Agnotology and the Colorado River

I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times about the crisis level shortage of water in the Colorado River. Written by Ian James, the article describes years of warnings from the scientific community about how the dangers of drought and overuse of the river would lead to dire consequences. James is a thorough researcher who mentions critiques of Colorado River water use policy going back to 1869. James points out that United States Geological Service Engineer Eugene Clyde LaRue had misgivings about how the Colorado River Compact of 1922 substantially over allocated water supplies.

These warnings, and many others since, about the abuse of Colorado River water have been ignored. In the fifth paragraph James quotes Brad Udall, a water and climate research scientist from Colorado State University, “If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that humans are really reluctant to give things up to prevent a catastrophe.” The author goes on to state “He (Udall) said it’s just like humanity’s lack of progress in addressing climate change despite decades of warnings by scientists.”

I have spent the last few weeks processing this quote. My immediate reaction was rage. Blaming humanity for this situation is maddening. James addresses the fact that the vast majority of the decisions made about the use of Colorado River water have been made by water managers who refused to make any decisions without “a more definitive picture of effects on water resources;” politicians who “fought to defend old state apportionments;” and farmers “who benefit from generations-old water rights.”

My guess is that the people who will be most affected by this water crisis will have had no say whatsoever in the decisions made and will bear the brunt of the negative outcomes imposed by those decisions. I surmise that most peoples’ knowledge of water policy in the west begins and end with the bills they receive for water delivered to their homes. Despite this, the blame for the crisis is laid at the feet of those whose only recourses to save water are to take shorter showers and to let their lawns die. Brent C. Dickerson opines that “It is patently unfair that the residential water user is made the whipping boy during periods of drought when all the reasonable savings a committed homeowner could conceivably manage would make no effective difference in relieving the drought.”

We are ostensibly given an opportunity every couple of years to vote out the politicians who continue to hurtle us into chaos with their decisions. However, the voting process seems to be fixed to benefit incumbency. Even if we were to replace a politician who makes bad decisions for the population, the money interests would just continue to give money to that replacement to twist water policy (or any other policy) in their favor. I don’t have any idea how water managers are placed, but I doubt replacing them with sober, responsible people is any easier.

The present conditions have been dictated by the power of a few. These conditions benefit few and endanger the many. This is not only structural violence against the residents of the West, it is also a shining example of agnotology. This is a subject I intend to explore in much more detail. I don’t have any answers at the moment, but I am looking for them.

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