Drought conspiracy

I am a 25-year Arizona resident. I have met people in all areas of the state, from different age groups, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and different cultures. I held jobs in various industries, both private and public. I lived in the three largest population centers of Arizona, and attended two of the three state universities. I feel qualified to generalize the typical Arizonan’s mindset. Here it is:

It’s all a conspiracy.

Should anything ever disagree with an Arizonan’s mindset, or should anything place any restriction on unlimited freedom, the reason is conspiracy. Somehow, the policy makers must be conspiring against the general public for money or spite. No other explanation is acceptable.

A perfect example is Arizona’s ongoing drought. For the majority of years over the last decade, most southwest United States locations received less than average precipitation. In many years, precipitation was significantly less than average. Many locations declared drought emergencies, drafted special plans, put in place water use restrictions and limitations on development. Museums now have drought exhibits, buildings installed waterless urinals, school children are taught water conservation, and the general public is pressured with water conservation information.

The typical Arizonan views things differently. Suddenly, more government and more regulations exist and water use is restricted. Newspapers and media are filled with warnings about drought dangers and dire future predictions. Yet, the typical Arizonan looks out the window and sees the trees in their yard are not dead, and reminisces about that “massive” 1-inch rainfall only a few months prior, or the latest boating trip to the local reservoir.

To the typical Arizonan, the drought must be a conspiracy between the government and “liberal” media as a means of controlling the wealthy landowners and funneling tax dollars to any number of “liberal” programs. I am not sure if this mindset exists in other regions – but I often hear it about every issue imaginable – from traffic lights to weather reports.

This week, the Arizona Republic reported that Lake Mead (on the Colorado River) levels are at a 54-year low, and are just a few feet above the level at which water rationing becomes mandatory. I doubt many realize what a big deal this is. Per agreements with neighboring states, Arizona is the first state required to ration by restricting pumping into the canal that feeds central Arizona cities. Arizona gets a significant amount of water from the Colorado River, and this water is the means by which many new developments and municipalities meet state adequate water supply laws (see link to the actual title 45-108 law). If a municipality or development cannot meet those adequate water supply requirements, development is halted. And for many municipalities, agreements using Colorado River water are the only means of satisfying those requirements. Should Arizona be required to quit pumping from the Colorado River, new statewide development could effectively cease.

The Colorado river in the Grand Canyon. All this water flows into Lake Mead, yet is not enough to satisfy the current demand of Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico.

For many, this Lake Mead news is also a conspiracy. You see, Arizona had a wet winter. The local reservoirs are full! How could Arizona be facing such a water emergency when 2010 is likely to be an above-average rainfall year? This news must be part of a conspiracy to instill fear and enact some new law, tax, or restriction…

Not really; the answer is simpler than that. Most of Arizona’s precipitation eventually joins the Colorado River well downstream of Lake Mead. Much of Arizona drains into the Gila River watershed, a tributary of the Colorado River that joins just north of the Mexico border. Lake Mead is filled from precipitation that falls in the upper basin areas of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming – and those areas remain dry. In addition, Lakes Powell and Mead on the Colorado River are so large, it would take several successive years of above-average precipitation to re-fill the lakes. Arizona’s drought issues will not alleviate with one wet winter.

Gila watershed map from US Bureau of Reclamation.

The Green River near the Utah/Wyoming border. This river is the primary tributary to the Colorado River, and provides much of the water for downstream users.


Arizona must rely on precipitation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming that flows down the Colorado River in order to meet its current water demand. Arizona uses more water than what falls as precipitation on its own territory. That is fact, not conspiracy. Will people believe this explanation? Nope. I am just another conspirator.

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