Can Arizona really turn off L.A.’s lights?
If pressed, your average Californian would admit they never really liked Arizona all that much to begin with. Phoenix has all the smog of Los Angeles without any of the charm and if you want to see the Grand Canyon, Disneyland’s got a diorama of it. Yet, for the most part, the two states have mostly managed to ignore each other, comfortably separated by desert, irrigation canals and the occasional accidental manmade inland sea-cum-cesspool.
All that changed last week as the Los Angeles City Council voted to initiate a boycott of Arizona businesses and services in the wake of Arizona’s new anti-immigration ‘target the Mexicans’ law. Pasadena, San Diego and now (not surprisingly), Berkley have passed similar measures.
Yesterday, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce (who’s running for reelection) wrote Los Angeles Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa that he’d “be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives any power from Arizona-based generation”, adding, “I am confident that Arizona’s utilities would be happy to take those electrons off your hand.”
L.A. gets 25% of its power from Arizona. Can Pierce, an electric-utility regulator, really shut out L.A’s lights?
Basically, no. The plants in Arizona that supply L.A.’s electricity are owned or have ownership stakes by Souther California Con-Ed or the Department of Power and Water and Pierce has spent the majority of the day walking back from his letter, saying that he thinks that California and Arizona are “are awful close and interrelate so much, I just think [L.A's boycott is] an impractical solution and not very well thought out.” In other words, much like the immigration bill, Pierce’s bluster amounts mostly to political grandstanding. If the details of electricity management get you excited, The Arizona Republic has a pretty good explanation of why Pierce’s plan could never work.
But could Arizona and California go to war? Actually, they already have. In 1934, Arizona Governor Benjamin Mouer called in the National Guard and the “Arizona Navy” (really a ferry boat called the Nellie Jo) to stop the construction of Parker Dam, which would divert more ‘Arizona water’ to California. As the old western saying goes, ‘Whiskey’s for drinking, water is for fighting over’.
Arizona lost the Battle of Parker Dam and today most of the resources shared by the western states of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada are managed on the federal level through a byzantine series of treaties and agreements that regulate who gets how much water and power and when.
As ludicrous as Arizona’s threats are today, they do represent a real threat to the West’s future. Climatologists and geologists have pretty convincing evidence that for the last 100 years the American West has been wetter than average and that it is now returning to its more normal arid environment.
Despite more snow and rain this year than usual, California still remains in the grip of a nearly decade-long drought. In a 2007 New York Times article titled “Is the Future Drying Up?” on water official saw the a future of limited water and resources in the West and predicted “Armegeddon.”
None of these problems are new, but as the region careens towards economic and environmental disaster, politicians from both states prefer to engage in the political equivalent of mooning each other across the border. Boycott Arizona? Turn off L.A.’s lights? Serious times call for serious solutions. We have plenty of the former– but none of the latter.