Durango braves wave of bad Press

It’s been a tough summer in the Durango self-image department. In a matter of weeks, the town went from darling of the tourist trade to poster child for natural disasters - fires, drought, mud flows, rock slides, fish die-offs and floods. And now, just when we thought it was safe to go back to watching or reading the national media, we are bestowed with the dubious distinction of conspicuous water consumers.

In case you haven’t heard, the colossus of the publishing world, Time Magazine, recently took Durango to task for its flagrant waste of water in the midst of what are possibly the worst drought conditions in the United States.
“Local farmers are suffering through the worst drought in memory, so why is the golf course green?” asks the article’s author, Terry McCarthy. Specifically, McCarthy mentions El Patio, which uses outdoor misters to cool “diners” and the golf course (presumably Hillcrest) that has fairways greener than “fresh limes.”

He goes on to say that, in the name of preserving our “oasis environment,” we use 6 million gallons of water a day - water that would otherwise “feed the Colorado River” (not to mention millions of starving swimming pools in Las Vegas and L.A., as City Manager Bob Ledger points out.)

McCarthy pours salt in the wound by comparing the town to Aspen and Telluride, a home for wealthy retirees but with a crappier economy riddled by restaurant lay-offs. And since the summer’s fires have apparently put an end to most hiking, as he asserts, there is little else to do but drive our pickups out onto the dry bed of Lemon Reservoir to “make doughnut shapes with our tires” and, of course, dream up new ways to expend all that water just flowing on by.

It’s not a pretty picture: an enclave of heathens, who, when not whipping shitties at the local reservoir, shamelessly watering their lawns, preferably at high noon, sporting muscle-Ts to show off beer guts cultivated during a summer of drinking margs under the misters at El Patio and downing beers on the emerald turf of the Hillcrest back nine.

With such a portrayal going out across the country, it’s easy to get a little defensive. For starters, some would make a case for misters, saying they beat energy-guzzling air conditioners while helping to keep summertime bodily odors at bay. Others would argue there’s nothing wrong with fresh limes on the golf course, and in fact, they go great with cold beers on a hot day.

However, McCarthy’s depiction is particularly painful to those of us who spent countless hours meticulously connecting and burying low-flow, soaker hoses, shoveling water-preserving mulch, saving gray water for the garden, seeking out xeric plants and rising at the crack of dawn to water what little of our yards we had left. I will even admit, at the risk of being publicly ostracized, that for a while I was so scared of a water shortage that I adopted an every-three-days-or-so showering regimen (which isn’t as bad as it sounds given the modern miracle of deodorant). My car hasn’t been washed in so long I forgot what color it is, and I’m sure I’ve earned the moniker “watering nazi” from more than one neighbor who’s been a recipient of my water-conservation sermon.
Of course, none of this erases the two biggest problems facing us: 1) we live in a desert and 2) rampant growth is threatening to gobble up all the water, leaving farmers high and dry. Have we not learned one damn thing, McCarthy asks, from our ill-fated forebearers, the Ancestral Puebloans, who met an untimely and merciless demise, mostly as a result of their own unbridled growth?

True, living in the West can be construed as ludicrous. And if that is the case, may I ask, where then is a sane place to live? Texas and Oklahoma, which are plagued by summertime tornadoes? The Gulf Coast, which receives regular batterings from hurricanes? Or perhaps the frigid north, where temperatures send people scurrying indoors to their heated homes for the greater part of the winter? Perhaps we should all move east, where water is usually plentiful but every available piece of land has been privatized, subdivided and parceled out. We could abandon the West, chalk it up to failed experiences, and unmanifest our destiny.

But that’s not very likely, is it?

And what McCarthy fails to expand upon (and what those unfamiliar with water issues in the West won’t realize reading his article) is that Durango is not an isolated pocket of hedonism, wantonly scheming up new ways to hoard water from others. Rather, the history of water in the West runs deep and wide, starting on the West Coast (San Francisco included) and winding its way east, through Reno, Vegas, St. George, Boise, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake, Moab, Denver and Albuquerque, to name a few. Of course, encapsulating all of this into a short story on Durango, its one municipal golf course, a struggling farmer and a restaurant that mists patrons with water is so much easier. But McCarthy should be forewarned: He is treading not only in precious but deep, tumultuous waters. And summing up the West’s messy water woes in one neat package is unfair, not only to Durango but millions of unenlightened readers who are left with an extremely truncated view of the issue.

- Missy Votel





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