As New Mexico faces another historic dry spell, can desert agriculture remain viable?
Last month my wife Susan and I drove to Phoenix to visit family. We had never spent much time there, and my relatives wanted us to see some sites they thought would interest us. They took us to two places where an ancient people had lived for about a thousand years, reaching their height of power and size between about 950 and 1350 C.E.
This society built water canal systems that, anthropologists estimate, ran for a thousand miles. From what is now downtown Phoenix they took water from the Salt River and distributed it for farming across the local valley. Further south another group did the same on the Gila River. The main channels can be up to 30 feet across and 10 feet deep, all dug by hand, and so well engineered that water planners use some of the same routes today.
In the 1947 science fiction novel Greener Than You Think, a scientist invents a powerful fertilizer intended to boost crop production and combat hunger. The salesman she hires, however, sees more business potential in lawn care, and convinces a Los Angeles homeowner to try the formula on a yellowing, “sad and sickly” front yard. When the salesman stops back the next day, the lawn is transformed. “There wasn’t a single bare spot visible in the whole lush, healthy, expanse. And it was green. Green . . . over every inch of its soft, undulating surface: a pale apple green where the blades waved to expose its underparts and a rich, dazzling emerald on top.”[i]
The lawn grows uncontrollably in the novel, and the grass ultimately takes revenge and crushes cities like a green giant. Whether or not author Ward Moore chose the L.A.