing stuff I've read about has yet progressed to the point of being in any widespread use.

As another reply mentions, existing technologies that are in use tend to be quite expensive (in terms of cost and power/resource usage required to get the job done on any sort of large scale).


my sense as well

> That seems to be the few ways out of this that's totally within our control.

Desalinization works just fine--if you have an ocean nearby.

In California, desalinization plants keep getting built and will eventually be able to handle the water needs of people near the coasts.

However, there is no way desalinization can ever support farming. And that's 80+% of the water consumption.

Either you shut down the farms now or when the water runs out--that's the only option.


Why can’t you pipeline desalted water? Or is there not enough throughout. Take oil tech for refinery storage and transport and use it for water.

You can pipeline desalted water just fine.

The problem for agriculture is that desalinization is expensive--several orders of magnitude more expensive than sucking it out of the aquifer. You won't be growing any cheap or staple crops with that.

And, we could certainly supply the people in the Central Valley of California with pipelined desalinated water. However, if the agribusinesses disappear, so will the cities. Thus making a water pipeline moot.


Another problem is that you have to do something with the salt. The standard thing is to pumping back into the water, which has local downside.

Highly recommended post apocalyptic scifi book on this subject:

https://www.google.com/search?q=the+water+knife+novel



We're not going to make any of these hard choices. We're going to keep assuming some nameless person in the future will come up with a way to solve these problems without any sacrifice from us because we're under the collective delusion that the future is always better than the past. Instead, the future is going to be grim because we're refusing to do anything active here in the present to make the future better.


Water supply and runoff efficiency has been quite stable over the past 50 years, according to charts in that article. The main factor in shrinking is that our water usage has ramped up dramatically as population and agriculture demands grow.

One approach might be to implement surcharges associated with water from these reservoirs, to reduce economic viability of overuse, and create incentives to enable other sources of water.


Time for my usual post on water in the western United States.

We have know this for more than 140 years [0]. Since my previous post I can now also strongly recommend that everyone (yes, everyone) living in the western United States read at least the introduction[1] to Beyond the Hundredth Meridian[2]. The introduction is more relevant now than it was when it was written 67 years ago, itself 75 years after the publication of Lands of the Arid Region.

I fully expect the western water related engineering projects of the 20th century to fail in this century because you can't store what never falls from the sky, and you cannot refill a depleted aquifer. Powell presented us with the reality of the ecological and political situation, maybe some day we will finally get around to implementing the solution [3,4].

Edit: for a special treat RE the thread on water usage in Utah as see the discussion of page 84 (96) of [0] where Powell writes the following: "In general, there is a great wastage, due to badly constructed canals, from which the water either percolates away or breaks away from time to time; due, also, to too rapid flow, and also to an excessive use of the water, as there is a tendency among the farmers to irrigate too frequently and too copiously, errors corrected only by long experience." Apparently long experience is more than 140 years.

Previously:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18098899

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26964166

0. https://pubs.usgs.gov/unnumbered/70039240/report.pdf LANDS OF THE ARID REGION John Wesley Powell 1878

1. https://erenow.net/modern/beyond-the-hundredth-meridian/1.ph... Bernard DeVoto 1954

2. Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West ISBN:9780140159943 Wallace Stegner 1954

3. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/visio...

4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_Water_Sheds_o...


I sometimes wish someone would just blow the top 2/3 of thoover damn away.

If we can't be proactive about the real problem let's fake it being reactive to artificial acceleration.


I know this may be silly but one reason why I stay in the "Great lakes states" and own property here is because of global warming and my lack of hope that tech/governments/capitalism will solve it before we reach a point of no return during which we will experience massive property and life loss in the US. Only then significant change will occur IMO.

There are places in the south now that need water to be delivered by trucks due to shortages. At some point it is going to be pointless to live there and housing market in those areas will collapse.

Coastal areas will be flooded due to increasing sea levels.

Places with little to no rain will experience more extreme fires(happening now).

I'm sure Midwest will also experience more severe weather but you can make it work, living under water or without water is impossible.


I don't think it's silly, it's honestly why my wife and I keep deciding to keep our family here in Ontario despite the rest of my family being out west. We keep talking about moving to British Columbia for lifestyle and social reasons (skiing, family, scenery, politics etc.) but every time I go out west to visit family in Alberta & BC there's forest fires, talk of drought, shrinking glaciers (that supply all drinking and irrigation water to that whole half of the continent) and I come back thinking that the great lakes region is ideal, particularly here on the Canadian side: politically stable, lots of fresh water, arable land, few forest fires, etc.

For now, anyways.

EDIT: and yeah, amazing you're getting downvoted. I've been downvoted here for expressing the same sentiment before.


I mean, there's a lot of techno-optimists on this forum diligently huffing the hopium that the eventual (perhaps even imminent) collapse of our current systems will surely be subverted by some great breakthrough. Of course they're going to downvote any view that purports that this is highly unlikely.

Personally, I been upvoting everyone who makes realistic and valid points, even if I don't like what they have to say, because especially in discussions about this particular topic, we need to entertain a wide variety of viewpoints and be willing to accept that not any one magical solution is gonna fix this.

The reality is that the whole "climate crisis" thing is gonna require humanity in general to gang up on the problem from all angles and each contribution will help the overall situation improve to some degree. The sum of all those contributions is the solution.

The longer we keep looking to corporations, politicians, and scientists to come up with a "magic bullet" for the problem, the worse it's gonna be for everyone and the less likely any amount of human efforts will be able to improve it again.


It's a lot bigger of an issue than merely the climate crisis. Regarding trying to prevent it (and related issues), we would not only needed to have started 50+ years ago (when it was already clear what was happening), but the incentives in our economic system just do not work in such a way to allow for all the capitalist decision makers to all collectively stop turning a profit. The system is somewhat like rolling a boulder up a hill, it must continuously push it up, or the boulder will roll back down, a little, or all the way. Once growth becomes imposssible/infeasible due to resource limitations, this will happen eventually anyway. But if the machine stops churning, it will simply happen sooner.

Regarding the various aspects of the unsustainability of our society and how it is reaching its limits, this wiki subsection is a very good read (and the rest of the wiki page as well, separated into concrete sections, and links to lots of source materials):

https://www.reddit.com/r/collapse/wiki/index#wiki_what_would...


> https://www.reddit.com/r/collapse/wiki/index#wiki_what_would...

Some good info at that link. Thank you for that.

(Gonna take me a while to read through it all, but at least it gives me something to do with my time besides just storing up survival resources and stress-levels while I wait for it to happen.)


Be careful with collapse Reddit. That’s pretty typical doomer material so be careful going down that rabbit hole. It’s very focused on lots of what-ifs and not so much solutions.

Ya, digging deeper, I discovered a lot of 'em are far more concerned with finger-pointing and playing the blame game than with any sort of planning, solutions, ideas, or anything remotely positive or helpful.

A water shortage is something most of the world has been dealing with forever. The only people who panic about this are just privileged people who grew up with super cheap/unlimited water.

Collapse of ecology is certainly a problem. The Colorado river is not (for residents). A tiny portion of the population who farms consumes more than all of the residential use combined.

We make farmers pay for the fucking water they use and then the problem is solved. This doesn’t even require a technological breakthrough.


BC has no lack of water; it rains _heavily_ most of the year along the coast.

What BC lacks is a water storage plan; as you've mentioned, our glaciers and snow pack are no longer reliable.

And there's the impact from less water in rivers and streams to consider, and how that will effect the ecology.


There's really three different ecozones we're talking about here. Coastal, interior, and northern. Yes, there's lots of rain along the coast, but that doesn't help the interior. And it's pretty damned hard to build the infrastructure for rain storage on the scale we're talking about.

That said, the recent heat wave hit the coast pretty badly, too.


The southern interior hosts a desert; definitely not a lot of rain there. ;)

We're building rain storage right now, in the form of Site C.


Wouldn't you say Site C more of a glacial-melt supplied reservoir?

EDIT: It's a dam built on the Peace, which is out of the Rockies, on the other side from most of BC. And a long way from anywhere in B.C. that will be requiring drinking water or irrigation really. The farm land that would be irrigated I would imagine would be primarily on the Alberta side.


It's a snow-pack reservoir, I think.

The intended use of the water is for power generation, but I think dams are clear model of how to build rain water reservoirs going forward.


> and yeah, amazing you're getting downvoted. I've been downvoted here for expressing the same sentiment before.

Because it’s an irrational prioritization. It’s like refusing to move to a new location for your dream job because the cost of milk is a little higher.

People like yourself and OP tend to struggle with this because it’s hard to imagine water not being an unlimited free resource. Once you think of it like food or any other utility, you’ll realize there is a always a price point where you can get it and it’s just one of another many costs you analyze in a place.


Right....

So holding onto an investment property in a location where I think prices will go up in the next 20 years is irrational. I simply stated my opinion, you can disagree with it all you like.

I'm a programmer, I can do my dream job from the comfort of my home without traveling, wasting my time and gas.


> So holding onto an investment property in a location where I think prices will go up in the next 20 years is irrational.

Thinking that they will go up because of water is the irrational bit.

Israel is the worst case (desalination of sea water) and water is still affordable there. It’s a non-issue that would be as far down the list of considerations when choosing where to live as electricity costs.

You may have “thought about it” a lot, but even a little bit of research of what the worst case looks like would have revealed it’s a terrible reason for any investment plans.


Holy crap you're arrogant.

How so? Because I grew up in a water constrained environment?

In your other post you literally brag about how wasteful you can be with water (kids spraying hose, etc). Living without unlimited water takes an adaptation that the majority of the world deals with just fine. It’s only the people who grew up with it that have an irrational fear of the concept of it being a limited resource like any other.


> There are places in the south now that need water to be delivered due to shortages.

An argument for moving to Florida or Louisiana, where the water will be delivered to your home for free in short order.

Dark humor, but sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.


Louisiana's problem is more land erosion than sea level rise and it's mostly due to dams all the way up in the Dakotas.

Water rights are a huge mess and I see it being the thing that eventually breaks up pacts between most nations. The US and EU will cease to be and nations will go to war over it.

The legislation around these rights is a time bomb.


I love dark humor!

Honestly, I don't think we need to worry about global warming, Apple basically solved it by not including a charging brick with the iPhone12 and new watches! /s

This sums up how capitalism feels about global warming.


"Coastal areas will be flooded due to increasing sea levels."

I don't mean to nit pick, but clarification in this context is appropriate I think.

For example, I live about 500 meters from the Pacific ocean, but my house is in absolutely no danger of flooding, because we're about 100 meters above sea level, and we are at the top of a rise. There's nothing 'above' us, so no rain flooding is possible.

Many costal areas will flood due to sea level rise; many more costal areas will flood even sooner due to increasing storms.

But it's quite possible to live safely near the ocean.


You are indeed nitpicking and presenting a cherry picked scenario. You are the outlier. The majority of coastal settlements are on flat land or at the mouths of rivers which - surprise - are also flat and prone to flooding. There is a good reason that rocky coasts like those in Scotland or Gaspe in Quebec have such small populations.

It is possible to live safely near the ocean, provided your government has the foresight to build storm barriers. At the moment, one of the only places where this is true is the Netherlands.

Also, there's a more plausible reason for river basin floods - melting glaciers and upstream floods.


"... a cherry picked scenario. You are the outlier. The majority of coastal settlements are on flat land or at the mouths of rivers which - surprise - are also flat and prone to flooding."

I agree. The vast majority of people who live near the ocean are at risk. I was thinking in rather privileged terms as someone able to pick and choose where to live.

I chose this location, surrounded on three sides by cold Pacific water, because of the strong temperature moderating effects.

Among those within a few miles of the Pacific in a radius of 50 miles from my location, at least 95% of them will be strongly affected by sea level rise and temporary surges due to strong storms.

"... one of the only places where this is true is the Netherlands."

For the time being. :(


Cliffs get eaten by the ocean too. Depending on the type of material and other factors, the ocean may get closer to your home by several metres each decade. It has become a problem in several places in France, where they thought they were safe because they were not low and on the sand but high and on the rock, but they are not safe any more.

Cheap fresh water will become the new oil. I wouldn't be surprised if the ridiculous idea of pumping Lake Michigan to NV/CA comes to fruition.

It won't happen due to the staggering energy requirements to lift water up and over the Rocky Mountains. For that level of energy expenditure, it would make more sense to desalinate water closer to those places.

What might make more sense is growing more warm climate fruits and vegetables in the Great Lakes with the abundant water supplies as the climate there gets warmer, and exporting those elsewhere.

This is already happening in portions of the southern UK which are now growing champagne grapes as the traditional locations in France are getting progressively drier.


The Great Lakes Compact forbids that. As an agreement between states it went through US Congress, so theoretically an act of Congress could repeal or modify it. However this seems unlikely to me due to the Midwest's outsized political influence and how protective locals are of the lakes.

The Great Lakes Compact has a giant loophole you could drive a train full of water right through.

You can export water out of the watershed in containers no larger than 5.7 gallons (~21.5 liters)

Build a short loop of rail, half in the watershed and half out of it. Drive a train in a circle continuously. When you are inside the watershed, fill up the 5.7 gallon containers (just make it a continuous waterfall that you drive through or something). When you are outside the watershed, dump them into a reservoir/pumping facility. There's nothing anybody could do about it.


> There's nothing anybody could do about it.

All the states with GL watershed agreed to the compact not-so-long ago. In a case of such egregious rule-skirting, couldn't they just agree to close the loophole?


Read up on the Nestle bottled water situation in Michigan. Nothing is being done, or proposed to be done.

They could shoot you.

There are international treaties with Canada that are supposed to forbid that. But yeah, that remains a worry.


The US imposes treaties, it doesn't follow them, and Canada is a national security threat, so any treaty requirements can be ignored for national security purposes

Yes, hence why I said "remains a worry". Though the treaty is signed between various states on the US side, too, and some US states have interests that compete with others on these matters that might be the one thing that saves us here in Ontario & Quebec.

I've idly thought about which areas are likely to come out ahead because of climate change. It's going to affect just about everything, but surely there will be at least a couple winners next to the pile of losers.

Obviously you can't predict too far out, but like you've said, the midwest seems likely to be a winner in the short-term. I've also seen a lot about the Russian permafrost melting, and I can't help but think they'll come out ahead as well. It makes me wonder if they've done that same mental math, because it would give them incentives that conflict with most of the rest of the world.


Problem is that in this particular issue the natural systems of the planet are straight up breaking down and soon could spiral so out of control as to be entirely beyond our ability to do anything about the issue. The longer we wait, the higher the odds it becomes "unfixable".

I don't disagree with any of that. I'm not saying things will be good globally, or even in very many places. I'm just saying that it's likely that climate change will leave some areas of the planet better than they are now.

Whether or not we have the ability now, or will have the ability in the future, to reverse course on climate change was entirely unrelated to the point I was trying to make.


> … "it's likely that climate change will leave some areas of the planet better than they are now."

Almost certain to be true … temporarily.


It's not silly. I'm sitting in a coastal tech city but with a remote job for cultural reasons, and looking at what's next after this lease and long term.

I'm not sure how I want to balance the pragmatism I can execute on with this mobility to move to somewhere tolerable in the midwest (MN comes to mind), vs. a common nihilistic trend that warming will affect everyone*, might as well live where I want to live (not MN comes to mind).

I worry we're experiencing "gradually then suddenly" trend with climate developments, but I have difficulty placing if it's a me-concern, or grandkids concern.


Having lived in MN I would point out that 90% of Canadians live south of the Twin Cities.

Ya frozen chosen up there, spent some time as well but not for years. figure it'll get better though if climate all pans out as people are concerned about.

MSPL tech is (or used to: unclear if remote work will change this) appealing b/c of the corporate cluster around there, and the city's future despite last year seems ok as it's the main eastern urban hub for all the rural farming stretching west of it. I work with a lot of remote folks from MSPL, so seems like there is a tech community.

Chicago seems interesting, but as I understand it the state finances are upside down because of pensions and the like, and it's slowly reflecting in income taxes.


Yes, most of us cluster in a latitude about parallel with northern California or southern Oregon.

I know people who work for local governments in the midwest and the big elephant in the room there is quite a lot of the roads, sewers, bridges, and other essential infrastructure that was built in the 60s and 70s is approaching the end of its useful life, and these governments don't have the tax income to maintain or improve any of it. Recent heavy rains this summer have inundated local sewer systems, the national weather service had to issue an alert for people to stay in their homes due to how much high water was appearing and trapping vehicles.

Storm drains are a much smaller problem than a regional water shortage catastrophe. If that is the biggest issue a municipal grapples with they are in a good position.

There isn't much of a regional water shortage catastrophe occuring in the west so much as a general mismanagement of water resources. We make water cheap and in plenty supply for farmers, so they pick water intensive lucrative crops for export like alfalfa, cotton for mattresses fabricated in mexico, or even rice. Residential use makes up such a small percentage of water usage compared to agriculture which isn't managed well. Seeing the great lakes as an infinite body of water is also a logical fallacy, that resource also needs not to be mismanaged in order for it to be relied upon 100 years from now.

The infrastructure issue is a huge problem. Municipalities are going bankrupt. They can't afford to replace these systems that were laid out decades ago. Who will pay for it when there isn't money available even to pay existing pensions on the municipality and the state level, and federal policy changes with the wind every 4 years? In the mean time while that is being debated historic storms are finding the weakest links to stress and breaking them, and compromises are being made to sustain the bare essential of infrastructure.

And that's just the public works. Homes are rotting too, and they aren't building new ones fast enough. A housing tract that was nice and new in 1995 probably needs work on the roof today, a repair bill that might be worth 10-20% the total value of the home. You won't get that nice coastal salary to make these sorts of bills worry free, either. This is the midwest where engineers are paid like 80k and that's seen as pretty good pay.


It's dangerous because at some point some idiot brained Western politician will demand a huge water pipeline from the great lakes to Arizona so they can sustain their massive city in a middle of a desert that should not be there in the first place.

Then a few decades later, the US will have its very own Aral Sea.

That particular cynicism aside, what will probably happen is that sufficient global warming will make the desert actually uninhabitable and people will migrate to the Great Lakes.


I think the Aral sea was particularly vulnerable because almost all of its water was supplied from only a couple rivers. I don't think the Great Lakes would be so easily choked off, especially on the northern end of them where they blend into the Canadian Shield which is unusable for agriculture (it's mainly just granite) and so irrigation projects taking the water from there would be less likely.

It's not that you aren't correct on some time frame, its more so that you have to live your life there for the entire duration that you aren't correct.

So, whatever helps you sleep at night.


But I don't. I just plan to hold onto the property, if I buy another house.

As dev with a dual citizenship and ability to work anywhere in Europe, I have pretty high mobility and I can always move.


I considered that but you wrote "why I stay in the "Great lakes states""

In any case, yes it is a bet to hold property there for that reason. Good luck.


> There are places in the south now that need water to be delivered by trucks due to shortages. At some point it is going to be pointless to live there and housing market in those areas will collapse.

Why do you think that? They are clearly fine with the most expensive option already.

> Coastal areas will be flooded due to increasing sea levels.

No, some coastal areas will have problems with this where the inland has very little elevation gain (e.g. Florida). A house in the South Bay Area alternatively has a lower flood risk than anything near the Great Lakes (just because of the precipitation received on the eastern half of the US).

> Places with little to no rain will experience more extreme fires(happening now).

Some will. It depends on the ecology. Many of these places on fire have fire as part of biological cycle (I.e. the California forests) so if you weren’t ready for that risk you were screwed regardless of climate change.

> I'm sure Midwest will also experience more severe weather but you can make it work, living under water or without water is impossible.

And neither of those things will be feasible outcomes for those of us in the West.

Unless you’re a farmer, living near the Great Lakes for water security is pretty stupid. You have a higher chance of being killed by a tornado or a lightning strike than there being a water shortage that makes the west unlivable.

Israel desalinates ocean water and a fuckload of people still live there.


> being a water shortage that makes the west unlivable

Unlivable? Probably not. But more expensive? Absolutely.

And once the agricultural economy needs to shut down due to free water not being free anymore, I'll expect ghost cities all over the West, starting with small communities not able to provide enough jobs and not attractive enough to turn into retirement places for people with money.

So far the projections on temperature and rainfall changes are in line with what we see today, but hey, the jury is still out on that. Once we know for sure in roughly 25 years, it might be too late, so I take my chances based on what I know now.


Agree with all your points, but also: the moment I had children the horizon of years that concerned me expanded significantly. I am a bit over half-way through my life but I have two young children and where we settle and build our lives affects their prospects as well.

We have 6 acres of arable land a 10 minute drive from Lake Ontario and a well into the Niagara Escarpment into an underground river that I can pull dozens of gallons a minute of water from. As I write this my son is splashing in the pool and spraying the dog with a hose ;-)


> Unlivable? Probably not. But more expensive? Absolutely.

The people that move west move to the cities and they are already drastically more expensive than water rich places. The cost of water tripling in LA or SF for residents would be meaningless in the grand scheme of CoL.

Just look at electricity and gas prices in CA for an example of something else people have to pay way more for that realistically doesn’t matter.

Until you’re looking at order of magnitude increases, it will just be noise. And desalination doesn’t even require a 10x increase.


Given the severe drought and fire danger conditions in the southwest over the last decade or two, it's not surprising.

Someone wants grant money.

Maybe we need to look at cloud-seeding or other rainmaking solutions like the UAE is doing

Sure, let's ignore the simple solution - stop consuming so much water - and jump to a high-tech, unknown impact, expensive, complex, expensive solution. What could go wrong?

"Sure, let's ignore the simple solution - stop consuming so much water"

I agree that it's a demand-side issue, but the solutions are not "simple".


There are no solutions. Those who can will use what they can, those who can't will be left high and dry. This is expected when supply rapidly declines when demand remains constant or increases over time. The watershed will change faster than human behavior and policy will adapt.

There was already not enough water for the rights distributed in the 1922 Colorado River Compact [1]:

> The delegates figured allocations on hydrologic data from the Reclamation Bureau that indicated annual Colorado River flow at Lees Ferry to be 16.4 maf. In truth, however, Colorado River flow is a good deal less than that. Data from three centuries indicate an average flow of about 13.5 maf. Also, flows are highly erratic, ranging from 4.4 maf to over 22 maf.

> Built into the compact then, between what it promised and what the river was prepared to deliver, was water scarcity. There is not enough water to go around. As a result, water scarcity is the root of most of the disputes and problems subsequently arising over the compact and the Law of the River. It is a situation that links past and present Colorado River issues and will be an abiding concern in the future.

EDIT: You personally can make the choice to not live somewhere that will eventually face water scarcity [2].

[1] https://wrrc.arizona.edu/publications/arroyo-newsletter/shar... ("Sharing Colorado River Water: History, Public Policy and the Colorado River Compact")

[2] https://web.archive.org/web/20210721173013/https://i.imgur.c...


"There are no solutions."

There are solutions, but they are not simple. You could relocate the main users, like agriculture and industrial users, to areas that are not as arid. This would also cause some migration of individuals. I mean, that is the driver of the scarcity - building cities in the desert.


My apologies. "The solutions are untenable and no amount of realistic effort would enable their implementation." would've been a more accurate statement.

It's hard to call something untenable if the alternative is failed agriculture, unsustainable industry, and people being rationed water. The federal government could eminent domain water rights in the region and exert controls that would force out / buy out the largest users and influence population migrations.

It might not be palatable, but it will look better the worse things get.


Desalination is already cheap enough to farm with (for some crops anyway) and energy will continue to get cheaper.

Dumping energy into desalination (and water transport) to continue farming in the desert will only increase our massive global warming problems. Again a bad, risky solution.

No it won't, heat from the sun (and radiation away from the planet on the dark side) completely dwarfs human energy utilization.

Climate change is happening because of changes to atmospheric composition, solar panels aren't going to have a massive impact on that.

Austerity is the bad, risky idea that isn't a solution to anything.


> solar panels aren't going to have a massive impact on that

Solar panel production, like all industrial activity, is pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere, not to mention other pollutants - from mining, factories, transport.

Besides, we need to replace all fossil fuel energy generation as quickly as possible with renewable energy generation. Adding any extra energy consumption makes this vital goal more remote.

Perhaps once 100% of energy is produced from renewable sources with 0 carbon emissions, we could think about starting to grow energy consumption again. Before that, thinking about huge new industries like this is completely irresponsible.

While austerity as a solution to monetary crises is completely counter-productive and a non-solution, it is unfortunately mandatory to avert the worse effects of the climate crisis. We have run out of time entirely, unfortunately, ignoring and hiding this crisis for the past 50 years. Stagnating and even reducing consumption is the only possible response today that can prevent the worse effects of global warming.


It is interesting how there are no people willing to save capitalism but there is an endless quantity of people trying to keep 20th century capitalism alive just a tiny bit longer.

I think the main constraint is delivery of the desalinated water over long distances (necessary in this scenario).

Some of them are. Like we could stop making how green your lawn is into some kind of class marker.

The first step would be defanging whatever legal machinery HOA's use to ensure that you keep up with the Joneses re: how much water you can afford to waste.


That is something that people should look at, but Agriculture and industry are the main users.

Large federal grants/subsidies to stimulate farming in the Northern states, coupled with a progressive/tiered taxes on using more than [edit] xx million gallons of water in places like California and Colorado?

...I could see how the residents of those latter states would not be too happy with that solution, though. But it's not like the Federal Government isn't already constantly picking favorites for subsidies (see ethanol, oil, etc.).


Why punish individuals for their water consumption? That's not exactly the low hanging fruit, the vast majority of water in California is used for farming.

I wasn't suggesting taxing individuals but large-scale farming. That's why I said x thousand gallons, though I guess I ought to have said xx million gallons. Edited.

Ah, okay, that makes sense. I read the thousand gallons combined with the following 'won't make residents too happy' and assumed you were thinking of individuals.

They are "simple", but hard to implement. You stop farming and in arid areas (and also stop high water consumption industries in those same areas) - simple. Also simple to achieve: either tax industrial water usage, or outright ration water for industrial use. Hard to do - people don't want to move, local food shortages may happen, people hate taxes and price hikes etc.

With the proposed implementation, its merely a concept and not a solution. As they say, the devil is in the details. The n-order impacts of such a systemic change would not be simple. So as a concept, it's simple. As a solution, it's complex.

For example, many people will fight the industrial and agricultural water use tax because their jobs depend on it. It would force people out of that area when those jobs dry up, just as the mandatory changes would.


Stopping water consumption is an inadequate solution to our three biggest water supply problems:

1. Desalination

2. Purification

3. Distribution

There would be no shortage of fresh water on earth if we simply put resources into solving these three problems.


There is no shortage of fresh water in the US. The water is simply not near where the farms are because we're unbelievably irresponsible with where we do farming.

All of those things are likely to increase our global warming issues, as they are highly energy consuming in several ways.

If we want any semblance of current society to keep chugging along 50-100 years from now, we need to reduce our production of almost everything, energy most of all. There is simply no other solution to stop catastrophic global warming.


I have to say it's vanishingly rare to see someone else advocate for net reduction in energy usage. In so many similar discussions it seems to be as much a taboo as topics like population control or not being able to freely buy tat products from china.

But it seems one way or the other these shifts are inevitable, either by choice or it left unaddressed the other way as a natural consequence and with much greater suffering. Same with water use in arid areas, it's either restricted today or ultimately gone tomorrow.

I guess the approach of burying our heads in the sand can be at least assured of an increasing sand supply to support it.


Energy consumption is not a problem, provided it comes from the sun. The sun is going to burn and blast the earth with energy, whether we harness it or not.

Harnessing the sun's energy and applying it towards water desalination and distribution would allow us to grow all sort of plants (including trees) in areas that would otherwise be unable to sustain plant growth.

Plants are composed largely of carbon that is extracted from the air, so the more plants you can grow, the closer we get to solving global warming.


> Energy consumption is not a problem, provided it comes from the sun. The sun is going to burn and blast the earth with energy, whether we harness it or not.

Harnessing solar energy is not free - you still need to build solar panels or other kinds of solar plants. Producing these requires metals that need to be mined, forged and transported. Solar energy only works for half the day, and is only plentiful part of the year.

Not to mention, today we need to decommission all fossil fuels in the world and replace them with renewables, also covering the energy needs of emerging countries. So while in some distant future of 100% renewables we could contemplate desalination, we can't spare any energy today towards new industries.

Even so, it is unlikely that we could replace all of our current energy consumption with renewables, given the huge problems with variability, in the foreseeable future.


The thing is, "stop consuming so much water" not the simple solution.

It works, but it requires tons of precious metals to get to work and we could never recover the amount of water or even the metals themselves to make it efficient. Do-able, just going to cost money like no tomorrow. Literally the definition of throwing money at the problem. When you have a uber rich oil state with plenty of cash to burn, it'll work until they run out of cash or desire.

The UAE does not have a Mississippi river.

One side of the country is a desert unsuitable for growing crops, naturally stubborn Americans grow crops there anyway at staggering economic and environmental cost.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Mississippi, where I live, we get around three to four feet of rain per year for free, and corn grows pretty well most years without artificial irrigation.

It makes a lot more sense to move the farmers and their farms than to move the water or implement other hyper-high tech nonsense. The UAE of course has no choice so best of luck to them, but it probably won't work as well as simply moving the farms.

"We" do something similar with cows. In some states it costs 100000 gallons of irrigation water per pound of produced beef or whatever nonsense. In my state, we just call it rain water, and its free, LOL. Americans being Americans naturally we go to enormous expensive effort to make sure we grow cows where cows should not be grown, rather than simply moving the cows.

"We" also do something similar with humans. There's nothing special about a job done by humans in a desert, other than its an environmental, and eventually economic, disaster. Americans being Americans, we will spend everything we got and then some, to make sure that people can work from home in an uninhabitable unimaginably expensive desert rather than working from home in a nice easy place to live. We'll destroy the entire planet before we make people move from Vegas to Chicago. Which I guess says something about Chicago (LOL just kidding)


> Americans being Americans, we will spend everything we got and then some, to make sure that people can work from home in an uninhabitable unimaginably expensive desert rather than working from home in a nice easy place to live.

By my recent calculations, it is significantly cheaper to live in Arizona (my home state) than pretty much anywhere in California (a "nice place to live"). And yes, cost of living includes food.


> We'll destroy the entire planet before we make people move from Vegas to Chicago. Which I guess says something about Chicago (LOL just kidding)

If you took everyone in Vegas and put them in Chicago, you'd be pretty close to the Chicago population in 1960. Which I guess says something about Chicago (LOL just kidding)


Why do they need to move water there into the desert for their crops when they are growing crops here in America? https://gulfif.org/arizona-arabia-alfalfa-lessons-from-the-g... So they may not have a Mississippi river, but they are using the Colorado.

I just read an article (maybe on HN) that they are doing so with drones that shoot electricity or something like that

No heavy metals or consumable materials needed?

https://www.iflscience.com/environment/fake-rain-the-uae-tha...


This means water will be taken away from other areas, unpredictably, we may not know where. Removing water from the atmosphere above Utah may have wide reaching national, if not international consequences.

If the goal is just for human use, then that might make sense. This article also includes the ecosystem. Increasing the rainfall in the region could alter the other aspects of the ecosystem. The real issue is on the demand side with ever increasing populations.

The issue is with ever increasing consumption. For water conservation a change in diet to move away from water intensive calories like almonds and beef could be replaced with less water intensive crops like poultry and peanuts.

I had a typo saying "supply" when I meant "demand". At a high level we are saying roughly the same thing. Even poultry and peanuts would provide only a temporary solution. The root of the issue is building cities in the desert (and the agriculture and industry that goes with them). The population will continue increasing until the peanuts and poultry fix no longer provide enough savings. Not to mention, any new found "surplus" of water might just be used by farmers to expand the poultry or peanuts that they would be producing (lower margins would suggested a needed increase in volume).

I imagine that pushes the problem to a downwind state, until California is the only state that has rain?

The choice is pretty clear to me. We need a national water grid. Desalinization is great and a piece of the puzzle, but we need a way to distribute water across the country. It could also be leveraged as an energy storage device if we continue to add more reservoirs at various elevations. It's not going to be cheap or easy, but we'd be stupid not to start on it now. The climate changes, and we need to plan for it.

Places in the west have historically, long before humans started increasing carbon dioxide, seen extended droughts lasting tens or hundreds of years. Human driven climate change could exacerbate this issue. If we want to be a people that lasts thousands of years we need to plan for events that happen in a thousand years.


No. The Great Lakes are not leaving the Great Lakes area. Ever.

What does this even mean? What does a national water grid have to do with the Great Lakes? Is there some sort of regional paranoia that the rest of the country is coming for "your water"?

If you look at a map you'll notice that there is quite a lot of water available beyond the great lakes. Is there a reason freshwater can't be pulled from the mouths of great rivers like the St. Lawrence, the Columbia, and the Mississippi right before it reaches the sea? Is there a reason why flood control systems can't be built to sequester excess precipitation so that it can be reclaimed?


It would be extremely energy intensive to push water from sea level to upland farms, basically you'd be running hydro plants in reverse.

Desalination is also energy intensive. Shipping food from foreign countries is energy intensive. Starving because those countries also experience the effects of global warming and decide to feed their populations first is economically and socially expensive.

Choose your costs. You're going to spend energy one way or another, or you're going to sacrifice your quality of life(or potentially your life).

I don't see this as being a convincing argument against a nationwide hydro grid, just one of many tradeoffs.


How about the argument that it’s completely unnecessary? Such a grid exists, they’re called rivers. We just happened to fuck it up and put the most water-hungry farms far away from the rivers.

The places with the most sunshine and some of the most fertile land happen to be far away from places with rivers. The rivers are not a grid and we can't pull anything close to the full flow of the river for our uses without serious agricultural consequences. A national(or international) water grid allows us to distribute our impact on regional water supplies.

>Is there some sort of regional paranoia that the rest of the country is coming for "your water"?

Yes, very much so. So much, in fact, that there's a multinational treaty that says water in the Great Lakes cannot leave the Great Lakes watershed. It contains 90 percent of North America's freshwater. If other places start coming for water from outside, there's really nowhere else to look.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes_Compact


> If other places start coming for water from outside, there's really nowhere else to look.

Can you explain this statement, because it doesn't make much sense to me. Are you saying that if we take some water from the watershed, there is therefore no other place to obtain water?


I was just up around Lake Superior and there were lots of signs protesting someone wanting to sell bottled water from a well on their land near Lake Superior. I doubt that an individual's bespoke bottled water company could ever make a significant difference to anything, and the campaign's energy could be better spent on numerous other issues affecting the lake. However, it illustrates how protective people are of the lake water which I think is a good thing.

Our governments already spend absurd amounts of money subsidizing the property values of people who live in flood plains, in deserts, etc. It will be painful but the longer we spend trying to bandage the issue the harder it will be once it reaches the breaking point.


Good luck getting the Great Lakes Compact broken up.

seems like desalination parried with nuclear and solar power (because desalination is expensive electricity wise) is the solution. most of our problems comes down to energy, to which fusion power will one day solve. we just need some stop gaps.

Fusion will likely never happen (maintenance costs are simply untenable - any fusion plant would need to be rebuilt about once every 20 years because of structural issues caused by the high-energy radiation that escapes the reactor that makes any material porous and radioactive). The amount of energy required to water the country through desalination would be mind-boggling. Not to mention the impact on ocean ecosystems of dumping that much salt near the shore.

Why would we desalinate water when there is water already desalinated by nature available for us? Like I mentioned earlier, I'm not against desalination, it just seems crazy to leverage it to supply all of our water shortfall.

Wouldn't a network of canals and pipelines allow the country to be more secure and handle disasters more effectively?


You would still need a network of canals and pipelines, because places like Colorado and Utah facing imminent water shortages aren't close to the ocean.

Desalinating plus pumping water up to those places would be insanely expensive though. It's not economically feasible for the primary uses of fresh water (farming).


Maybe places like Colorado and Utah just aren't meant for water-intensive farming. Why should the ecological sins of the past just be grandfathered in?

Well yeah, how else would you move the water? USPS? You need a massive network of canals, pipelines, pumps and reservoirs.

I'm really glad our ancestors had the foresight to build the national electrical grid and the national highway system because with an attitude like I'm seeing in this thread I think the folks today would just throw up their hands and say it's too big and too difficult.


> Wouldn't a network of canals and pipelines allow the country to be more secure and handle disasters more effectively?

No. The Colorado river is big. I mean really big. And we are using it all.

Sure the Mississippi has more than enough water, but the elevation of the source of the Mississippi (where you can walk across it) is a lot lower than most of the Colorado river. That means we need massive numbers of pumps to get that work to where it is needed. We can't afford that, either economically, or CO2.


So we can run desalination plants, with all of their various pumps and external costs related to their consumables, with magical free energy(solar? nuclear?) but we can't pump water uphill because energy. Did I understand that right?

Well energy, #1, and you should actually do the napkin math to figure out that it takes an enormous amount of energy to pump 14.8 maf/year (which is the average annual flow of the Colorado) of water uphill. (Hint: Desalination of water for California comes out to far less than petajoules.)

But #2, the Great Lakes are effectively staying level right now. Pumping 14.8 maf/year out of the Great Lakes would eventually deplete those as well.

The Mississippi flow is 73.1 maf/year, but diverting 14.8 maf/year would result in catastrophic devastation to the surrounding ecosystem and other uses of the river.


Why do you need to pump the equivalent of the CO river uphill? Do high elevation states need that much water? Could you not pump the water to CA instead(a net energy wash, minus transportation losses(friction, turbulence?))?

Why would you need to pump out the equivalent of the CO river from the Great Lakes Basin?

Why would you need to pump out the equivalent of the CO river from the Mississippi river mouth?

I'm trying to sort through your straw men here. Maybe you can help me out. Why is the annual flow of the CO river an important number to you? Why does a single source of water need to make up for our current shortfall?


The Colorado river is where the water comes from now and what we want to replace.

You can of course not pick a single source, but for napkin math it is easier. Also west of the Mississippi there is no left of water to take, so realistically the Mississippi is the closest water source.


Replace the CO river? No. We're trying to reduce consumption to a manageable level. Why would we completely stop using the CO river? It is the outflow for a considerable watershed and an ideal source of water needs up to a point.

It's arrogant to expect that water irresponsible states should have any claim whatsoever to the water in states that are responsible with their supply.

Why is it a claim? It's an economic exchange? Do you get upset when CA buys electricity from WA?

draining other aquifers is only delaying the inevitable. Look what happened to the Aral sea. we will need canals and pipelines too, but I do think we are going to have to rely on water desalination.

I have a crazy dream of greening the Sahara with desalination plants.


Water pipelines are also a national security issue. Imagine an enemy being able to ruin our agricultural sector with a few bombs.

Now say the same thing about roads or the electrical grid and see how silly it sounds.

The electrical grid IS a national security problem. A big one.

Is that an inherent feature of a national electrical grid or the way we've let ours decay? Failing to stockpile backup equipment which must be sourced from competing nations is not an inherent feature of the grid. Same with insecure control systems. Are you advocating for regional energy independence? I'm all for redundancy, but why would you avoid national distribution?

This reminds me of how the glaciers were supposed to be gone by 2020[1].

[1] https://lidblog.com/national-park-service-glaciers/


Across the board reductions in glacier size looks pretty grim to me https://www.usgs.gov/centers/norock/science/retreat-glaciers...

Are you saying the aquifers aren't actually drying up? That Lake Mead and Lake Powell aren't actually at historic lows?

This is talking about the facts on the ground today, not some projection of the future.


He's citing a source that's less reliable because it is compulsively agenda-driven - that is, a site that chooses it's conclusion first and then seeks out info appears to support it.

Worldwide glaciers are shrinking: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/...

I don't know about your example or your source. When you refer to climate changes, you can't use one local sample as your proof.




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