Just look at any U.S. map and then consider the reasons not to live in many of the places on it. The East Coast gets bowled over with driving snow each winter followed by boiling heat every summer. The Midwest and South are predictably blown away every year by tornadoes and hurricanes, while the Northwest is perpetually ravaged by blahdom.
Even Nevada is largely inhospitable. Most of our precious Silver State is uninhabited, dry-as-a-bone desert. A few folks set up shop at remote outposts in the parched badlands, while the rest of us saw pretty plainly that the wind and dust and heat and boring landscape aren’t very homey. Our own pleasant little corner here in the Truckee Meadows gets cold enough in the winter to make me wonder why I haven’t flown south permanently.
Then there is that lone oasis we call Las Vegas that defies all the odds. Enough crazy folks got together there that they were able to build a mecca that makes residents and visitors alike forget that they are in the middle of one of the planet’s least inviting environments. Stick a person out there with nothing but the clothes on their back and they’d be vulture food in no time. There is sweltering heat, very little natural material with which to build shelter, scarce plants and animals for food and no water for miles.
But thanks to man’s never-ending ingenuity, all that can be overcome. Anything can be trucked or piped in — from building materials to heat and cold to food and water — to make any environ livable. Transporting these necessities usually doesn’t have much effect on anyone else; in fact, it actually helps by creating jobs. But when it comes to water, there is an effect: With a finite amount available on the planet, moving water from here to there translates to taking it away from someone and giving it to someone else.
This has happened time and again in large cities where population outgrows water supply. In Las Vegas, any population exceeds water supply. The happenings this week occurred when the White Pine County commission voted to appeal a state ruling allowing some of its rural water to be pumped to Vegas. The ruling could allow for 83,988 acre feet of water to be removed from four valleys in the Great Salt Lake Desert aquifer to send to Las Vegas. White Pine will argue that the state engineer failed to take into account the effects on existing water rights holders, wildlife and the environment when state engineer Jason King made the ruling in March.
I am no expert in the science behind this issue, but it seems to me that if you take water away from one place and give it to another there is going to be some effect on the remaining organisms and ecosystem. Basic biology teaches us that all things in nature are created in a very logical, practical order. Water in the oceans evaporates, filling the clouds which then dump the water back on the ground when the conditions are right, thereby allowing us to drink it, bathe in it, use it to grow plants to eat or put it in our squirt guns. Sometimes nature screws up and we have droughts where we are supposed to get water, but for the most part Mother Earth puts water in specific places and we humans are supposed to be smart enough to live there. Call this an oversimplification, but that’s how it is supposed to work. It wasn’t nature’s idea for us to ship the water to the desert because we thought it would be fun and quaint to live there.
When all is said and done, the water is going to be sent where the most people and most money are, while the rural folks will be left scouring the dust for whatever drops they can find. Solving the “drinking problem” in Las Vegas will create a new drinking problem in the areas that have been decimated so the golf courses and fountains of Sin City can stay lush and beautiful. All the while, Mother Nature will be shaking her head and wondering why she thought it was a good idea to give mankind a brain.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the store to buy bottled water.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.