If We Lived Within Our Means


I arrived home from the deserts of Arizona yesterday. I enjoyed the moments, after the rain, when the sun shone warm on my face and a breeze lifted my hair. I think you can guess where this is going.

Back in Grand Lake, Colorado, where the temperature was a balmy 34 degrees last night, I breathed a sigh of relief. The dry air brushed against my hands and curled under my hair to give me a chill, but the kind of chill that is friendly and invites you to put on a roomy sweatshirt.

This morning in the strident sun, it’s 23 degrees and perfect. The smooth snow advertises a pillowy comfort while my littlest dog runs along its hard-shell top with the tiny steps of a toddler trying not to slip. New Ponderosa Pines and tiny firs demonstrate resilience in this pine-beetle-wasted lot, their needles vibrant and clearly vigorous.

Yes, there was green grass and budding flowers in the desert city. Every time I’m down there I wonder about the cost.

A few summers back, I straddled the headwaters of the Colorado river, amazed that the seepage in a green meadow would become the high class rapids I rafted down a decade ago. It all begins here, maybe 15 miles from where I live.

I think most of us know that the Colorado River only began reaching the sea again in 2014 after the U.S. and Mexico made the Minute 319 addendum that now allows the waters to reach the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez. I’m frustrated that the addendum was even needed.  Every time I see the crops, homes, and flowers of the Salt River Valley, I’m reminded that the 12th largest metro region in America, with a population of more than 4.5 million people, shouldn’t be there.  The people, the crops, the golf courses full of sprinkler systems for exceed the capability of that area’s water. Instead, they take long showers, mostly unaware of the source of their water. The Salt River project obtains water from the Colorado River, among other sources.

Water and oil don’t mix. And water will be the resource we battle over in the future.

Even as the Colorado River now finally returns to the Sea of Cortez, much of the snow melt in the Never Summer range in Colorado runs into the Grand Ditch, built in 1890, and flows to the east side of the front range in Colorado. Another reclamation project, the Adams Tunnel, takes water pumped from Grand Lake into the Shadow Mountain Reservoir and sends it 13.1 miles, an exact half-marathon, under Rocky Mountain National Park and to the dry eastern slopes of Colorado. Originally this water was intended for agriculture, but more and more it supplies water to the growing population in Eastern Colorado. The Front Range Urban corridor extending from Denver to southern Colorado Springs has more than 4.8 million people alone.

I wonder how this story ends? Reading post-apocalyptic books, especially Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus, shows us the imagined possibilities of what all this man-made manipulation could create. After turning the dark pages of this potential future, I’m always hoping for something better. Could nature simply choose to reclaim the alterations we’ve made for its own purposes? Could we reverse the damages in time?

What would the world look like if we lived within our means?


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