Amid crisis of waste, why not turn valley back to agriculture?

How can Albuquerque survive a major economic downturn brought on by a confluence of drought, aquifer depletion, water pollution, an oil crisis and unpredictable weather patterns? Such a mess is on the way.

First things first. Ending the war over water between predator developers and hard-up farmers and ranchers cannot be postponed. In a decentralized future of petroleum scarcity, in which national distribution networks cost too much to maintain, locally grown food is more important than new housing starts.

And fooling ourselves about desalinating water for the sake of urban growth has to stop. It's the developers' pie in the sky, feeding ever-expanding populations completely dependent on the automobile and cheap fuel.

Desalination is expensive. It leaves behind mountains of salt. Salt in soil and fresh water is a disaster. The leftovers will have to be trucked somewhere, at someone's expense. And there isn't a hole in the ground anywhere that's big enough to secure it. The only good reason I can see to desalinate is to find more water for growing edible crops in a dire emergency.

Will Albuquerque exercise its brainpower and rethink its economy into survivability? Or will it, like most other Western cities, remain paralyzed in a state of denial?

To survive the chaos and crisis down the road, we can't sustain our present oil-based, growth-crazy, throwaway economy. We need to redirect the status quo and retrofit our city. With present thinking, though, this seems almost beyond possibility.

How does a town like ours rework a national consumer economy based on waste, heedless devouring of resources, increasing centralization and an utter disregard for the principal law of ecology - that all waste, toxic and otherwise, must go somewhere? And if you don't deal with it well, it goes to places you don't want it to go.

The first task is to remove all obstacles to hope. Hope does not require optimism. It requires imagination.

Subsidizing small and big farmers, at least as much as we subsidize developers, is a good place to start. The Rio Grande used to be called the American Nile. With protection of water rights and by using waste-resistant scientific irrigation and even hydroponics, it might be again.

We need to increase agricultural production in New Mexico by even more than we plan to decrease our greenhouse-gas emissions by using renewable energy.

About 3 percent of our current food supply is locally grown. If food has to be trucked in by vehicles using increasingly costly fossil fuels, basic foodstuffs could be priced out of the reach of many people in our state.

We need to get busy. It's clear the status quo could stop working soon and that the transition between the old and the new economy had better be short, if we hope to adapt.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
August 18, 2007