The Drought Out West

DroughtAt a time when most New Yorkers are are still recovering from this past winter’s surplus of snowfall, it may be hard to work up much concern for a drought on the other side of the country.  But we should be concerned, because the record-breaking dry-spell in California and other western states matters to everyone.

As this article in Politico makes clear, California has only bad options for dealing with water scarcity.  With aquifers drying up, and with climate change accelerating, those options go from bad to worse.  There’s just not enough water to go around.

And the problem isn’t confined to California; this piece in the Times describes water conflicts sprouting up in many other areas.  If you go to Vegas, take note of the view from the plane – a bone-dry brown landscape suddenly giving way to a line of bright green at the city’s edge – and then think about what it takes to bring that volume of water into a desert metropolis.

So how does this affect us in the east?  In the short-term, food prices could be impacted by lost crops, notwithstanding a late season drought-reprieve.  But it’s bigger than that.  For generations, the Sun Belt has been America’s population driver, while population in the northeast has been relatively flat.  It’s been that way for so long that most planners have never known a different dynamic, and that assumption is baked into innumerable decisions.  Now the northeast, with its abundant natural resources, especially water, might actually be better positioned to grow.  And that has huge implications.