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A Great AridnessClimate Change and the Future of the American Southwest$
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William deBuys

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199778928

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199778928.001.0001

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The Canal at River’s End: Thirsty Arizona

The Canal at River’s End: Thirsty Arizona

6 The Canal at River’s End: Thirsty Arizona
A Great Aridness

William deBuys

Oxford University Press

“ If you run the math,” says Brad Udall, “You sort of go, wow, Arizona, they may be totally out of their Central Arizona Project water.” Udall is referring to Arizona’s unenviable position as California’s aquatic whipping boy. The two states have long fought over water, and although Arizona has won a battle or two, it has taken a beating in the war. A key result of their combat has been to make the majority of Arizona’s Colorado River water rights expressly junior to California’s. This means that during inevitable and possibly imminent periods of shortage, the people of southern California, under a strict interpretation of the law, will be able to wash their cars, water their lawns, and keep their showers streaming while the millions who live in Phoenix, Tucson, and points between watch the flow from their taps slow to a dribble. Fortunately, events are unlikely to turn out so apocalyptically. When crisis comes, emergency negotiations will produce a less black-and-white outcome, and Arizona’s groundwater reserves (some of them recharged in recent years with CAP water) will be tapped to meet priority needs—at least for a time. Nevertheless, the potential for a winner-take-all showdown between large populations highlights the vulnerability of the urban centers of the arid West in an era of climate change. Fates are hardly fixed. How the cities of the region grow and change in the years ahead will significantly determine their ability to withstand the shocks of a hotter and drier future. How well they respond to the challenges ahead will also determine the future of their states and of the entire West, for in an arid land, a modern society is obliged to be an urban society. The survival of aridland cities and the struggle to preserve their quality of life will become a matter of national concern, even obsession, and the entire world will watch their stories unfold. Arizona has always been jealous of California’s economic power, its political heft in Congress, and its early and abundant claims to Colorado River water.

Keywords:   Boulder Canyon Project Act, Dust Bowl, Gila River, Imperial Valley, Prior Appropriation, Sunbelt, Upper Basin, augmentation, desalination, reservoirs

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