Building cities for American humans — a species that tends to consume and use a fair amount of water — in the desert was a tremendously risky proposition from the start. But western communities in states like Arizona and Nevada have skated by for many decades, staving off an inevitable future in which they would run out of places from which to get fresh water.
A recent article in Minnesota's Star Tribune chronicles the ongoing discussion about siphoning off water from the Great Lakes to send to drought-stricken western states in the US:
To desert dwellers, an idea that makes intuitive sense is to pipe Lake Superior water to where it’s “needed.” Such a project would be staggeringly expensive but technically doable; besides, the Great Lakes surely wouldn’t miss, say, 50 billion gallons — would they?
The populace all around the Lakes is rock-solid against shipping any water anywhere, and advancing any diversion plan would set off political warfare.
Currently, legal pacts between all the states bordering the Great Lakes and Canada require that any water diversion be unanimously passed by all, but as the article points out, those pacts could be undone by federal power. The Star Tribune article continues:
On several levels, it’s frankly absurd to pipe water across the country to bail out overbuilt cities and nourish water-intensive crops in bone-bleaching desert. But growth-driven Westerners dismiss such talk. This war would come down to raw power politics, and it’s only a matter of time before the West’s political influence prevails. [...]
I'll be honest, as someone who has lived most of my life in midwestern states that border the Great Lakes, and as someone who feels a deep-seated love for water, I have an instinctive and almost primal reaction to the idea of taking water out of the Great Lakes and funneling it far away. It simply seems wrong, and the Pandora's Box that it opens is dangerous to contemplate. I know that many fellow midwesterners, share my sentiments.
But when I set aside that gut response, what I see is a desperate, expensive, band-aid solution to a much bigger problem. The problem is the Growth Ponzi Scheme through which we have developed countless cities, towns and suburbs across America — a quick-fix financial ruse that values "growth" above all else and sacrifices economic stability and the futures of communities for a temporary gain. The Growth Ponzi Scheme system tells us that as long as you can purchase the land and the supplies to build upon it (if you're lucky, with a subsidy!), you can create whatever you damn well please (within strict zoning guidelines, of course), giving no thought to the cost of the infrastructure that services that development or the long-term implications of your plan.
As the Star Tribune explains:
The Southwest’s water crisis is a result of dubious policy that pushed unsustainable growth, incented by federally financed dams, reservoirs and canals that delivered water at astonishingly low cost to cities and farmers. [...]
So, why should Great Lakes water be shipped to a desert where unrestrained growth continues?
The reality of this "unrestrained growth" is finally is hitting. The bills are finally coming due. Across the country, cities and towns have developed in such a fragile way that they do not have their own sources for some of the most basic building blocks of any community — things like water.
Grabbing at a source of the fresh water that is thousands of miles away is no solution. It's merely a very expensive way to postpone decline just a little longer.