How a 100-year-old miscalculation drained the Colorado River
An epic drought in the West is drying up the river. But that’s only part of the story.
By Benji Jones@BenjiSJones Sep 23, 2022, 8:00am EDT
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In the early 20th century, the US Geological Survey sent out this guy named Eugene Clyde LaRue to try and measure the Colorado River. LaRue started to see that, beyond the time horizon that we’d been measuring the river so far [a couple of recent decades], there were some really big droughts. He concluded in a 1916 report that the river is subject to big droughts on timescales of 10-to-20 to 50-to-100 years. It doesn’t just stay wet.
The negotiators of the Colorado River Compact — the foundational document for figuring out how to divide up the river and decide who gets what — needed this information. They needed science. But they came together to figure this out without LaRue. They sidelined him. They ignored his science that said there’s been big droughts.
Instead, the negotiators looked at a much more recent period [of time] that had been extraordinarily and unusually wet. They said the river’s got plenty of water to build all these farms and to build all these cities. They just ignored the science because it was inconvenient.
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“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.” — Milton Friedman
In this case, the Gooferment was put in charge of water, and now there’s a shortage.
At the very least, if water had a price which kept rising as Lake Meade went down, the “free market” would have disciplined all the Users.
Instead “we” now have a major investment in Las Vegas for example, that is in a dessert.