Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Taming of the Salt

There's a lot written in the past week to mark the 100th anniversary on March 18 of the dedication of the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River east of Phoenix, and the impact of the dam on Phoenix and Arizona. I particularly enjoyed Tom Beal's piece in the Arizona Star. [right, Teddy Roosevelt at the dedication. Credit, Walter Lubken, US Reclamation Service]

The dam provided the water that supported agricultural irrigation and population growth of the Phoenix valley, now accounting for close to 2/3 of Arizona's population. The dam tamed the fluctuating Salt River, bringing stability for that growth.

Even today, with Colorado River water in the Central Arizona Project and extensive groundwater pumping, Tom notes that "With additions completed in 1996, the reservoir behind Roosevelt Dam can now hold nearly 1.7 million acre-feet of water, about two-thirds of the Salt River Project's surface water storage."

A year after the stability engendered in part by this massive federal investment, Arizona became a state.

So, a question comes to mind - would we build Roosevelt Dam today if we had to do it over again?

As one of the baby boomer generation, I came of age in a time that viewed 'other' environments as something that had to be tamed and brought into production. Deserts had to be made to bloom, had to be turned into farmland, rather than appreciated for their own value and role in the ecosystem. (and 'ecosystem' was a word we wouldn't hear in the lexicon for many a year).

It's appropriate that 100 years after beginning the Roosevelt Dam, we are again having an intense debate over our future and its dependency on water. What decisions will we make today and will their impacts be equally important a century from now?

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