ARID — WHERE THERE’S NOT ENOUGH RAIN

This post  is about arid. It turns out, this is something about which I know a little bit.

Arid isn’t a place. It isn’t a special piece of ground. It isn’t always flat or sandy. Arid means just one thing:  the annual amount of rain the area gets is minimal. Everything else is tangential. An area can be arid yet support significant amounts of wildlife including trees and animals. The Sahara was not always a dry wasteland — it was made that way by human farmers a very long ago time.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Aruba, for example, doesn’t have any aquifer. No “running water.” But it does get rain and it has always been part of the Island’s culture to catch all the rain and save it against the days when the rain does not fall. Now, I think, they have desalinization and I have had it for a long time.

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I spent nearly five years at the University of Jerusalem’s Environmental Health Laboratory. One of the most important projects was trying to convince farmers in the northern part of Israel to not use chemical fertilizer. Almost all of Israel gets at least some rain (a few spots, like Eilat, do not), but it is an arid region. The amount of rain expected is typically less than the amount needed to wash away pesticides and fertilizers. To this end, our crew of experts in air, water, earth went out to convince (okay, beg) the farmers to please not use those fertilizers. We offered them alternatives. Insects that would kill the weevils and stuff they could add to the soil to make it more fertile.

They didn’t listen. Before the mid 1980s, the aquifer in Israel died.

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A dead aquifer does not revive. Once gone, it stays gone. After that time, Israel went along using solely the water in the Sea of Galilee for drinking. As the population increased, water use got increasingly dodgy. Finally, many years after they should have been built, desalinization plants arrived and now there is water. It’s a small country, so sending water from one place to another isn’t so difficult. Not like it would be here, in this big half of a continent. Their pipes don’t have to run from the Great Lakes to the center of the hottest part of the south.

Not like the United States.

The first time we were in Arizona, I remember hearing people saying no one needed to worry about the lack of water because “they” would send water down from the Great Lakes.

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How did that go? Anyone start those pipes yet? I was glad to see, when we were back last year that the state had done a lot to protect the land. The big cacti are protected and grow everywhere. Arizona is working hard to keep the water they have and use it effectively. A lot of the “fancy gardens” I remembered were gone. Home gardens grow sensible plants — mostly cactus. The air is better, too.

Someone listened and something good was done.

This year has been a good for water. Too good, with a lot of flooding. Still, there has been plenty of rain and the big lakes where water is held for drinking are full.

Until the next drought.

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The American southwest including California and Utah is arid. It isn’t arid because “nothing grows there.” Things will grow there if you give the land a little more water. But reality doesn’t change. You can’t keep sending in more and more people to an area with severely limited water resources. Arizona doesn’t even have an ocean from which to draw water via desalinization.

There is a limit to how many people the area can support and I’m pretty sure it has already been breached. This year, there is water. What about next year and the year after that?

ARID | THE DAILY POST

36 thoughts on “ARID — WHERE THERE’S NOT ENOUGH RAIN

  1. Water is a commodity that you can never rely on. Either you have too much or too little and there are places where there is never water. Switzerland thinks it suffers when water is short, but is nothing compared to the hot climates. The big complaint from people here is that they might not be allowed to give water to their gardens. But they still have water to drink – are we spoilt – I think so. But water is now one of the most expensive commodities that we have, so do not let the tap run for nothing. We still have to learn.

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    • And those glaciers on which you rely, unless somehow the weather gets colder, won’t help you much either. But we won’t be here by then.

      When we moved to this place, we got huge rains every spring and that was how it had always been. The rivers would break over the banks and there was water EVERYWHERE. Then, about 10 years ago, we stopped getting spring rains. It just didn’t happen anymore. We aren’t exactly dry as a bone, but it isn’t what it was. The wells are low. We’ve had a slow, drying out of our water for more than a decade. Not enough to be a full drought, but enough to mean that by June, no one can water the garden or wash the car in the driveway. Slowly, but surely, we ARE drying out.

      Change happens, regardless of anyone’s feelings about climate change. Like it or not, human or not, climate will always change. That’s just Earth for you 🙂

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  2. It’s fascinating how we, in the UK at least, see it is an absolute right to have water flowing out of our taps. We do not think about how it arrives there, or if there is a time when it won’t. A few years ago when successive summer droughts were making us think about new reservoirs – ie newer than the Victorian ones on which we rely, but in recent years we’ve had so much rain and flooding we think we don’t have to bother. Careless in our plenty!

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    • That’s how it goes. Forgetting for a moment about the hotter climate we are developing, climate changes anyway. It just does. Places that were once wet and green get dryer. As the climate changes, everyone says “Oh, gee, let’s do something,” but you get a few weeks of rain and suddenly, it’s forgotten. It happens everywhere. It took Israel more than 30 years from the time their aquifer collapsed to actually creating desalinization plants, with the population growing the entire time. As a small country, they survived. Bigger countries won’t. California made it, but what about the next long dry spell? i think the rains are probably temporary and California is actually — already — arid.

      This battle I have fought and lost. People don’t get it. They don’t see a break in a long period of dry weather doesn’t mean the climate has “gone back” to where it was. I forget which author said that if we lived a lot longer, we’d be more concerned about the future.

      We will die and the next generation will deal with whatever comes. Even though we made it happen.

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  4. Arid, meaning “dry” and zone meaning area. Put ’em together and you have arid zone.., Or.., “Arizona.” Truth be told, we wouldn’t have the water we share if it weren’t for the indigenous original people here i.e. our so called “indians” more correctly referred to as “Native Americans.” The system of canals in Arizona was originally built by those people to channel water from the Colorado River and branches known as the Salt River, and Verde River. Ironically the city of Tempe chose to damn up part of the Salt River and call it a “lake.” They are now hastily about the task of building/selling “LakeSide” property… I just don’t get it? 🙂

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    • It is stupid beyond mortal belief. I have fought this battle for a very long time and I have lost every time. The rich need to get richer. They do not care how much damage they do. Arizona is about as “hot” an area for real destruction as any place on the planet. You don’t have much water and you have pushed what you have to its outside limits. When there is no more water? i don’t know. They aren’t going to build that pipeline to Lake Huron or Michigan or whatever. That won’t happen. I have no idea what will happen. The earth may be getting warmer, but meanwhile, the rains are drying up. This year, we got floods, but there’s no saying what the future will bring.

      Our area was a very wet area and I mean recently, not ages ago. Yet over the past decade, the rains have grown fewer and fewer. We still have water … but not like we did. No more spring floods. We get by. Barely. And meanwhile, the developers are out there pushing land and houses that the planet cannot support.

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    • Yes, I’m sure it did. But it’s not the first drought. If the rain is normal for a few years, they will forget and then will come another drought and it will be worse. Because there will be more people an no more water.

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      • The drought lasted a decade. The fires were — have been — unbelievable. Regardless of what people try to do, I don’t think things out there can return to what they were even in the 80s. Whole ecosystems are gone; the southernmost coastal rain forest burned in 2003 including the southernmost indigenous redwoods. Of course, they need fire in order to sprout, so if there are a few rainy years, they might start coming up, but who knows? This is the first year that reservoirs have been full since before 2003. It will be 300 years before those forests return — if conditions are good. 😦

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        • I hope you are right. I remember the droughts back in the 70s and 80s. Everyone knew the drill. They were careful.

          Then, it rained. After a couple of years, everyone forgot everything. They didn’t build better reservoirs or desalinization plants. They built a zillion more houses in places where there is no water. So, then came another drought.

          How long has it been? More than a decade at least. And again, there’s rain. If they get rain for a few years? You think they will remember? Because I’ve watched this in two countries and from what I have seen, the developers will push and push until there isn’t room for one more human being. I want you to be right, but everything I’ve seen says quite the opposite.

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          • In the 1980’s, Santa Barbara was in a drought. They built an emergency desalination plant, and actually brought it up for testing and were about to bring it live. Then it rained — the March Miracle! They mothballed the desal plant, and sold the diaphragms to a Saudi Arabian plant. They’ve spent the last 2 years trying to rebuild the desal plant and bring it live — the last I heard was that the October 2016 projected date has been pushed out to April 2017 — but they did learn their lesson, and will not mothball it just because we’ve had a weekend of rain!

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            • I hope so. I worked at the University in Israel for five years from 1981 through 1986. I watch the country lose the aquifer. Everyone was REALLY SORRY about that, but of course sorry doesn’t cut it. I hope they build desal plants all along the coast in California — what they should have been doing for the past 30+ years. I really want to believe that this country is not beyond saving.

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              • Our governor recently (in the last couple of days) announced a budget requesting several hundred million dollars for water management (strengthening dams, levees, building desal plants, etc). The State has such a habit of diverting funds to projects other than what they were intended for that the end result may not fully occur, but there was enough money included that at least some of it may happen. So far, the desal plants we have were built by municipalities, and thus are smaller than they really need to be — but it’s a beginning.

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                • I’m waiting for Massachusetts to ponder the issue. Up here, out of the 7 states that are part of the Yankee collection, just New Hampshire and Vermont don’t have an ocean. Both could make a deal with other states. Maybe it’s time for states that form a group to become “bigger states,” a kind of Yankeedom of New England states. We surely have more in common with each other than with states in other regions, demographically and physically.

                  It’s difficult here because of the hardscrabble terrain, but it is doable and we should do it. The rain isn’t what it was. Not anywhere. While everyone is worrying about cities washing away along the coast, no one seems to be noticing that it isn’t RAINING like it used to.

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  5. There is an elaborate water management system that feeds Southern California with a little water from the Colorado River, which feeds several other states, and from Northern California. When it was designed, in the days of Gov. Pat Brown, it was sufficient to supply the needs; now, the population has doubled or tripled, and the water supply has not. There is definitely a natural drought, but the population explosion has made the situation MUCH worse! Along the coast, there are several cities building desalination plants to supplement the water we get from elsewhere — that will help, but in prolonged drought they will be insufficient!.

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    • We desperately need to address the water problem. — and the over-population issue. You can’t just keep shoving more and more people into areas that don’t have enough water. Sure, desalinization would help, but this is a big country and desalinization is only useful relatively close to a coastline.

      Forget about anything else, if we don’t have fresh water, we’re doomed. It’s one of several little things — like bees. And air. The basic stuff that makes life on earth possible. There’s so little remaining. That pipeline in South Dakota is a horror story, part of the endless horror story of clean water destroyed to help make some billionaire a tiny bit richer.

      I am truly appalled at what we are doing to the earth. We can fix bad politics, but we can’t undo the things we’ve done to the earth. Sooner or later, the price we will pay is beyond price.

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      • As the drought in So Cal worsened, people were digging deeper and deeper into the aquifer to get all the available fresh water. Near the shore, there was a serious concern that they might get saline water instead — once salt enters the aquifer, it’s no good — forever! Unfortunately this was a situation of need, more than greed, but it was one of those things that the “haves” were using everything they had without thinking about consequences.

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  7. I live in the second most arid continent after Antarctica and fortunately also the second-least populated one. With 95% of our population living on the coastline Desal plants largely immunise us from the situation you guys face – even so my home has seen a 30% decrease in average annual rainfall from the time i moved here in 1970 and the dams that used to fill 90% of my city’s water needs frequently do not have enough water to last a week let alone an entire summer. That’s why we have built 2 desal plants, have mandated 2 day a week garden water restrictions in summer and complete bans in winter and spend millions advertising the need to preserve water when we shower or turn on reticulation systems we all have to water our gardens and a range of other water saving measures over the last coupla decades.

    On a brighter, more hopeful note – it’s my understanding that at the current rate with which science and business is ensuring machines can learn for and from themselves(Check out latest Artificial Intelligence reports!), by the year 2050 or so, the only thinking and decision-making or production of any relevance that will be done on this planet will be done by intelligent mechanisms, not biological ones and if they decide that humans can still have any rights to live with them on this planet then hopefully they will provide us all with a Utopia where we can all retire gracefully and live satisfied lives until we pass on – or drink the cool-ade.

    love.

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    • I thought I was the most depressing person on social media, but I think you’ve got me beat … but only by a little bit. I try to keep down my basic belief that we have already done ourselves in down to a minimum. Everyone wants hope and I don’t have a lot of hope to offer. No one wants to hear that I think we’ve already killed ourselves off. We won’t go with a bang (unless our asshole president decides we should), but I suspect the damage is sufficient already and it will just take some time before we see how bad it will be. With a little luck, I will not be here when it happens.

      We may get the machines, but most of us won’t get to politely retire. WE are already retired, so it won’t matter to us, but for the younger ones? I think it won’t be pretty. It isn’t pretty now and it will be nastier in a few more years.

      Remember “On the Beach”? Although it was about nuclear war, it might do just as well for another end of days. We’ll need new stars.

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