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Phoenix, Ariz and water

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  • Phoenix, Ariz and water

    "Objectively, [Phoenix, Ariz.] is only slightly better equipped to support human life than the moon." Financial Times

    It's one of those situations where you know something's gotta give.

    Phoenix, Ariz., was once a city of 106,000 people. It ranked 99th among U.S. cities in population. That was in 1950. Today, it has more than 1.6 million people, just nudging past Philadelphia. Greater Phoenix has more than 4 million people. That's double what it was as recently as 1990.

    It's very hot...and dry. As of mid-July, Phoenix already had 55 days when the temperature exceeded 100 degrees. Many more such days remain. Then there is the water issue. Arizona gets only seven inches of rainfall a year. A typical monsoon could deliver that much in a day.

    The key source of water out west is the Colorado River. The Colorado River Compact governs how the Western U.S. shares the river. The way I understand it, if there is some sort of crisis, Arizona is at the back of the line. In olden days, when cities sprung up around bodies of water, it would have been inconceivable that a city of Phoenix's size would sprout in the desert.

    But modern technology makes these things possible, for good or ill. A city like Phoenix survives by importing water. "Phoenix's future depends not on its own paltry rainfall," the Financial Times reports, "but on the continuation of snow in Wyoming, nearly 1,000 miles away."

    Yet "There are 300,000 swimming pools in Greater Phoenix, with some 20,000 added every year. "If left alone," the Financial Times reports, "they would almost entirely evaporate in a year." There are over 80 golf courses in the area.

    In most years, Arizona reigns as America's fastest growing state in terms of population. Sometimes Nevada will wrest the title from Arizona, with its Las Vegas suburbs spanning out across the desert floor.

    That kind of growth shows no signs of stopping. So it will be interesting to see how the water resource issue plays out. I'm not saying people are going to die of thirst and Phoenix will disappear beneath the sands of Arizona. But I do think that water, logically, ought to get a lot more expensive...even where it is plentiful.

    Blame agriculture. Since agriculture is both a water-intensive industry and a global industry, water will increasingly become a global resource. The pineapples and pears that sit on supermarket shelves in Phoenix, for example, have to come from someplace where water exists. Therefore, as demand for agricultural products grows, the price of water should also increase.

    To express the same idea a little differently, any country or region that possesses plentiful water will find itself
    in an increasingly enviable position
    "There's one way to find out if a man is honest-ask him. If he says 'yes,' you know he is a crook." Groucho Marx