Arizona and California have been transformed by climate change.  Now we face tough decisions

Arizona and California have been transformed by climate change. Now we face tough decisions



Phoenix, Ariz. — which boasts summer temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) — is the nation’s fastest-growing major city over the past decade, according to the Census Bureau. This, despite the fact that Arizona faces serious consequences from climate change and predictions of increased heat-related deaths, decreased air quality and more frequent water shortages.

Indeed, severe water shortages are already here. Arizona is the first state to face restrictions due to the decline of the drought-fueled Colorado River. The state has conserved its water supplies for over 40 years, and its long-term plan for water conservation began in 1980 with the enactment of the Groundwater Management Act. The law is dedicated to gradually reducing the amount of water used by large consumers in “active management zones,” which include metropolitan areas where 80% of the population lives.

“We are focused today on the state of the Colorado River system, primarily the rapid decline in surface levels in the two largest reservoirs in the system, Lake Powell and Lake Mead,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “Both are at less than a third of capacity and projections for the future are not encouraging.”

While some people are flocking to the state, others have left in search of cooler temperatures.

Orthodontist and Arizona native Dr. Chad Arthur recently visited El Segundo, California. He and his family now live by the ocean and have no plans to return to Arizona. “Ten years ago, my wife and I decided to leave the economic comforts, less government regulations, lower cost of living and easier lifestyle that Arizona offers and head for the California,” he told me, adding that his family was “looking for a year-round outdoor rather than seasonal lifestyle with ideal temperatures and sunshine and ocean breezes.” Right now, Arizonans are spending long weeks cooped up indoors because of the blistering heat. “We decided the planet was just getting warmer and even though life is short, we want to enjoy our youth and we heading for the coast.”

However, California is not immune to the kind of environmental problems that have already hit Arizona hard. Both states are facing water shortages and starting June 1, Southern Californians will face unprecedented restrictions because of it. Residents will be required to limit their water consumption to 80 gallons per person per day, which will reduce normal usage by approximately 35%. In particular, they were told to limit outdoor water use — such as watering lawns and plants — to one day a week. As one official put it, “We can’t afford green lawns.”

However, Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never as well as president of the nonprofit Environmental Progress and independent candidate for governor of California, has an entirely different approach to solving the problem of unrestricted water. He explained to me during a telephone interview that there is no need to run out of water. This may seem odd, especially considering that in 2014 Californians voted to spend $2.7 billion on water storage.

“Governor Gavin Newsom has failed to build a single new water storage project during this time,” Shellenberger said, saying the governor may be swayed by the views of “pro-scarcity environmentalists who fear that abundant water no longer attracts people to California.” Shellenberger cites an example of Israel building so many desalination plants that it is now filling the Sea of ​​Galilee. “Only nine desalination plants the size of the plant Carlsbad desalination plant near San Diego would be enough to offset the 2022 loss of water from the Colorado River. If California did that, it would have plenty of water to export to neighboring states like Arizona. It is an ambitious objective, with no doubt a high cost. But Shellenberger is clear that he thinks it would be worth it.

Los Angeles resident and comedian Shawn Pelofsky says she’s already noticed the effects of drought and water shortages. “On a recent trip to Big Bear, I saw lakes drying up, wildlife suffering from the heat and brown patches of dirt,” she says. “We need to conserve our natural resources. Take small steps, start by turning off the running water when you brush your teeth… I just say to my friends in Los Angeles, “Save the water like it’s your last bottle of Botox”.

Clint Smith, an independent candidate for Congress in Arizona’s 5th district, also offers creative solutions to solving the drought. He explained in a phone interview that the water crisis has many facets and we need to address them all. “Climate change is real. There are far too many people still denying it, even as we see water levels in Lake Mead at historic lows. And we are approaching a mega-drought,” he says. “While almost all of the southwest faces water shortages, other parts of the country have an abundance.” For Clint, the answer lies in technology – intelligently using the technological capabilities we already have, rather than building something new. “The technology exists to move this water – and we should explore all options while taking steps to increase water efficiency. “

Do Arizonans have time to find long-term solutions such as building water pipes and water storage plants? And with new construction across Maricopa County and endless golf courses across the Valley of the Sun – all of which require water – will Arizona run out of this precious resource?

Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, doesn’t think so. While he thinks the challenges on the Colorado River system are serious, the fact that communities in Arizona have various water portfolios other than the Colorado River that include surface water supplies and stored groundwater will help.

“We have to accept the expectation that our warmer, drier future in the Southwest will mean less water from the Colorado River system. We have to adapt to that,” he says.

As someone who grew up in Arizona and lives here now, I’ve seen the weather change. Summers are hotter and drier, exacerbated by an abundance of concrete with new construction projects year after year. Even my trees flower and produce fruit at different times of the year than in the past these days – the fig tree produces fruit in December; citrus fruits begin to bloom in January rather than March. The climate is definitely changing and you don’t have to be a scientist to see the effects in your own backyards.

Arizona was once where people traveled to breathe clean air when they suffered from asthma and allergies. Now there are regular air quality warnings. If climate change and water issues are not resolved, within the next hundred years there is reason to believe that Arizona will not be habitable at all.

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