Columns » Outsider



Remember Brown Disk of the late '80s? Gone. Mountain Bell = US West = Qwest? Gone. MCI? Gone. Digital Equipment? Gone.

Constant change -- whether because of an accelerated business cycle, or because your company was taken over and looted by a bunch of smooth-talking Mississippi scam artists (i.e., WorldCom-MCI) -- is stressful and difficult for individuals. It's tough on communities as well, because of the political consequences of transient populations and rapid growth.

Consider Colorado Springs. Ask yourself: Who runs the city? Who really makes the decisions? Whose vision rules your life? Whose priorities get funded?

Here, it's an uneasy coalition of Republican activists, moneyed developers, businessmen, and employees of growth-dependent businesses (e.g., the homebuilders) who set the agenda. And the agenda has only one item: Growth Must Never Stop.

In their eyes, stability and predictability are equivalent to stagnation and decay. They know that, if growth stops, or even slows down fractionally, they're in trouble. Their businesses will lose money; the equity in their highly leveraged McMansions will vanish.

Most of them remember the economic meltdown of the late '80s; they'll do whatever they have to do to avoid a repeat. So if you're Rocky Scott, or Bill Hybl, or Steve Schuck, or Scott Smith, you use your money and your clout to make sure that the politicians toe the line, and feed the growth machine.

And let's face it; we're all complicit. We want our houses to increase in value, our businesses to thrive, jobs to be plentiful and well paying ... what's wrong with that?

Nothing, except that it's unsustainable. The drought and the fires have taught us to look at our booming city a little differently. What seemed so solid and prosperous now seems as fragile and transient as a nomad encampment. We're not a city for the ages; we're a hothouse flower, a parasitic growth on a desert ecosystem, as vulnerable to a minor climactic shift as were the Anasazi centuries ago.

All along the Front Range, the politics of growth have created a thirsty megalopolis that stretches from Fort Collins to Pueblo. Today, politicians have to face the unthinkable: Suppose the winter snowpack remains at last year's level for years to come?

Think about it. New dams won't help if there's no water to dam. You can drill more wells in the prairie aquifers, but those resources are finite. There's one possible fix that might buy us a few decades to put our house in order.

Remember the deep aquifer in the San Luis Valley? For decades, water buffaloes, promoters and would-be magnates have scuffled with the valley's residents, trying to figure out a way to export the water from this vast underground lake. Even by the most conservative estimates, there's enough water there to last the Front Range for decades.

So how do you get it? For starters, you sweep aside a dozen court decisions, volumes of settled water law, and the angry protests of people whose ancestors settled the valley long before most of our ancestors knew that there was a place called America.

Then, you spend hundreds of millions of dollars and work round the clock building wells, pump stations and pipelines. And forget about environmental impact statements and lawsuits; no time for all that garbage!

Think it can't happen? Wait 'til next year at this time, when, if present trends continue, lawn irrigation will be prohibited, no building permits will be issued, and every household will be water-restricted. With property values plummeting, the economy in the tank, and jobs evaporating, you can bet that government will find a way to drain the valley.

And you know what'll happen. The growth addicts will feed the new boom, and we'll invent some fairy tale that we'll use to convince ourselves that this time things are different, and our lives/homes/jobs are safe and secure.

And maybe we'll be right -- for a year, for a decade, for a century. But sooner or later, we have to move to a steady-state economy, one that doesn't depend upon population growth for prosperity.

Thanks to the drought, we have an opportunity to begin the creation of such an economy, or at least to imagine what it might look like.

If we don't, here's our future: We're just one of a dozen dusty, treeless cities simmering in the heat of the new American desert. Four million souls living here, scuffling to make a living, while the rich live in green and guarded enclaves.

And in that dystopia, what's the most desirable neighborhood? My money's on Evergreen Cemetery where -- lucky me! -- I've already got my plot.


Add a comment

Clicky Quantcast