I got a call from a western state about a job interview. One of the things that always goes through my mind when I consider a move is "do I really want to live there?" This is a great city, just the kind of place I would fit in. I started thinking about my garden then, maybe because the first flowers are beginning to bloom now. Could I have a garden like this one? It is the west, and water is a problem. Later, I read an article on Glen Canyon in Backpacker Magazine and soon I was starting to wonder if the Smart Growth or Sustainable Development movements have failed to look at a much bigger issue than sprawl. Should we even be in some places to begin with?
Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and many of the other large, rapidly growing cities of the west do not have the water to meet their needs, and in the prosecc of taking what they can find, are destroying whole ecosystems. Glen Canyon is but one example of this. You could easily add Hetch Hetchy, the Salton Sea, the Gulf of California, the Snake River, and countless others to the list. Promote Smart Growth as much as you like. You could have cities ten times as dense as now, but you still need the water to sustain human life, along with industry and agriculture (and to wash the mud off our SUV's after a weekend of tearing up the backcountry).
The western drought is, I think, going to bring this issue to the forefront. We have had four years of low rain, and some scientists think we are cycling into an extended drought such as the one thought to have led to the collapse of the Anasazi civilization. Will this lead to a disaster for out desert cities? Are we failing to plan, when we allow them to grow beyond the means of the land to sustain them? Or are we going to further compound the problem, causing new environmental catastrophe by diverting water from the north and east over the Continental Divide? Is no growth the smartest growth for these cities?