Arizona's spineless legislature
Here's the deal: two Las Vegas-based developers, Jim Rhodes and Leonard Mardian, have planned to build 165,000 homes in the county. They have done this because in 2008 the Hoover Dam bypass is scheduled to open, which will put most of the county within an hour's drive of Vegas. Mohave County currently has about 14 people per square mile. The water supplies, obviously, are uncertain, as is the road system, and the economy of the area is, to use the word, "dicey." The county relies on ground water, and residents have drilled deeply for water, and wells have gone dry. There has been no study done of local aquifers. State law requires developers in Phoenix, Tucson, or Prescott to demonstrate a 100-year supply of water, and obviously, sucking an aquifer dry is not an option.
So what's the problem? The Legislature doesn't protect rural water supplies. Even if the Department of Water Resources determines that the water is insufficient, developers are allowed to forge on. County supervisors could ask developers to scale back on the scope of their developments, but these are, of course, subject to legal challenges. The editorial points out the long-term problems that could occur:
- A new well, depending on the shape of the aquifer, could dry up existing wells. Many Mohave County residents already have sketchy yields from their wells or have lost water altogether.
- Lowering the level of an aquifer can cause the ground to subside and crack, damaging property and roads. Severe problems with subsidence and fissures have developed in areas with similar terrain.
- If water supplies last only a few decades, the rest of Arizona will be stuck figuring out how to help tens of thousands of households.
There will be, naturally, commuting problems. U.S. 93, the route from Kingman to Nevada, is one lane in each direction. Construction to widen it has risen to $80-85 million, and it's slow. Imagine that. The new construction was also designed to alleviate the existing problems, not handle a massive influx of new commuters.
The Legislature could solve all of this. They could allow Mohave County officials to negotiate with developers on their own terms, in order to make sure that their residents will not get shafted. They could look around at what rampant expansion has done to the Basin and Flagstaff, from air pollution to awful congestion on the freeways to the destruction of the very nature of the desert to the creation of a "ghetto" class of people that exists only to serve out-of-state celebrities and receives none of the benefits of the expansion. Mohave County would become a ghetto of Las Vegas, which the Legislature should see as even worse, as all that money would be flowing out of the state and into the slot machines. The Legislature could do all this. We have a Republican-dominated Legislature, however, and the Republicans (Democrats, too, but more so Republicans) stopped caring about anything but money a long, long time ago. Expansion has turned Phoenix into the sixth-largest city in the country! Whoo-hoo! It must be good, right?
I'm sure this kind of scenario is playing out all across the country in multiple ways. I hope the politicians don't act surprised when the revolution comes.