Thinking ahead:
Why are we planning for growth when we need to cut back?

Population predictions for greater metro Albuquerque over the next l8 years seem delusional. If we top a million people by 2025, it will be a double-edged miracle.

On the good side, it will mean New Mexico had done something no place in the country has managed to do - solve its water, energy, transportation and sustainable agriculture issues. It also means that global warming and peak oil declines had somehow reversed themselves.

On the bad side, this part of the Middle Rio Grande Valley, overgrown as it already is, will have been suburbanized beyond all recognition and become more of a generic, unsustainable urban landscape than ever.

But neither situation will come to pass. A very different future is ahead, unless Albuquerque gets some visionary local and national leadership and begins to plan realistically for a time of chaotic and rapid change.

If we don't stop wasting public resources on growth that could well end up impoverishing us all, I see a systems breakdown caused by bad water, water shortages and aquifer depletion, traffic congestion, air pollution, astronomical fuel prices, global warming, drought and increasingly expensive trucked-in food.

The systems breakdown and drought in the West will cause a growing exodus from California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico to the Midwest and East Coast, where water and public transit and agriculture are more stable.

If the mountain snowpacks in California and Colorado continue to recede, as they will during the next 18 years, unless we do the impossible and reverse global warming, ruinous things will happen.

Every state that depends on the Colorado River for some of its water will be left drier than ever. In Albuquerque, that means not only will our aquifer continue to shrink, but our water table in the valley will lower drastically, affecting agriculture just when we need to start growing more of our own food.

California's shrinking snowpack, which is the source of the vast majority of its water, will have an impact on New Mexico. California desalinization and recycling processes will require massive new amounts of energy. And chances are that will have to come from coal-fired power plants in Navajo-owned parts of New Mexico and other coal-rich areas, heating up global warming. Long waits for nuclear power would be impractical.

Without new river water, it's possible Albuquerque would need to recycle its water with a budget-busting reverse osmosis process that requires not only new energy but also a whole new infrastructure.

If you could foresee that cheap fuel and cheap water were on the way out, as most of the world can, would it be responsible to keep on growing, when you should be cutting back and using the interim time to plan ahead for a viable, realistic future?

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
October 12, 2007