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High Desert Are We

think I'll wash the car again

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 22, 2002.

Boulder, in normal years, receives about a foot of water, snow and rain in aggregate. That’s it, folks. What is a three-day blow in Maine or a dash across the street in Seattle is our yearly allotment. We are high desert, which is a terribly impressive term for naturally barren, devoid of water. Our natural look is that of Taos or Mesa Verde. Our tarted up one is of Scarsdale, or rather, Scottsdale. There may be a penalty coming.

This surprises lots of our visitors. They see the deciduous trees, all imported from the East coast, they see the Creek, and they see the acres upon acres of green, green lawns and gardens. Boulder is lovely in summer and a lot cooler because of those plantings, but they are not sustainable with our weather. And this year, and maybe for a while, they are going to have to adapt. So are we.

We’re in a drought - no news flash there - and Boulder has adopted water conservation measures. Water is the big issue in this part of the country, always has been, and it is highly unlikely it will get less contentious in the immediate future. Colorado’s water is essentially owned by out of state elements and agriculture. They buy so many flow feet or gallons (or however it is measured) from the state, often by ancient treaty. But they get much more than that because rivers and ditches are not hoses and taps. Once California obtains its paid-for limit, it’s not like we can turn off the tap. It’s not like we can charge them more. Our problem is Colorado leaks, and others just mop it up.

Well, that’s one problem. The other is that Colorado doesn’t have enough water for itself, anymore. And please, don’t break out the tables that show needed water for the average human, or family, or residential community; they’re as accurate as the Hare Krishna brochures showing that there is plenty of food, or that indeed we are under-populated. It isn’t just animals and agriculture that need lots of open space and clean water. People do as well, and for the resuscitation of the land, we need reserves and lots of water. And we don’t have it.

Counting the ways we waste water would require a series of Crays ganged together. It is no longer amusing to putter through Boulder’s streets and watch the sidewalks being sprayed clean of dirt by misaligned, built-in sprinklers, or watching frost heaved automatic sprinklers kick on in the afternoon, their effluvient vaporizing in the heat and merely providing a prism to burn the grass. It is increasingly annoying to see the huge pop-up sprinklers of the municipal buildings come on in the early morning but miss their targets because nobody is around with a wrench to witness that all the nozzles are broken, gone, or in need of serious adjustment if not psychoanalysis given the tendency to overshoot entire lines of traffic and miss everything biologic altogether. These are the folks demanding water conservation.

I love lawns, the smell of cut grass, the ritual of cutting grass, and I love croquet and little kids in bare feet hurtling around the yard in mostly safe circumstance except for the dog leavings, but the lawns should go brown with stems and seeds if there is not enough water to shower or drink. And there may not be. Barker Reservoir, which is a barometer and more, isn’t even very damp, much less full as it normally is this time of year. Unless St. Mary’s glacier is going to fry down to the Permian, we have serious, serious water lacks in Boulder this year.

We need to save water in a way that keeps Barker and Gross and all the other reservoirs full. It does us no good to save water if it trickles unnecessarily down stream for use by folks who have not paid for it and have no intention of paying for it. And it’s all about us, right? We own it.