That’s been the mantra for two thousand years, but it is changing fast in the American West, even in Montana where the Missouri and the Yellowstone rivers headwater, a place of endless grace where the rest of the world comes to recreate. They fish, they hunt, and they marvel at the incredible richness of the northern plains. But this year, the rivers are all closed from 2 pm daily due to lack of water and high water temperatures that are killing the fish that live there and may kill the tourism economy that supports Montana.
The campgrounds are all full, and you can’t get a spot for quite a while because a covid sheltered public is starved for the great outdoors. RV’s are selling at a record pace and America is all lined up at the gas pump paying a dollar more than its worth just to be out there in the great outdoors. It’s the only time I have ever seen the Missouri closed in all the years I have been here and the fires are burning up what’s left of the grass too dry to support the young hatched birds that need the green forbes to survive. There are grasshoppers galore so the sharptail stand a chance, and if the hungarian partridge and pheasant get big enough to need the protein from hoppers they will too. But the waterholes are dry and all the predators are at the same water source. Sorta like Las Vegas and Phoenix and Los Angeles waiting for the Colorado River to fill up their cities with the water from Lake Mead, except Lake Mead doesn’t have it because the West as we know it is in a snow drought and has been for a few years. So what are we gonna do, where are we going to get the water? Are we going to steal it from the Clark Fork of the Columbia as it leaves Montana going West to Washington and the Columbia River proper? And is Montana responsible for watering the West and watering the wheat belt from the waters of the Missouri and Yellowstone going East?
A hundred and fifty years ago the cattlemen from the upper valleys of the Big Hole and the Yellowstone Rivers took all the water and shot you if you tried to get any for your downstream crops. Eventually the farmers and homesteaders reached an accomadation with the ranchers and a major irrigation system was developed but it still worked on the old axion of stealing rights on the upper river supercedes waters rights on the lower river. And it still does if your attorneys are smarter than mine and your pockets are deeper so nothing has really changed except for the population growth in America. Everybody is at the same water hole right how and the bigger predators will take the water and leave the dirt behind. But there is an answer to all this and its not green energy, or climate control, or wind farms or solar panels.
It is desalinization plants on both coasts for as far as the eye can see with pipelines to the central valleys and major cities no matter what the cost, because water is more imortant than anything else, period. Then all water systems should be managed based on 100 year snowpack curves to arrive at median averages so when it is an 85% year, you get 85% of your water allocation. And in a 110% water year, you get 110%of your allocation. Is that too simple for your complex woke reality, where there is no black and white, just the stark greyness of death creeping upon the American landscape one parched lakebed at a time, one more starving child, and one more helpless bird at the waterhole in the northern plains, hoping to get a drink without getting killed by a larger predator in the pecking order.
I think we can work it out because I am a poet fool who believes in equitable solutions to complex problems that leaves nobody behind. And that common good in the common man still exists in America today. I hope you do too…