Water Fractals and the Colorado River Running Dry
Photo: Hoover Dam, Nevada
Watergeddon is happening. It’s been quietly playing out over the last twenty years, and the non-linear effects of nature will amplify it over the next ten years. This decade will bring water chaos to humanity of unimaginable proportions. And we are seeing the water crisis all around us now.
With all the climate chaos occurring over the last few months, from droughts to burning forests, to hurricanes, storm surges, and flooding, to heat domes and rivers and lakes running dry, I was looking for a perfect example of what the future of Watergeddon holds. I needed an example that shows the fractal nature of the problem.
In complexity science, the definition of fractals in simple terms indicates self-similarity. For example, a snowflake shows the same pattern when magnified it all levels. Coastlines are self-similar as well. Nature is fractal. The water crisis is not any different. It scales fractally and globally.
I was looking for a city experiencing the following patterns:
- Higher temperatures due to climate change
- River running dry
- City wells polluted
- Politics and water policies running into red tape
- And of course, the city’s population freaking out about running out of water
I began by surveying places in India, South America, Africa, and Australia to find the concept of fractals playing out in the water-scarce world. Looking for the data at first seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack. But the reality of the situation was closer than I thought: a town here in the U.S. is running out of water due to water scarcity, pollution, lack of funding, politics, and a river running dry.
Needles, a city of 5,000 people, located in the Mojave Desert of California, fit the water fractal parameters. Needles is one of the hottest cities on the planet. Its daily high temperatures are above those in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston.
Needles water problem began when three of its four wells failed to meet the state’s water quality standards. They were contaminated with naturally occurring minerals, manganese and iron, exceeding the acceptable numbers. When the fourth well failed the water quality standards, Needles being one of the poorest cities in the state, could not afford to build a new well where the mineral contained less iron and manganese.
Politics got involved, and the media stepped in to create awareness of Needles’ water scarcity situation. The state approved the $2M funding, but it will take a few months to complete the project.
Jay Lund, co-director of UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, states that California has 9,000 regulated public utilities, and it’s a difficult task to ensure that there are no cities or towns to have failing water systems. There aren’t enough resources to fix everybody’s problem, especially when you get into a drought.” He estimates that as many as 100 public water systems face the threats that Needles faces.
There is more to this story, and you can read it in the LA Times.¹ We need to see the small town of Needles as the canary in the coal mine in how the future of water plays out at the local, state, national, country, regional and global levels.
Water doesn’t care about political ideology or money. The amount of water on this planet has been constant for billions of years. Water is abundant in some places and scarce in others. Where and how the water flows shows the effects of climate change. The thing that compounds water scarcity is the inefficient use of water resources and incredible water pollution created by humans worldwide.
What happens when water scarcity fractals amplify across the world to 10,000 rural cities?
Water connects many communities and regions. The Colorado River also runs through the city of Needles. The city has been allocated with water rights of 1,272 acre-feet of water each year. But what happens when the rivers start running dry across the world? High temperatures have reduced the runoff from the Rocky Mountains snowpack that replenishes the Colorado River, causing Lake Powel and Lake Mead to evaporate more rapidly.² This is now a water crisis for 40 million people in the Southwest. It makes me wonder why the four wells failed the water quality standards? Were the wells polluted for years, or is it directly correlated to the Colorado River facing drought issues?
What happens when thousands of small, poor, inadequately funded rural cities worldwide start experiencing the same water crisis as needles? What happens when water scarcity fractals amplify across the world to 10,000 rural cities?
¹ After this desert city faced dry taps, California rushed through emergency water funding, by Ralph Vartabedian, LA Times, September 4, 2021
² Can the Southwest Survive With Less Water? By Timothy L. O’Brien, Bloomberg, July 18, 2021