ARBOR WEALTH: Hydro-politics, Noah Cross and the Rio Grande

Published: Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 03:29 PM.

“Give me water … I’m thirsty …” — “Chain Gang” by Sam Cooke

  A college friend living in California tells me that her water bill last month was more than $200. Governor Jerry Brown has proposed emergency legislation to transport water throughout California to towns suffering drought conditions. As Noah Cross, played by John Huston, states in the 1974 film classic “Chinatown,” “Either you bring the water to L.A. , or you bring L.A. to the water.”

Most sources agree that the state is currently at its driest point in 500 years.

Hydro-economics and hydro-politics will dominate domestic and global discourse for the foreseeable future. And the size of a country’s “water footprint” will soon become as important as its carbon footprint, according to Fred Pearce, author of “When The Rivers Run Dry.”

Irrigating crops in the Midwest is depleting the nation’s largest aquifer, the Ogallala, much faster than nature can replenish it. One of the prominent themes of Pearce’s work is that “virtual water” needs are what really matter; for example, while estimates vary, it takes around 2,000 gallons of water to raise just one pound of beef. That’s an unsustainable ratio, despite the fact that we have always considered water a renewable resource. As emerging market consumers continue to adopt more western dietary habits, the water shortfall appears even more certain. Some Midwestern farming co-ops have already adopted a voluntary 20 percent water usage cutback. 

Locales without continuing water sources will find property values devastated. Commodities will become more expensive to produce: corn, rice, soybeans, wheat, beef, chicken and pork will skyrocket in cost and provide investors with new challenges when considering companies that produce these goods. The first company that can master energy- and cost-efficient desalinization processes will find tremendous global demand for its product and services, but as yet, such widespread technology is not available.

The Rio Grande River , and thus the cattle ranching industry in that valley, is in serious jeopardy.

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