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by Cultural Survival Trumps Development
Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012 at 12:29 PM
The use of propaganda to coerce transfer of indigenous populations from their homeland and cultural base is a violation of the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and could be defined as cultural genocide. Will this be the legacy of SNWA General Manager Patricia Mulroy's pipeline?
For several years the (SNWA) Southern Nevada Water Authority’s General Manager Patricia Mulroy has relentlessly pursued the pipeline proposal to remove billions of gallons of water each year from distant aquifers. The Snake, Spring and Delmar aquifer systems are 287 miles to the north of Las Vegas and are targeted by the SNWA’s pipeline for removal. Despite the objections of numerous scientists and public testimony by National Park Service hydrologist Dr. Paula Cutillo who said that the aquifer cannot support this type of withdrawal without a 200 foot drop, the SNWA forges ahead with their pipeline plan. Like a mad sea captain steering the ship straight into an oncoming storm, SNWA General Manager Mulroy ignores the warning signs of ecosystem collapse and cultural genocide following aquifer overdraft.
Within the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights there are several criteria required for an action to be considered cultural genocide. One of those criteria is the forced removal or displacement of an indigenous people from their homeland. This occurred during the infamous Trail of Tears when the Cherokee were marched from the Carolinas into Oklahoma against their wishes. It was impossible for the Cherokee to continue practicing their culture as the climate and ecology of Oklahoma was far removed from their indigenous homeland in the Carolinas. The loss of cultural practices and forced assimilation into another culture not their own is the textbook example of cultural genocide, though there wasn’t any U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights to protect the Cherokee from the Trail of Tears.
Today we would like to consider ourselves somewhat more enlightened than to advocate forced relocation of sovereign indigenous nations residing in North America, yet the reality of the SNWA’s declared intent to construct their pipeline contradicts this theory of increased enlightenment. The aquifer water level will decrease drastically from the SNWA pipeline withdrawal and dry up the springs that the ecosystem requires for survival. The entire culture of the Goshute Nation depends upon these spring fed ecosystems to continue existing intact. The loss of the springs not only physically deprives the Goshute of their own water, it disconnects them from the spring fed ecosystem that provided fish, fowl and game for their people over many centuries. These springs would have continued to flow into the future without interruption, though the proposed SNWA pipeline would remove enough water from the aquifer to lower the water table until it could not flow out from the springs. The aquifers of the Snake and Spring Valley region that borders along and beneath the Goshute Nation’s ancestral homeland were filled during a much wetter climate than our current one, meaning that the springs cannot produce any additional water than what was stored beneath them remaining from the ancient climate that had significantly more rainfall than today. These aquifers cannot remain stable with any additional excessive withdrawals than the already precarious balance between the lower rates of rainfall inadequately refilling the aquifer to levels it cannot achieve as it had before. The springs maintain their flow as there is enough refill from yearly precipitation to maintain the current levels at their present locations. Even the locals who only extract small amounts for irrigation purposes and small scale ranching with runoff returns to the same aquifer can extract too much water and temporarily dry out springs. Since minor variables such as drought years and excessive extraction by locals are enough to reduce spring flows, it follows that the much larger extraction amounts proposed by the SNWA pipeline would permanently dry out springs throughout the region.
The Snake and Spring Valley aquifer system is interconnected from east to west beneath the Snake Range. The northeastern edge borders along the Goshute Nation’s homeland and the southeastern edge enters into southwestern Utah. Removal of excessive water from any part of the Snake or Spring Valley aquifer will drop water levels across the entire region as a result of the interconnected system. This level drop will dry out the springs that the Goshute depend upon and the loss of water will be a significant deterrent for them to stay there and remain culturally intact. The difference between the Goshute removal and the Cherokee Trail of Tears is that the modern day cultural genocide against the Goshute is more subtle and deceptive while the older cultural genocide against the Cherokee was overt and used direct force of guns.
However, removal of water from beneath one’s home is enough of a loaded gun to be considered use of indirect force to facilitate removal, despite the covert nature of the SNWA’s pipeline. Though several professional scientists have repeatedly warned that the SNWA pipeline withdrawals will result in aquifer level drop and loss of spring ecosystems, the SNWA refuses to consider other more reasonable options for securing water for the Las Vegas region. Instead the SNWA employs propaganda to discredit the scientists, calling them mentally ill extremists who are against progress and jobs, “Taking food from out of the mouths of construction worker’s families.” The verbal hostility and ad hominem attacks from SNWA officials like General Mulroy towards scientists is enough to drive even the most logical ecologist egghead into a state of pure rage. Instead of working with scientists to facilitate more reasonable solutions such as additional conservation, rainwater harvesting and floodplain widening, the SNWA employs propaganda to frighten the residents and ratepayers of Las Vegas into accepting the pipeline as the only other option besides drought. This type of fear inciting propaganda of impending drought was also used by the planners of the Owens Lake water heist nearly a century ago when Los Angeles ratepayers picked up the tab for an expensive aqueduct that financially benefitted the architects who secretly siphoned off some of the new aqueduct water for their development schemes in the San Fernando Valley. The owner and editor in chief of the L.A. Times during the early century General Otis also stifled dialogue that questioned the motives of the aqueduct planners and the results that the aqueduct would have on the water source location of Owens Lake. The opponents of the aqueduct were frequently labeled as “violent anarchists” by General Otis on the L.A. Times editorial page. The LADWP mirrored the SNWA as the regulatory bureaucrats that purchased land from ranchers and devalued their property, coercing land sales at low prices.
Ironically one of the early supporters and financial backers of the SNWA pipeline was one Mr. Harvey Whittemore, the developer of the Coyote Springs subdivision along U.S. 93 some 50 miles north of downtown Las Vegas. The location of Coyote Springs is along the pipeline route and depends upon water outside of the region, with another 100,000 homes being planned provided that the pipeline delivers. Other developers such as KB Homes are also proponents of the SNWA pipeline, it could be said that all proponents who spoke at the Nevada State Engineer’s public comment in October 2011 were employed in the housing and construction industries. As if there weren’t already enough existing homes in foreclosure throughout Las Vegas, the pro-pipeline developers are now wanting to build more suburban sprawl along the U.S. 93 pipeline corridor. The claims made by pipeline proponents were that the construction workers could not feed their families if the SNWA pipeline wasn’t constructed, though this neglects the fact that throughout Las Vegas many homes are in disrepair (not just the ones in foreclosure!) and could use some reconstruction labor. In addition retrofitting homes, casinos and other commercial and office rooftops with rainwater harvesting systems will provide long term technically skilled workers with lifelong green careers.
Technological innovations with large scale rainwater harvesting systems for casinos could utilize the surface area of their roof for harnessing energy in addition to saving extra rainwater and reducing runoff. Harvesting energy with a rainwater harvesting system uses a principle in physics called potential gravitational energy. This defines the potential to create energy through downwards momentum along with the speed and force of gravity per mass of raindrop. The formation of rainclouds results from evaporation of seawater traveling upwards and condensing at the height of the clouds usually 1,000 feet or more above sea level. Heat rising with convection transports large volumes of water from sea level up to heights and across the deserts towards the Las Vegas Valley every summer as extreme thundershowers.
Potential energy requires the lifting from convection along rising heat currents transporting evaporated seawater aloft and the storing of potential energy as mobile clouds. The potential energy of water stored in clouds is lost as momentum as water hits ground, enters the watershed as rivers and returns to sea level. When a raindrop travels along a river the potential energy is zero at return to sea level. At sea level the former raindrop will not be able to travel any lower, thus becoming a zero value for potential energy. Rainwater harvesting systems atop tall casinos have the potential to intervene and collect potential energy of rainwater by forcing the downwards traveling water to turn a turbine inside the drainage tube as it heads towards lower elevations with the force of gravity. The potential energy of the water traveling with gravitational force turns the turbine that is connected by wires to a storage battery. The surface area of the roof combined with the amount of precipitation will determine the total net energy collected by spinning turbines as the water travels down the tube towards the filtration system and storage system below the building. Some amount of the collected potential energy would be used to pump the water up from the cistern below the building to ground level for usage. In advanced rainwater systems the use of capillary tubing could assist in moving water to upper floors without requiring the same amount of energy gained through the turbines in the drainage tubes. Capillary tubing assists water traveling upwards based upon the trees moving water from their roots to their leaves the exact same way. Potential energy is equal to the volume of water at heights and the distance it will travel downwards with gravity in the form of raindrops or other frozen precipitation such as hail.
The large volume of rainwater in summer thundershowers is most significant when understanding the severe flood dangers that Las Vegas residents experience each summer. When summer thunderstorms drop water most enters the roads as runoff as the hardpan surfaces of asphalt, concrete and caliche soils all prevent absorption and cause nearly 100 percent of precipitation to become runoff. The high rate of precipitation over an hour or two is enough to overwhelm the roadways with runoff that cannot escape fast enough as it swells from rainwater. The total net runoff would be precipitation combined with the surface area of roads, parking lots, sidewalks and rooftops. Rainwater harvesting systems would subtract the surface area of rooftops from the total net runoff equation. How would this new equation with no net runoff contribution from rooftop surface area alter the flooding potential? Depending on the variables, it can be reasoned that an overall net reduction of runoff may decrease the severity of summer thundershower flooding by implementing rooftop rainwater harvesting systems.
Finally the storage potential of this large volume of harvested and filtered water can be subtracted from water rates as the rooftop surface area per year of precipitation is not coming from Lake Mead or elsewhere other than the sky above. Homeowners with rainwater harvesting barrels have options for using it for bathing or even drinking. The myths that rainwater harvesting systems are not safe for drinking can be dispelled by understanding the types of filtration systems using charcoal and gravel could be even more effective than municipal sources and their underground pipe networks or the unregulated wilderness of bottled water quality.
There are three incentives for installing rooftop rainwater harvest systems; store filtered rainwater in underground cisterns for later use, potential energy collection by turbines in drainage tubes and reduce total runoff from summer thundershowers to reduce flooding severity. The average yearly rainfall in Las Vegas isn’t very much, though the yearly regularity means that it is a long term solution and an addition to Lake Mead sources. The long term regularity of rainwater harvesting stands opposed to the short term “bonanza” of distant aquifer water coming from out of a pipeline. The problem with the aquifer pipeline is that it cannot last beyond twenty years at the proposed rate without permanently exhausting the supply.
The legacy that General Mulroy chooses to be remembered by could be one of technological and green innovation, helping Las Vegas to become trendsetters in development of advanced rainwater harvesting systems. This legacy would certainly elevate her status as an enlightened individual and remove any risks of cultural genocide when the pipeline collapses spring ecosystems and forces the Goshute Nation off of their land.
On September 13, 2007, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly. This decision comes as a result of more than twenty years of work by indigenous peoples and the United Nations system;
"THE RIGHT TO EXIST; GENOCIDE, ETHNOCIDE AND CULTURAL GENOCIDE
The Declaration protects against a wide variety of threats to indigenous peoples' culture and integrity, including specific problems affecting indigenous peoples, such as removal of children. It calls for the prevention of ethnocide and cultural genocide, which include actions such as population transfers, imposed assimilation and integration, and any form of propaganda against indigenous peoples.
One striking provision completely prohibits the forcible removal of indigenous peoples from their lands or territories - a long-needed protection against the abuses in recent years in the Americas and in other parts of the world. Special protections are also declared for periods of armed conflict aimed at preventing the abuses that have often occurred to indigenous peoples may be threatened." The state would further be required to provide interpretation for indigenous individuals in political, legal and administrative proceedings."
Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples uses the phrase "cultural genocide" but does not define what it means. The complete article reads as follows:
Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.
This declaration only appeared in a draft. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session at UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007, but only mentions "genocide", not "cultural genocide", although the article is otherwise unchanged.
Female authoritarians like SNWA General Manager Patricia Mulroy are no different from their male counterparts in positions of power. They have the potential to drive people like myself crazy...
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