Scary Dry in the South West

The weather’s continuing malfunction is pretty dispiriting. The 8 inches of dust in what was once MY yard and is now “shared” with my canine companions is attempting the migrate into the domicile. I fight it daily with a vacuum cleaner that I absolutely hate (“Martha, why do you have an emotional connection to your vacuum cleaner?” “You would, too, if you spent as much time with yours as I do with mine!”) but it does suck (ha ha ha). No precipitation in MONTHS and the true nature of the Dust Bowl is no longer something in photos — no it isn’t at that point here and may not reach it since farmers and ranchers learned a LOT about conserving soil back in the day and the wind is nothing out of the usual — so far but we’re facing a drought.

I, personally, think it IS a drought. The only REAL precipitation in the past two years (as well as I remember) was on September 9, 2020. I, personally, am convinced that humans have an effect on climate. Also, I, personally, believe that the Earth has gone through cycles of climate change over the millennia. This valley was once an inland sea of glacial melt water.

For me any “single answer” conjecture or theory is suspect and “blame” (as in blaming the people who raise livestock) is useless and stupid.

My tiny foray into the reasons for the last two dry, warm winters told me that it is La Niña, and I get that. Those fluctuations, those patterns, seem normal based on my 7 years here. The thing is, I have lived in Colorado before and it was a lot colder and a lot wetter. OK, not here in what actually IS a desert, but still. Even in those places the climate seems to have gone insane. I wish there were mechanical ways to equal things out — take some of the water from the PNW and put it in the Colorado River Basin which is dangerous straits right now. It is almost exclusively in that bright yellow area of the map above. It starts up in the white part and hurries into the bright yellow area.

…beginning in the 1920s, Western states began divvying up the Colorado’s water, building dams and diverting the flow hundreds of miles, to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and other fast-growing cities. The river now serves 30 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, with 70 percent or more of its water siphoned off to irrigate 3.5 million acres of cropland.

The damming and diverting of the Colorado, the nation’s seventh-longest river, may be seen by some as a triumph of engineering and by others as a crime against nature, but there are ominous new twists. The river has been running especially low for the past decade, as drought has gripped the Southwest. It still tumbles through the Grand Canyon, much to the delight of rafters and other visitors. And boaters still roar across Nevada and Arizona’s Lake Mead, 110 miles long and formed by the Hoover Dam. But at the lake’s edge they can see lines in the rock walls, distinct as bathtub rings, showing the water level far lower than it once was—some 130 feet lower, as it happens, since 2000. Water resource officials say some of the reservoirs fed by the river will never be full again.

Climate change will likely decrease the river’s flow by 5 to 20 percent in the next 40 years, says geoscientist Brad Udall, director of the University of Colorado Western Water Assessment. Less precipitation in the Rocky Mountains will yield less water to begin with. Droughts will last longer. Higher overall air temperatures will mean more water lost to evaporation. “You’re going to see earlier runoff and lower flows later in the year,” so water will be more scarce during the growing season, says Udall.

Source, Smithsonian Magazine


I realize that the Roaring Twenties were a century ago, but still, this hit a little hard, like Aldo Leopold was wandering around, counting cranes and paddling his canoe just yesterday…

In 1922, conservationist Aldo Leopold paddled a canoe through the great delta at the mouth of the Colorado River. He wrote about a “wealth of fowl and fish” and “still waters…of a deep emerald hue.” In Leopold’s time, the delta stretched over nearly 3,000 square miles; today, it covers fewer than 250, and the only water flowing through it, except after heavy rains, is the runoff from alfalfa, lettuce and melon fields and pecan orchards.

The river has become a perfect symbol of what happens when we ask too much of a limited resource: it disappears. In fact, the Colorado no longer regularly reaches the sea.

Source, Smithsonian Magazine


Back when I lived in Southern California I read an article about a young woman who attempted Leopold’s canoe journey. She did a lot of portaging. The river is (was?) there, but it “suffered” a lot to reach the channel that is the Colorado River at the end. Some serious and semi-successful efforts have been made to restore the Colorado River Delta. Mexico also has “rights” to the river.

…what’s left of the river crosses the border and pushes up against the gates of Morelos Dam. Nearly all the remaining water is shunted aside into Mexico’s Reforma Canal, which runs toward fields of cotton, wheat, hay and vegetables in the Mexicali Valley.

These efforts to resurrect pieces of the delta’s desiccated ecosystems face major challenges, including limited funds, scarce water supplies, and the hotter, drier conditions brought on by climate change.

But in the past decade, environmental groups have had success bringing back patches of life in parts of the river delta. In these green islands surrounded by the desert, water delivered by canals and pumps is helping to nourish wetlands and forests. Cottonwoods and willows have been growing rapidly. Birds have been coming back and are singing in the trees.

Arizona Central Magazine


Resurrecting and restoring any part of the Colorado River is complicated. Much of the food grown in this country is grown in the area served by the Colorado River “served” as if it were the job of the Colorado River to make sure that here in Colorado we have strawberries in January. I mention that because back in 1980 I went out with a guy who took me to a fancy restaurant that had strawberries on the menu in January. They were expensive and kind of miraculous. I wrote about it somewhere in the multiple volumes of “The Examined Life.”

“My” fire in California — the Cedar Fire — in 2003 was then the largest fire in California history. That’s nearly 20 years ago. Some people thought there would be more of the same and worse. Most people thought it was a freak event started by an idiot lighting a signal fire in dry brush in October during high winds. I thought both. OH well. All I can do is rant about this. And vacuum. And rant. And vacuum. I wish I had a solution, but I don’t.

15 thoughts on “Scary Dry in the South West

  1. The Southwest is definitely a desert, made dryer by La Nina! Our predictions in SoCal indicate no moisture before the end of the year!

  2. Great post and, as often, I glom onto a few extraneous moments – both from Mexico. While living there I found a Valentine’s Day card with a picture of an aardvark facing a canister vacuum cleaner (if you remember the 50s Electrolux, it helps) with the caption “You take my breath away” (- Me quitas la respiración). The other was a study on the conversion of land from growing corn and beans for local consumption to growing strawberries for export. The title was “Strawberry Imperialism” (- El Imperialismo Fresa).

    • I love “strawberry imperialism”. I’d be happy to go back to not having the availability of everything all the time. Except I should be able to buy cheese from Switzerland 🇨🇭 🤣

      • Cheese – that goes without saying; though my father told me a story (which may be apocryphal) about a guy from Wisconsin who travels to Switzerland and goes to a cheese shop to ask for their best Swiss cheese. The cheesemonger brings him a hunk of cheese and tells him “This is the best Swiss cheese in the world – from Monroe, Wisconsin.” And yes, I bought the book for its title. It was worth it. (And I made my living selling groceries at the time.)

        • Definitely either a total lie or a matter of personal taste (not that you don’t have good cheese in Wisconsin). It’s just not Appenzeller or Gruyere or Emmenthaler. “Swiss” cheese is an American thing, kind of the lowest common denominator of Gruyere and Jack. I like it, but, no….

  3. We’ve had so many mega-fires out here there are days I am amazed there is so much left to burn. And it will burn. There a vast dead Jeffrey pine forest an hour away at about 5000 ft. elevation that is all browns and khakis just waiting for the slightest spark. The scary part is the lack of seedlings.

    After the 2016 sand fire they planted hundreds of thousands of Jeffrey pines in the burned areas but most of them died. The wetter environment that allowed them to prosper is no more. Probably should have planted canyon oaks or pinyon pine but the desire was to recover what once was and not to plant what might succeed in a hotter dryer world.

    • I love the Jeffrey pines. There was one spot on my walk in the lagunas (where they were plentiful) that was the beginning of what became a pretty steep drop, but in that spot it was a gentle shallow valley that ran between two groves of Jeffrey pines. The snow loved that spot. I called it the Enchanted Forest and sometimes my dogs and I would just stand and look down the valley through the trees. I don’t know how people are suppose to think about this. So much of California vegetation is supposed to burn — I get that — but not at this rate in so many places in such short spans of time. It’s supposed to be here and there in spots and fits so things can sprout and small worlds can recover. At this point though I love it here, I know that over those 30 years, those SoCal mountains and the chaparral became the natural home in my heart. It will never be Colorado. So, those fires make me very very sad.

  4. It is so sad that we as humans need to hit a bottom, pun not intended, before we work towards solving a problem. I live on the border between Missouri and Kansas. I cross the Missouri river every work morning. I expect when Lewis Clark crossed it, it looked like films of the African Serengeti. Now it is mainly corn field and housing.

    On Wed, Dec 1, 2021, 11:06 AM Women’s Wilderness Legend: Living the Metaphor wrote:

    > Martha Kennedy posted: ” The weather’s continuing malfunction is pretty > dispiriting. The 8 inches of dust in what was once MY yard and is now > “shared” with my canine companions is attempting the migrate into the > domicile. I fight it daily with a vacuum cleaner that I absolutely ” >

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