Adapt or die:
Albuquerque needs to break old habits to survive its growth

Albuquerque, today, is either on the verge of a new prosperity or at the beginning of a grinding economic collapse.

If our leadership pays attention to the future and seriously adapts the city to changes in weather, water and energy supplies, and the future necessities of urban living, Albuquerque could become a model for successful innovation in the face of impending crisis.

If our leadership continues to do what it has always done - promote growth for growth's sake - Albuquerque will be shunned for cities with more foresight, more clean water and better living conditions.

The depletion of resources that was anticipated 36 years ago, when I started writing this column, is now upon us.

What must Albuquerque do to adapt and become a more appealing place to live? I have four basic recommendations:

Become expert at personal and civic water conservation and cleanup.

Abandon pie-in-the-sky desalinization schemes that promote massive sprawl development and create, instead, infrastructure for recycling waste water, both gray water and treated effluent.

Cloudcroft, New Mexico, is one of the first places in the country to do it. And San Diego and Los Angeles will soon follow, as temperatures rise and decrease the snowpack in the High Sierras.

Albuquerque cannot rely on water from the Colorado River, as the snowpack that feeds the San Juan Chama project is also declining. Both desalinization and recycling use a filtration process similar to kidney dialysis called reverse osmosis. It costs a fortune in energy. A big recycling plant would require a power plant all its own, not to mention a vast public works plumbing project. We better start getting used to those costs right now, and the costs of cleaning up pollution in our aquifer.

Take care of local businesses and cultural institutions first. For Albuquerque to remain a desirable place to live in hard times, Albuquerque must continue to be Albuquerque. Instead of giving massive subsidies to international corporations who care nothing for local labor or culture, give subsidies and tax breaks to local contractors, local infill developers and builders, local manufacturers and shopkeepers and local publishers and arts institutions who generate most of our jobs.

Help them compete; don't bring in global carpetbaggers to compete against them.

Tie all future growth to the water supply and market-reliable forecasting of oil reserves. This means making a public investment in mass transit of all kinds, limiting new highway construction, retrofitting old highways to accommodate alternative transportation, and giving no one, local or national, a deal on water they can't prove they own.

Increase our homegrown food supply from 3 percent to 70 percent as fast as possible to help ward off calamitous spikes in trucked-in food as oil scarcity drives up gas prices.

There's much more to be done, but that's a good start.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
September 28, 2007