The Highs and Lows of Growing Weed

Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of marijuana and more states are likely to follow. Marijuana sales have been on fire. In 2017, sales were expected to reach $9.7 billion, and analysts are predicting sales of $24.5 billion by 2021, as new states enter the market. Yet, behind the “green gold rush”, an insidious story is unfolding. One fostered by the green and the greed which comes with it. Ultimately one that kills.

MJ
Image Source: Getty Images

It’s well known that Mexican drug cartels are growing weed in remote locations of U.S. national forests. California has been hit the hardest by this illegal activity. As reported by Reuter’s, there are an estimated 50,000 grow sites in California which is believed to comprise about 90% of all illegal pot farming in the United States.  Even with the state’s recent legalization of marijuana, officials expect only about 16,000 of these growers to seek commercial cultivation licenses.

Lack of law enforcement in these vast, remote areas is exploited by growers. The illegal operators are emboldened by limited oversight and will defend their turf if they feel threatened. The Atlantic online article noting that “Growers have followed, detained, threatened, pursued, and shot at officers and civilians, including scientists and field techs. One Forest Service biologist who stumbled upon a grow site in Sequoia National Forest was chased for close to an hour by armed growers.”

Not only are these areas unsafe for any unsuspecting soul rambling about, they are often havens for extremely toxic chemicals used as pesticides or rodenticides. Reuter’s published an online article which details how growers are using “fertilizers and pesticides long restricted or banned in the United States, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide.”  These chemicals are so toxic that enforcement officials have been hospitalized after touching plants treated with these chemicals or handling equipment used in their application. Now imagine smoking or ingesting some of that.

Other lethal chemicals found on remote grow sites include aluminum phosphide, for killing rodents and insects; bromadiolone, a restricted-use neurotoxic rodenticide; brodifacoum, an anticoagulant rodenticide; and malathion, an organophosphate insecticide that’s been compared to a watered-down version of the nerve agent sarin.

There is concern that some of these toxin-laden plants are infiltrating legalized medicinal marijuana markets, potentially impacting people with serious health conditions like AIDS or cancer. The Atlantic article noted that “studies and investigations in Colorado and Oregon have found pesticides on marijuana in legal dispensaries, including in products that were supposedly certified pesticide-free.”

Unsuspecting wildlife has taken the greatest hit. In addition to the rodents targeted by growers, the toxic materials have worked their way up the food chain. Researchers at the University of California – Davis revealed that tissue samples from spotted owls and barred owls tested positive for rat poison.  This is a significant concern because the northern spotted owls are listed as a threatened species under federal and state Endangered Species acts.

Other animals found dead at grow sites include Pacific fishers, bears, vultures, foxes, and deer; presumably from ingesting one or more of these chemicals. There are even concerns about cattle being poisoned by marijuana farms. These illicit activities also impact and kill aquatic organisms; including fish.

Another pressing concern for California is the impact on local water supplies. California just came out of a 15-year drought. Conditions got so bad in 2015 that Governor Jerry Brown imposed mandatory water reductions of 25% on residents, businesses, and farms. The restrictions continued until March of 2017.

Marijuana is known to be a high-water crop. State officials suggest that growers are watering each plant with about 6 gallons of water per day. Multiply that by 50,000 grow sites and thousands of plants per site and you have monumental water use. As reported in The Atlantic, “the 1.1 million illegal pot plants removed in California in 2016 would have used somewhere around 1.3 billion gallons of water—as much as 10,000 average California households do in a year.” This water use figure becomes even more daunting when you consider enforcement officials consider that 50,000 grow sites state-wide is likely to be a low estimate.

To help regulate excessive water use for cannabis growers, the California State Water Board has established specific “Cannabis Cultivation Water Rights” to help protect stream flows, wetlands, aquatic habitats and even groundwater from negative impacts of cannabis cultivation. These regulations will be applied to legal cultivators of weed but it is extremely unlikely any illegal grower will even acknowledge such regulations.

Illegal growers are only interested in a successful harvest and not in helping the environment. Several reports have verified the intentional destruction of wetland areas, extensive diversion of stream flows, excessive pumping of groundwater as well as toxic chemicals leaching into soils and waterways, potentially impacting downstream users.

Unfortunately, these destructive practices are likely to continue as long as there is a demand for illegal marijuana. Some advocates suggest that legalization in all states will stop or greatly reduce illegal cultivation since the industry will become highly regulated. Until that happens, conditions are likely to remain the same.

Right now, the best thing that legal marijuana users can do for themselves and the environment is to find out where and how their pot is grown. Any legitimate dispensary should be willing to provide that information. If they can’t, shop somewhere else. This issue is too important to go up in smoke.

“One Word…Plastics”

You may remember this iconic line offered as career advice to young Benjamin Braddock in the 1967 movie The Graduate. Its delivery seemed to foreshadow a revolution in convenience which has clearly come to pass. Everywhere we look we see plastics – in ours homes, in our cars, in our businesses and certainly in the environment. Unfortunately, this innovation in convenience has come at a high price.

Plastic Waste
Man canoeing in a sea of plastics. Photo source: unknown.

The impact of plastics on our environment is shocking. In 1997, racing boat Captain Charles Moore was the first to discover the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a collection of marine debris (mostly plastics) spanning from the west coast of America to Japan!

The size of the Garbage Patch is so large that Dianna Parker, of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program, stated NOAA “has estimated that it would take 67 ships one year to clean up less than one percent of the North Pacific Ocean.” It’s an international pollution problem that is too big for any one country to address by itself, so it repeatedly gets placed on the back burner.

Plastics don’t biodegrade, they just break down into tinier and tinier particles, called microplastics, which impact global food webs. They collect near the surface of the oceans, blocking sunlight from reaching plankton and algae, the primary producers of the ocean. This means there’s less food for primary consumers, like turtles and fish which results in less food for larger consumers or predators, like sharks and tuna. This ultimately could mean less food for humans.

It’s not just small pieces of plastic that are a problem. National Geographic website reveals “loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food. Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs.” Larger marine life, like seals, get entangled in abandoned plastic fishing nets and drown.

Seal in plastic
Photo Credit: See Common Dreams. “A seal trapped in plastic pollution. Environmental advocates are concerned that a rise in plastics production will bring the world’s oceans to a state of “near-permanent” pollution.” (Photo: Nels Israelson/Flickr/cc)

Plastics are not just in the ocean. Research by Orb Media, with assistance from the State University of New York at Fredonia and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, has shown that every major water source in the world now has microplastics in it. They are also in our drinking water, including some of the top U.S. bottled water brands. Specifically, they found more than 80 percent of the samples they collected on five continents tested positive for the presence of plastic fibers. Notably, the “US had the highest levels of contamination at 94.4 percent”.

Orb Media - microparticles
Photo Credit: Orb Media. Dyed laboratory filter paper highlights plastic fibers.  See Orb Media online report.

Scarier still is some of these microparticles are small enough to move through our bodies and travel to our lymph nodes.  Forester Network reported some researchers acknowledge that “chemicals from plastics are a constant part of our daily diet.” Research professor, Scott Belcher, PhD, shared with Orb Media “…these plastics are breaking down and leaching chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting plasticizers like BPA or phthalates, flame retardants, and even toxic heavy metals that are all absorbed into our diets and bodies.”

Even more disconcerting is how pervasive plastic is. Chris Tyree, a journalist with Orb Media, contends “the shear amount (of plastic) we are consuming is mind boggling. We’ve practically created more plastic in the last decade than in the last century. If plastic were a country, it would have the world’s 20th largest economy.”

Regardless of all the issues with plastic, its market is growing at a rapid pace. Common Dreams recently reported that various fossil fuel companies, including Exxon and Shell, “have poured more than $180 billion into the creation of plastics facilities that are expected to create a 40 percent rise in production of the material over the next decade.”  That’s a massive increase in a very short amount of time.

The prognosis for our continued plastic dependence looks bleak. Yet, there’s always room for hope.  Major changes in the way society functions have resulted from a few brave souls stepping forward to become way-showers for others.  Could you be one of them?

Is Water Service a Privilege?

A disturbing trend involving access to water is emerging in the United States. People in communities around the country are struggling to stay connected to their local water services, primarily due to large price increases. Lower-income households are being hit the hardest and unlike with other utilities, financial assistance is usually not available. This begs the question of whether access to water should be considered a moral obligation or a privilege?faucet

Certainly, in our country’s early history, access to water was far from a God given right. Early pioneers had to walk to creeks, streams or rivers to get the water they needed for daily life. Over time, technology in the form of windmills and wells and then electric pumps and wells, made getting water from the ground easier and easier. Now our country has a vast system of dams, reservoirs, canals, wells and pipes to deliver water precisely where and when it is needed.

In this modern era of seemingly abundant water, should access be limited to only those who can pay for it? Our gut reaction may be ‘no’ but our wallets may be saying something else.

There are several reasons for the substantial increase in water service costs. In December 2017, Michigan State University (MSU) published research concluding the main reasons behind rising water rates include aging infrastructure, shrinking populations in urban areas and climate change.

Other factors contributing to burgeoning water prices are mentioned in a 2017 Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study. This study discusses the need to recover costs due to declining demand (often a result of conservation programs) as well as rising operations and maintenance costs, all of which contribute to higher rates.

A loss of government funding hasn’t helped the situation. As noted in a University of Pennsylvania online article, Congress switched from offering grants which covered up to 75% of water infrastructure, to offering loans. This change means that local communities are now fully responsible for their water projects and are expected to repay the loans. Due to all these issues, cities and towns have raised rates to cover costs.

Exactly how to handle increasing service costs is a compelling conundrum. In 2016, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) highlighted the growing problem of water unaffordability in the United States. The UUSC report notes the “cost of household water services has risen 40% from 2010 to 2015” in some major U.S. cities.  Couple this with MSU research projections estimating  that “the number of U.S. households unable to afford water could triple in five years, to nearly 36 percent” and you can quickly see the significance of the problem.

Rising rates combined with inflation have crippled lower-income households. The UUSC report notes that in “some communities’ water and sanitation services command 4–19% of monthly household income, well beyond what could be considered affordable” for people in the lowest 20% income bracket. Internationally, its agreed that expenses for water and sewer services should not exceed between 2-5% of household income.

As troubling as all this data is, the crux of the problem may lie in the ever-widening gap between the wealthy and the poor in this country. As reported in a March 22, 2016 Circle of Blue online article, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the U.S. Census Bureau has data showing the income of the top 5% of American households increased 60% between 1980 and 2014 while the bottom 10% had incomes that fell over the same period.

As the old saying goes, “the poor get poorer and the rich get richer” and now there’s data to prove it.

 

The Price of Comfort

It may surprise some Americans to know that within our thriving, capitalist culture there is a growing segment of people living in third world conditions, with limited access to water and proper sanitation. What is not surprising is most of these people live in or on the edge of poverty. In an era of large corporate tax cuts and the slashing of social welfare programs, what will become of people without access to services most of us consider essential?

The prognoses for their return to normalcy looks bleak. Researchers at Michigan State University are projecting “the number of U.S. households unable to afford water could triple in five years, to nearly 36 percent”. The study concluded there are three main factors behind rising water rates: aging infrastructure, shrinking populations in urban areas and climate change.

Population trends show wealthier citizens moving out of inner cities and into the suburbs, leaving lower income residents to fend off the costs of large, aging infrastructures. Detroit is a perfect example of this type of mass exodus of wealth out of large cities.

In a March 22, 2016 online article, Circle of Blue reporter Brett Walton describes how after World War II, Detroit was the wealthiest city in America with a population of 1.8 million people, 80% of whom were white. Now its population is 680,000 (less than half of its peak) and 80% black with 40% percent of them living below the poverty level. Walton states “Those remaining have inherited the legacy costs of a city built for an absent 1 million people.”

Detroit is not the only city facing an uphill water pricing battle. A December 13, 2017 Circle of Blue online report featured a similar story for Philadelphia. The piece notes how the Philadelphia Water Department has about 86,000 household accounts, but one in five accounts have had their water shut off at least once over the last 5 years largely because of overdue bills. The culprit here is not only lack of money but also local policy.

The problems of aging infrastructure are well known among the utilities sector. This issue has been highlighted over the past several years in various technical media. The 2012 American Water Works Association (AWWA) report “Buried No Longer – Confronting America’s Water Infrastructure Challenge” revealed that “restoring existing water systems and expanding them to serve a growing population will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.”

In a 2016 American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) report, every American household is projected to lose $3,400 annually between 2016 and 2025 because of deteriorating infrastructure. Furthermore, the 2016 ASCE report contends the economic impact of America’s infrastructure issues could cost 2.5 million jobs by 2025 and up to 5.8 million jobs by 2040 if appropriate investments are not made.  Clearly, the time to act is now.

In addition to aging infrastructure and shrinking urban populations, climate change has been implicated in future water pricing trends. Scientists are increasingly finding evidence directly linking extreme weather events to human-caused climate change, suggesting that observed trends are likely to continue.

This is startling when you consider The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released a compilation of “U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather & Climate Disasters 1980-2017”. In the report they detail 218 weather and climate disasters that have occurred since 1980 in which overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. As we have seen again this past year with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, these large weather events are becoming more common. If this trend continues, we have to ask how much more can our economy take?

If our overall economy is at risk, what chance do our poorest citizens have of maintaining basic services? There must be a better way.

From Pesky to Pestilent

A pesky, purple cartoon mosquito adorned T-shirts given out by the Massachusetts General Hospital blood donor program in the 1990s, encouraging participants to “Starve a Mosquito – Donate Blood.” This whimsical, uplifting logo once used to promote blood donation might be given second thought today as a plethora of mosquito-caused diseases have been spreading around the world.

Mosquito

In 2015 and 2016, news media covered numerous stories on the Zika virus transmitted by species of mosquitos called Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. The primary concern being pregnant women infected with Zika having a higher probability of giving birth to children with a serious birth defect known as microcephaly, in which the brain and head are underdeveloped.

One of the areas hardest hit by Zika was Brazil. A July 14, 2017 article on the USA Today website noted a significant spike in microcephaly cases since the outbreak. Specifically, they stated “Brazilian health officials have confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly since the Zika outbreak began, about 10 times more than usual.”

This year, Brazil has been hit with yet another bout of mosquito-induced illness. This time Yellow Fever, a serious viral infection that can lead to organ failure, coma and possibly death. A June 8th, 2017 article in the Arizona Republic reported that at least 263 Brazilians had contracted Yellow Fever and that “the current outbreak is the nation’s worst on record.”

What was even more interesting is a possible link with climate change. According to the Arizona Republic article, the epicenter of the yellow fever outbreak “just recovered from their worst drought in 80 years.” A situation which can be taken advantage of by mosquitos whose “eggs can survive dry weather in a state of suspended animation” for years at a time.  Once the rains come, several years-worth of eggs may hatch at once, facilitating an outbreak.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that climate change is solely responsible for the Yellow Fever outbreak. Still, it does make you wonder what other diseases or disasters are waiting to be unleashed as environmental conditions fluctuate.

Fortunately, there are organizations studying scenarios where climate change and disease may coincide. One of these groups is the World Health Organization (WHO), whose primary role is to assist with international health issues for countries within the United Nations’ system.

WHO has been studying the connections between climate change and infectious disease for years. In 2003, WHO published a lengthy report on “Climate Change and Human Health – Risks and Responses.” Chapter 6 of the Report includes several “observed and predicted climate/infectious disease links”, which details how environmental changes may impact 14 different infectious diseases. (Much of their research can be found on their website at www.who.int.)

As the pendulum swings backward on climate change initiatives here in the United States, it’s good to know there are organizations and associations with a more progressive agenda.  At some point, our right-leaning government will have to come back to center and start acknowledging climate change is real. Our planet cannot afford to have one of the top industrialized nations in the world continue to favor the partisan interests of a few at the expense of the many.

Until commonsense prevails and public policy changes, pesky mosquitoes in some parts of the world will continue to be the source of pestilence around the world.

Are we collectively prepared to accept this outcome?

Southwest Water History – The American Canal – Part 1

Historically, water has always been a problem in the American southwest. In the 19th century, the problem was either too much water or too little. Too much came in the form of sporadic, intense storms producing uncontrollable flood waters which destroyed everything in its path. Too little resulted from prolonged drought conditions or attempts to irrigate cropland in areas where water wasn’t available.

imperial-valley-hundley-p-52
Image Source: Hundley, “Water and the West, p 52. See below for full reference. 

 

In the mid 1800’s, the 49’ers headed to California to seek their fortunes in the gold rush. Most of them were unsuccessful in their quest for riches but a few took note of promising lands along the way. One of those early pioneers was Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft who made note of the fertile land area now known as the Imperial Valley.

Soil was good there. Its richness consistently replenished by erosional deposits from the Colorado River as it made its way to the ocean. Periodically the river tore through its upper banks, dumping silt into the Salton Sink basin which sits below sea level. The basin’s topography is unique. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides and bordered on the east by the Sonora Desert and on the north by the Colorado Desert. Due to the mountain ranges, rainfall is limited averaging only three inches per year. Yet the high temperatures, fertile soil and abundant sunlight were perfect conditions for agriculture. The problem was how to get water to crops.

Wozencraft saw great potential in the land. He connected with Ebenezer Hadley, a surveyor with San Diego County, to figure out a way to irrigate the land using the Alamo canal, an overflow channel of the Colorado River which flows through Mexico before heading back into the US. The reason for the canal diversion south of the border was to bypass “the large shifting sand dunes that separated the river from the valley on the American side of the border.”1

Unfortunately, his vision of a fertile land would never come to fruition. Mainly because he felt the need to own the land the irrigation canal would be built upon. His attempts to persuade the California legislature to support his request for a grant of 1,600 miles of public domain land were rejected by Congress. Ultimately, he “spent the remaining 25 years of his life and his entire personal fortune trying to convince Congress to change its mind.”2

Forty-three years later, Charles R. Rockwood saw the incredible potential of this same land. He, too, realized water was the key to its development and began planning a means to bring water to the area. He created the California Development Company and sought funding from financial centers in both America and Europe. He also “enlisted the help of famed engineer George Chaffey” to figure out a way to tap the river’s water and bring it inland to the valley.3

Similar to Wozencraft’s vision, Chaffey’s irrigation design fed water through the Alamo overflow canal for delivery to the US. Rockwood’s dream was realized on June 21, 1901 when the first water reached the valley. A land boom followed. “Within eight months, 2,000 settlers had arrived, the towns of Imperial and Calexico were laid out, 400 miles of canals and laterals were built and 100,000 acres readied for cultivation.”4 By 1909 the population swelled to 15,000 with 160,000 acres being irrigated.

In spite of its initial success, there were problems controlling the diversion route south of the border. Rockwood negotiated an agreement with border land owner Guillermo Andrade to purchase the 100,000 acres on which the canal sat. For payment, Andrade not only wanted cash but water rights. In fact, he demanded “all water necessary…for the irrigation of the other lands” he owned below the border which was over 600,000 acres.5 Rockwood agreed to Andrade’s rather tall order because he felt the increase in land value would more than compensate for the cost of the land and the canal system.

The initial success of the diversion canal would be short lived. The Rockwood-Andrade agreement ruffled the feathers of the Mexican government who became concerned the river flow might be reduced or exhausted by canal users. The Mexican ambassador complained to Washington about a possible treaty violation without success.

In the meantime, in the winter of 1903-1904, the intake for the Imperial Valley canal silted up and the flow of water never reached many residents. Crop losses and lawsuits ensued. More bad news would follow. In 1905, an usually wet winter and spring would result in 5 floods breaching the canal, allowing the Colorado River to pour into the area and decimate the cropland. Financial ruin would force Rockwood to turn over his California Development Company to the Southern Pacific Railroad for help.

Prior to the devastating flood waters, Rockwood had a series of political setbacks as well. He was feeling pressured by the newly formed Reclamation Service which was interested in building four large reservoirs along the Colorado River to reclaim 90,000 acres in Arizona’s Yuma Valley. The Reclamation Service wanted to include the Imperial Valley in its scheme to help reduce the overall cost involved. If the Reclamation Service was successful in its attempts, he would soon be out of business.

He scrambled to get the War Department to give him permission to divert the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley north of the border. Since the river was technically deemed navigable by the US, the War Department was the agency to deal with. The War Department refused saying “it could not approve projects already completed.”6 He appealed to Congress and was shot down.

Much to his dismay, to prevent the Reclamation Service from imposing upon him, he felt compelled to work out a deal with the Mexican government to cut an intake to the river. This deal included some extremely onerous conditions. The government demanded half of the water diverted and the authority to set the water rates for Mexican lands as well as specify where the water would be used. The Mexican government wouldn’t allow Rockwood to sell or partner with any foreign government. The arrangement was “subject only to Mexican judicial system and any appeal or grievance to a foreign power would terminate the agreement.”7 As a result, when the floods did hit, Rockwood could not ask the US Government for help. Instead he went to the Southern Pacific Railroad for assistance. He was fortunate they were willing to assist and had the resources to do so.

Ultimately, the flood event proved to be too much to bear, even for the Southern Pacific. The company went into receivership with both Mexican and American creditors. Chaos ensued with both sides of the border wanting different things. The canal system went unmanaged for years and was left to deteriorate as all sides worked through the complicated receivership process.

Valley residents were understandably upset. They had grown tired of the onerous conditions imposed by the Mexican government and the inability of Rockwood’s company to manage water delivery. They demanded public ownership of the water supply system. Furthermore, they wanted to avoid any further overreach of the Mexican government. They wanted an “All American Canal.”

 

References

The primary reference for this article was “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West” by Norris Hundley, Jr. Most points are paraphrased. Direct quotes are referenced below.

  1. Hundley, Norris Jr. “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West”, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975, p. 20.
  2. Ibid, Hundley, p. 20
  3. Ibid, Hundley, p. 21
  4. Ibid, Hundley, p. 21
  5. Ibid, Hundley, p. 22
  6. Ibid, Hundley, p. 25
  7. Ibid, Hundley, p. 26

Arizona Water History – Marshaling Martial Law

Arizona’s history is colored by feuds and fights; the most famous being the OK Corral in Tombstone. One of the most protracted fights in Arizona history was with California over water allocations from the Colorado River.  Political leaders on both states fought bitterly over water rights for decades. Threats of fistfights and filibusters were written into the history of the Seventieth US Congress. Ultimately the water allocations issue was resolved in a Supreme Court battle which lasted over 11 years, included 340 witnesses, 50 lawyers and produced 25,000 pages of testimony – as well as one whimsical war story along the way.1

The rumbling started when Arizona refused to sign the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Arizona saw the compact as an aggressive push by California to secure river water at their expense. The compact divided the Colorado River into two basins, an upper and a lower one, with each basin allotted 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually. Arizona, California and Nevada were part of the lower basin while Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico were part of the upper basin. Under this scheme, Nevada would receive 300,000 acre-feet of water annually, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet per year and California 4.4 million acre-feet per year. To Arizona, the inequity was obvious and they weren’t going to sign.

Politics being politics, a “legal” means of moving the project forward without Arizona’s consent was devised and the compact was signed into law by mid-1925. Throughout the three year delay, California had been feverishly working on moving forward with an All-American Canal to divert large portions of the Colorado River into the southern part of the state. Congress passed the “Boulder Canyon Project Act” which included provisions for the All-American Canal and the construction of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) on the Colorado River. The pot was being stirred and simmering.

Then California stepped over the proverbial line in the sand. They decided to build another dam, Parker Dam, on the Colorado River without asking Arizona for permission. Arizona’s fourth Governor Benjamin Moeur was boiling mad. He called on the Arizona National Guard to do some reconnaissance work.  Six soldiers were dispatched to Parker Arizona for observation and patrolled the dam construction site for several months.2

Moeur was “something of a stereotype” and “known for his short temper and profanity.”3 He was also very generous. Being a physician, he often offered “free medical consultations in the capital during his lunch hours. And he was known for writing off his patients’ medical debts every Christmas.”4 His generosity apparently had limits and one of them was California trying to take water away from Arizona.

His patience was tested in November 1934 when California decided to begin construction of a trestle bridge that would connect to Arizona.5 This action prompted Moeur to declare martial law and he dispatched 100 Arizona National Guard troops to block construction on Arizona’s land.6

He also started the first official Navy in landlocked Arizona when he authorized a ferryboat operator in Parker to transport the troops across the Colorado River.7 The Governor declared ferryboat owner and 17 year operator, Nellie Bush, as the Admiral of his new Navy. She would be in command of the ships.8

fa_1281_0334julieb1940
March 1934: The “Julia B.” Colorado River ferry during the so-called Parker Dam War. After several members of the Arizona National Guard used the vessel to scout the river, the “Julia B.” was dubbed the flageship of the Arizona “Navy.” This photo was published in the March, 8, 1934 Los Angeles Times.

At one point, the troops got in a bit of a pickle when one of the ferryboats got snagged in the river during a nighttime reconnaissance mission and “construction workers from the enemy state of California had to rescue them.9 The press had a field day with the news of “enemies” helping out the Arizona troops.

Can you picture this scene? A woman Naval commander, unheard of at the time, asking hearty male construction workers for assistance in freeing their boat. I’m sure the scene went sort of this: “Excuse me gentlemen, we seem to be in a bit of a bind. Would you mind helping to free us from this snag. Thank you so much.” Can you imagine what the construction workers as well as the Arizona troops were thinking?

In spite of this whimsical incident, the ferryboat Navy and the National Guard troops meant business. Forty members of the new Navy rode on the riverboats while twenty machine gunners were stationed on the shoreline to prevent construction on “the sacred soil of old Arizona.”10

In the end, Arizona won the Parker Dam battle as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, intervened and halted construction. A court case ensued and on April 29, 1935, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s right to object and interfere with the construction.11 Arizona felt vindicated and used this victory as a means to negotiate a deal to create its own irrigation system; the Gila River irrigation project.12 Parker Dam was completed three years later in 1938. The resulting Lake Havasu Reservoir now provides water to both southern California and to Arizona.

What happened to the infamous Admiral Nellie T. Bush? She became quite well known in Arizona. She was a justice of the peace in Parker, served in the state legislature and became a lawyer – passing the bar in both California and Arizona. She was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982.13

References:

  1. August, Jack L Jr. “Shaped by Water: An Arizona Historical Perspective” in Arizona Water Policy – Management Solutions in an Urbanizing, Arid Region. Bonnie G. Colby and Katharine Jacobs, editors. Resources for the Future. Washington. 2007. p. 18.
  2. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  3. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  4. Ibid, Stanley.
  5. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  6. Ibid, Harrison.
  7. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  8. Rodriquez, Nadine Arroyo. Did You Know: Arizona Navy Deployed In 1934. KJZZ Radio. Posted 4 September 2014. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017
  9. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  10. Ibid, Stanley.
  11. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  12. Spencer, Monica. This Is The Single Craziest Thing You Never Knew Happened In Arizona. Only in Your State Website. Posted 10 May 2016. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  13. Rodriquez, Nadine Arroyo. Did You Know: Arizona Navy Deployed In 1934. KJZZ Radio. Posted 4 September 2014. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017

Photo Credit: From Los Angeles Times archives as displayed in “The Parker Dam War” by Scott Harrison.

Original photo caption:

March 1934: The “Julia B”, a Colorado River ferry, is seen during the so-called Parker Dam War. After several members of the Arizona National Guard used the vessel to scout the river, the ferry was dubbed the flagship of the Arizona Navy. This photo was published March 8, 1934 by the Los Angeles Times.