Las Vegas, Nevada - After about a 20 minute
presentation by a Bush administration official
in a regional conference, the overall message is
clear: If western states do not come up with a
way to increase the water supply fast, let's put
it this way:
...Terrorists won't have to do a thing -
except watch the Second Chapter of the War
Between the States unfold - literally.
This was the message by Bennett Raley, U.S.
Department of Interior's Assistant Secretary for
Water and Science at the MGM Grand Conference
Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Raley's
introduction address to the 4 hour conference
and panel discussion included the word "Klamath"
no less than 9 times. The title of the
conference: "Water 2025: Preventing Crises and
Conflict in the West" - just in case you didn't
take the "Second Civil War" phrase seriously.
On April 6, 2001, flawed science forced the
federal shut off of over 100,000 acre-feet daily
irrigation water to over 1400 farms in the Upper
Klamath Basin south of Klamath Falls, Oregon '
to save the sucker fish and coho salmon'. The
resultant anger between ranchers, farmers and
activists and federal policy led to armed
federal agents being placed at the Klamath
headgates in a seemingly endless standoff with
residents, and physical conflict was avoided
only by God's grace. Only the September 11
attacks produced a pause in the standoff.
The U.S. Department of Interior clearly does
not want this to happen again. But they fear it
will; possibly in cities much larger than
Klamath Falls by the year 2025.
"After it was over, Secretary [Gail] Norton
sat us all down in a meeting and asked, "Where
will the next Klamath be?", said Raley. He
repeatedly emphasized that "we don't want
another Klamath". He said the water supply is in
crisis mode even for normal years. He pointed to
Albuquerque, recently stung by a federal ruling
to divert water flow for a 'silvery minnow'.
According to Raley, New Mexico's largest city is
already in 'crisis mode'.
"Even if we had 200% of regular water flow
over the next year, we would still be in a
crisis mode. The white map of the American west
was marked with various degrees colors; as if
showing the location for future war fronts. The
high-risk areas ("substantial, to highly
likely") for potential conflict included San
Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, Las Vegas, Santa
Fe, Salt Lake City, Denver, Houston, and the
Phoenix-Tucson as well as Los Angeles-San Diego
That's over 40 million people. Imagine any of
those places - becoming the next Klamath Falls.
Raley said long term solutions were needed.
"If we don't do something now, we will face
these crises by 2025," he said. " Today, the
challenge to meet the water supply needs and
avoid conflict will take on a national
importance", he said.
Water Supple Areas by 2025
Source:U.S. Department of Interior
The regional conferences started in Denver,
kicked off by the Secretary herself. Looking at
the map, they are being held in the potential
critical cities. According to the report, the
Southwest is exploding in growth, enhanced by
migration from the Far East and especially
Mexico and Central America. That explains the
increase in demand.
On the supply side - the federal government,
from the other comments for panel members, are
aware that battle lines are being drawn between
water needs for humans and agriculture, against
water needs to protect endangered species.
Federal government officials are seeking
state input (and solutions) to the problem. At
the Las Vegas Conference, Nevada representatives
were already taking verbal shots at California.
Richard Bunker, Colorado River Commissioner of
Nevada spoke up for the rural area in a manner
that reminded some to the recent favorable Wayne
Hage Vs U.S. ruling. "When water is taken from
rural counties, rural counties should be well
compensated", Bunker said. "Interim surplus is
the solution." Nevada has been strategically
storing water reserves in aquifers from the
Colorado river. But as supplies get shorter and
animals have to be protected, who knows how long
that will last.
And by the way, the Mojave Indian Tribe says
they get 4% of Nevada's water - and they plan on
using every drop. Meaning other states in the
West will have to remember their tribes as well.
Solutions ranged from desalination to fixing
aging controls, and conservation. Sure, we could
all talk about massive pipeline projects to
divert waters from other areas, but California
and Nevada state governments are teetering on
insolvency. Other western states aren't far
behind. Between education and road projects, no
one thought of investing in a constant supply of
a liquid much more necessary for life than oil.
Still, Washington insists states handle the
problem among themselves, as they have done
Without water, even education will take a back
seat to the impending crisis.
Westerners who have suffered already from the
Water Wars should know full well that no water
conference is possible without the
environmentalist, the one that thinks federal
intervention is a good thing. After all, it's
been their favorite weapon. Mike Ford, of the
Conservation Fund, conceded that it has been a
very effective tool for their efforts at times.
Still, he knew he was in hostile territory.
"Litigation, lawsuits are not the answer," said
Ford. He gave forewarning that some of his views
might not sit well with other environmental
organizations. "Everyone must be willing to give
turf", he said. Ford agrees there should be more
Giving turf. Fact is, that's what it will
boil down to - who's going to 'give turf'. Seems
that was the problem in Klamath - both sides
refused to give that turf which led to a 15,000+
person rally, Congressional hearings, civil
disobedience, and threats of more. That is what
it took for those rightfully deemed to use the
water to get their water back.
The greens have their war chest and their
successes in the courts, but dwindling water
sources threatens much of their political power
base (major cities), as well as our food supply
over the next two decades. When their fellow
greens begin to demand what water sources are
left should go to those who need it most -
humans, else there may be few humans around to
even save any other species. Klamath taught both
the government and the environmentalists a
lesson that they would rather not see repeated:
Despite government rules and questionable
science, man cannot survive without water. And
history has shown that desperate times make
desperate people do desperate things.
To be continued...