Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mis-Counting of the Aqua Cola

The May 25 issue of The New Yorker covered the water crisis from two very different perspectives. One is the Hollywood view of a water constrained world; the other is the view from Las Vegas.

Anthony Lane has a review of Mad Max: Fury Road - - which I saw opening weekend and would highly recommend.  Per the review:

"The movie is set in the near future.  There are no cities or civilizations left.  The landscape is dying of thirst; water - known as Aqua Cola - is severely rationed; and other resources, notably gasoline, are hoarded and tussled over like scraps of food."

In the same issue, the tussling is in the West - - with Las Vegas replacing the Mad Max world of Australia (Note - actually was filmed in Namibia).  But Immortan Joe and the War Rig have been replaced as central characters with calculator wielding hydrologists.  From the article (Where The River Runs Dry: The Colorado and America's Water Crisis by David Owen):

"The compact {Colorado River} granted 7,5 million acre-feet per year to each basin.  (An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre to a depth of a foot - roughly three hundred and twenty-five thousand gallons.  I have to think Imperator Furiosa knows this.)  The total was based on estimates by hydrologists that the average annual flow of the Colorado was at least seventeen million acre-feet a year.  Subsequent studies, including tree-ring analyses, have proved that the hydrologist were wrong.  It's now known that the years on which the original estimates were based, in the early twentieth century, had been the wettest since the sixteen-hundreds, and that 1922, the year of the agreement, was one of the very wettest.  Since then, there have been years where the total flow was less than a third of what the negotiators assumed, and scientists have identified ancient dry periods that lasted for many decades.

At the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, in December, two representatives of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated that the system has as an average "structural deficit" of 1.2 million acre-feet a year."

The overwhelming reality of the Colorado River system can be reduced to one word - unsustainable. We are not to the Max point of view that "Hope is a mistake," but clearly the western water crisis is a true wicked problem.

Lane ends the review with, "Enjoy the movie, but for God's sake don't drive home."  If you live in Las Vegas or Phoenix, you might want to skip showering the next day after watching the movie.

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