Busy water author explains water “collaboration” in the Southwest


And just who is the busiest water writer out there?

Not much argument that it’s John Fleck, longtime author of an authoritative blog on water in the Southwest ( http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/ ), former water reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, and author of an influential new book on water in the arid West, Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West.

None of those credentials, however, are evidence of Fleck’s breakneck schedule in recent months.

In August, Fleck was named director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources program. He already had served at UNM as a professor of Practice in Water Policy and Governance.

In December, Fleck served on a panel titled “communicating the drought” at the Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in Las Vegas.

Now, he’s in Tempe, where he spoke at an event organized by a trio of Arizona State University-affiliated organizations about the need to nurture collaborative water governance in response to increasing drought-driven scarcity.

“We have this ‘myth’ of water being anchored in conflict, wealth and power (in the West),” said Fleck to an audience of about 35 at the Brickyard Orchid House near ASU’s Tempe campus.

“And that myth just hasn’t played out in the last century.” Rather, he said, regional collaboration, combined with unanticipated adaptations to water scarcity (think: low-flow showerheads and toilets), have effectively “decoupled” growth in regional population from growth in water usage.

“Water use is declining (in the West) overall and on a per-capita basis,” noted Fleck. “This is a phenomenon the economists call ‘decoupling.’”

Fleck spoke at the invitation of ASU’s Future H2O, the Kyl Center at the Morrison Institute and Decision Center for a Desert City.

In the course of a question-and-answer period, Fleck acknowledged in response to an audience-member’s question that there are water-related events that are counter-factual to his thesis about rampant water collaboration.

One of those contradictory issues is the on-going question in California about what to do about the Salton Sea – the ‘accidental’ lake that is fed largely by runoff from the vast Imperial Valley farmlands. With drought and water conservation limiting flows into the Salton Sea, the potential for catastrophic wind-borne chemical pollutants filling the air in the region grows daily.

“The Salton Sea is one of those unsolved problems,” he said.