Drought, heat killing the West


As someone born and raised in the desert, I know what living in hot, dry weather is all about.

One of the things I and others who have moved to cooler, wetter parts of the country love to do is tease our friends who still live in the desert Southwest. They tease us in the winter when it is great there – we tease them in the summer when it is much nicer here.

But this year and last year, we haven’t really done that. The heat has become incredibly difficult to deal with in places like Phoenix, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev. And the entire region is in the worst drought in modern history. I have read that if the drought continues, it will devastate the region.

I am talking about pretty much all of the West, from New Mexico up to Washington. California is really struggling.

The Colorado River, which runs through my hometown of Yuma, Ariz., is in severe danger. There was a prison built on its banks in the late 1800s, and in pictures from that era the river rises nearly to the prison. Now you can barely see the river from the old prison grounds, now a state park.

Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, is at 40 percent of capacity. And it is projected to soon drop to its lowest levels ever.

The once might Colorado River has been decimated by cities like Las Vegas, which takes water for drinking and those lovely casino fountains. That is one reason people like me – and I do love Vegas – hate those fountains. They are an incredible waste of a very precious resources.

Los Angeles takes water. Phoenix, once a fairly quiet town, is a sprawling metropolis. And all those people need water. In the middle of a dry and getting drier desert, they need more and more water.

Farmers are going to suffer first. Yes, the region I grew up in is desert, but it home to a lot of farmland. Those winter vegetables you enjoy? They are grown in the desert, and most of the water to grow them comes from the Colorado River.

Once the water levels get dangerously low, the farmers will see their water cutoff first. That will be devastating for the entire region, economically, and the entire country when it comes to year-around items like lettuce.

I read quotes from one farmer south of Phoenix saying this might be his last year of production on a huge family farm that has been in his family for a couple of generations. The reason is simple: No water.

The heat was always pretty bad there. I remember once or twice in my decades of living there that the temperatures got above 120 degrees. It was miserable. You didn’t leave the house unless you had to. But those extreme temps were very rare and didn’t last long.

Now they are becoming common. Climate scientists have been warning about this for years and years, and now it is coming to pass. Climate change is leading to these extreme temperatures and there is no end in sight.

I see my friends on social media post about it often. Last year, a few talked about leaving the state if the extreme temperatures persist. Well, those temps are back this year, and it looks like they will just get worse in the future.

I worry about the future of the part of this country I call home. Lack of rain and snow and extremely hot weather are changing the face of the West. My dream was to get a place to spend my winters in Arizona, but now I am not sure that will happen.

But I do plan to head to Vegas in the next year or so to get a look at those fountains before they become a thing of the past. It is going to happen; it is just a question of when.