It goes without saying. Land and water go hand in hand. That’s especially true in the dry West, where nothing can happen on the land without water to go along with it.
So what happens to a region that is both booming and drying out, all at the same time? That’s the question the New York Times Magazine sheds some light on this week. The answers aren’t exactly optimistic.
“It’s not unreasonable to assume that if things continue as they have … the region will become a topography of crisis and perhaps catastrophe,” writes Jon Gertner.
In his cover story, Gertner raises the possibility that global warming could wreak more havoc by drying up freshwater supplies than by raising ocean levels. He traipses from the mountains of Colorado to thirsty Las Vegas to scout out the impacts of dwindling water in the Colorado River. Meanwhile, the West is booming faster than any other part of the country.
There’s Aurora, Colo, the 60th-largest city in the country, Gertner notes, poised for a population boom from 310,000 to 500,000 by 2035, and not enough water to go around. There’s California, poised to jump from 35 million to 60 million in a few decades, sucking up a good portion of the Colorado. And there’s Las Vegas, the boom town of boom towns.
“We have an exploding human population, and we have a shrinking clean-water supply. Those are on colliding paths,” says Pat Mulroy, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
One climatologist says the drying of the West can’t be called a drought anymore. It’s the new way of life. Another worried about mass migrations out of the West, legal battles over water and agricultural towns shriveling with the crops.
“We’re at this point of crisis on the Colorado,” says Roger Pulwarty.”And it’s at this point that we decide, OK, which way are we going to go?”
Reforms to the reform-resistant 1872 mining law are inching forward in the House, where the House Natural Resources Committee passed the bill 23-15. It now heads to the full House. But it faces a tougher sell in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he will offer his own bill, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Reid is the son of a gold miner and a longtime backer of the industry.
These are the first steps that mining reform have taken since 1994, when Congress adjourned unable to reach a compromise on mining legislation.
Under the 1872 mining law, federal land can be sold for $2.50 or $5 an acre. Congress has annually approved a moratorium on those sales, the Tribune writes, but the bill, championed by Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., a longtime reform proponent, would end them once and for all. It would also charge an 8 percent gross income royalty on new mineral production and a 4 percent gross income royalty on existing operations. The bill targets hard rock mining, from gold to uranium.
Not so thrilled about the idea is the National Mining Association, which says the royalties would be the highest in the world. Says President and CEO Kraig R. Naasz: It’s disappointing to those of us concerned about the nation’s increasing reliance on imported minerals and public policy impediments to a sustainable U.S. mining industry.”