Dec 13, 2013

The View from another Angle

This is our first winter in 17 years to be away from our Little Canada home and Savage Lake. Right now, we're parked above what used to be a giant New Mexico lake, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and I can't help reflect on the turn of events that changed the climate so drastically for people in this area and how that same sort of change would affect us in Minnesota.

This is the view from outside of our RV. What isn't obvious is that the "lake" is barely a pond. All of that sandy "beach" you see between the water and the edge of the campsites used to be underwater. Suffering from a decade-long drought, New Mexico has become "the driest state in the nation"; but not by much. When we left Texas, we drove past dozens of dry or nearly-dry man-made lakes, most of which were surrounded by abandoned or down-scaled mansions that reflected an opulent lifestyle gone wrong.

When our VW-based Winnebago suffered electronic problems due to exposure to 350 miles of ice, sleet, and snow in western Texas, we stayed with friends in a small town south of Albuquerque while waiting for car repairs. At first, we were a little surprised at how decimated their yard was; just like all of the yards in this part of New Mexico. Our dog never figured out how to deal with the overwhelming tack-burrs that covered a good bit of their backyard. When they explained that they have been under water-rationing rules for about ten years and even had to let their fruit trees die to comply with water regulations, the condition of the yard seemed minor in comparison. Their descriptions of how lush and green the area was when they first moved here, 15 years ago, seemed completely incompatible with the place we've experienced.

On this trip, we've passed thousands of acres of abandoned grape vineyards, apple orchards that appear to be either dead or dying, and some of the most parched farm land I've seen in my lifetime. So far, this drought isn't up to the historical worst years of the area, but it's not over yet.

I've been surprised at how callously and carelessly Minnesotans treat lakes and rivers, coming from a near-desert state, Kansas, and having spent several years in places where water was about as accessible as oil. Our little "watershed" is a good example of how a neighborhood, city, state, and nation (considering the abusive way the Interstate intersected the lake) can blow off one resource because there are others more substantial. The state DNR (Does Not Respond?) plays games with pretending to be working at eradicating invasive weeds downstream from Savage Lake, while ignoring the fact that our lake is a seed bed for these plants, upstream from the treatment. MNDOT uses the lake to drain off sediment and contamination from the freeway, clogging their own drains with runoff and slowly filling the lake with sand and salt. The county and  city salt the roads and washes sediment directly into the lake, filling the edges with sediment and contamination. The attitude seems to be "We have 'real lakes' and water in abundance, why worry about this little pond?" Texas and New Mexico used to have "real lakes," too. Now they'd be happy to have clean drinking water and enough water to manage minimal agriculture.

There are been three major droughts in this area in the last 75 years, including the Dust Bowl years. A large part of the country is going without water for normal activities and we might be wise to pay attention to what happens when the most precious resource on the planet goes away. This flashing photo depicts Elephant Butte Lake in 1994, at 89% of capacity, and this past September, at 3% capacity. It doesn't take long for a precious resource to vanish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree! California had a good drought backin the late 80's and Carole and I walked across a resevoir with no measurable water left in it. Very sad thing to see. Makes me glad I live in the land of 10,000 and hope we can manage whatever droughts come our way.

As for our little lake, all is calm right now as it is under a blanket of snow. We have had 1/2-2 inches of snow 11 of the 16 days so far in December and it has been very cold with extended stretches of below zero weather (and winter isn't even officially here yet). You may recall a doe living on our lake with a broken left front leg. I had noticed her shortly after moving here and watched her many times as she hung out on the opposite side of the lake and seemed to be getting along pretty well on 3 legs (the left front had atrophied and contracted up to her chest). Sadly, it appears she went through the ice after the first hard freeze and couldn't get herself out. After that first ice melted I noticed her floating across the lake and thought she would end up on my beach so asked Paul if I could use his canoe to to drag her out to the island where nature could better deal with it. As it was too late to go out that day, I decided to wait until the next day. However the wind was too high and then it got really cold. She ended up freezing into the lake just about 30 yards out from your place. The only thing sticking out of the water was her upper chest and shoulder. An Eagle spotting this and between it and many crows, it didn't take long for them to stip this exposed area to the bone which allowed any gases builtup in the chest cavity to escape. I suspect that is a good thing as this spring when the ice melts it will just sink to the bottom and be good food for the turtles and what not.

All appears well at your Hacienda. I see your house sitter every now and then and he seems to be keeping up with all these little snow events. So on that note I will end this and wish you both a very merry Xmas and happy travels!