"California is built upon the great gamble of irrigation. Left alone, much of
the land in the Western United States would be inhospitable to teeming cities.
But we’re Americans — we couldn’t let the desert stand in our way.
More than a century ago, the United States Bureau of Land Reclamation began
taming the water in the West. It’s been a remarkably successful project. In
California, where I live, irrigation has turned largely barren regions into
some the country’s most fertile farmland and most prosperous metropolises.
We’ve built “the most ambitious desert civilization the world has seen,” Marc
Reisner put it in “Cadillac Desert,” his 1986 history of Western irrigation.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “Cadillac Desert” in the past few weeks, as the
rain fell and fell and kept falling over California, much of which, despite the
pouring heavens, seems likely to remain in the grip of a severe drought.
Reisner anticipated this moment. He worried that the West’s success with
irrigation could be a mirage — that it took water for granted and didn’t
appreciate the precariousness of our capacity to control it.
“Everything depends on the manipulation of water — on capturing it behind dams,
storing it, and rerouting it in concrete rivers over distances of hundreds of
miles,” he wrote. “Were it not for a century and a half of messianic effort
toward that end, the West as we know it would not exist.”
But what happens to that century of irrigation when the weather changes, as it
is doing now? Experts say that climate change is exacerbating “weather
whiplash” in California — that we’ll increasingly suffer years of prolonged,
extreme aridity followed by great biblical gushers of precipitation. Can a
society adjust to a climate of opposing calamities — a climate of both
megadroughts and atmospheric rivers, of far too little and far too much?"
Via Bill Daul.
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics