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March 3, 2011

Host: Ted Simons

Water in the West

  |   Video
  • Using modern scientific tools, a team of researchers led by John Sabo, an ASU Professor in the School of Life Sciences, tested assertions, from the 1986 book “Cadillac Desert”, that the American West was running out of water. Sabo discusses the group’s findings.
  • John Sabo - Professor, ASU School of Life Sciences
Category: Sustainability

View Transcript
Ted Simons: In his -- in his 1986 book "Cadillac Desert," author Marc Reisner warned of water scarcity in the western United States. In essence he said our water supply cannot keep up with our growing population. Now using the best available data and the latest tomorrow, researchers have tested the author's conclusions. Their report, "Reclaiming Freshwater Sustainability in the Cadillac Desert" has been published in the proceedings of the national academy of sciences. Joining us now is the lead researcher, John Sabo, he's a professor in the school of life sciences at Arizona State University. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

John Sabo: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: Give us a synopsis. What did Cadillac desert say?

John Sabo: Every scientist or every reader of the book would probably have a different take than I do. But my take from a scientist perspective is Reisner had four messages. The first of them is what I call the prophecy, the idea that the U.S. West of the hundredth Meridian is a desert and that reclamation, the building of dams would not change that fact. That's the first one. The second one has to do with sediment. So rivers have silt in them and they deliver that silt downstream and eventually ends up in reservoirs. And Marc Reisner thought that that sediment would have an immediate impact on the ability to deliver water to cities and farms. The third one is salt. And it's salt is the idea that salt accumulation on farmlands as a result of irrigation in a desert region would eventually poison the farmland that it was intended -- that reclamation was intended to supply water to, and so it would no longer help the crops and resources it was intended to in the beginning. As water scarcity increases it will pit cities and farms against each other in this epic struggle for the west's most limiting resource.

Ted Simons: OK. Before we get to answers on all four, what kind of -- how did you do research to find out if these kinds of prognostications are really coming true?

John Sabo: Well, it required a really diverse team, and a lot of kudos to the 12 or 13 coauthors that I had on the paper, because they brought a rich experience and training in three or four different disciplines. The data that I think weren't available to Reisner at the time of the book were simply geospacial data sets, things that describe salt concentrations in soils, water availability in soil, precipitation, all of these things, GiS was just coming to fruition as a tool to allow scientists to look at maps of these big geospacial data sets and now we have the tools to do that as well as really sophisticated models of hydrology that allow us to understand at big scales what virgin flow and rivers would be like without reservoirs.

Ted Simons: The concept, I guess we can agree we still live in a desert. How do you measure something like that? I guess what surface water were you looking at mostly? What were you looking senate.

John Sabo: We looked mainly at surface water, so in the paper we quantified what's called the water scarcity index. And it's essentially the ratio between the amount of water that is -- the amount of surface water extracted -- the amount of water humans use divided by the total amount of surface water available. And in the west the region that we think that Reisner meant for the Cadillac desert, we appropriate 76% of all surface water in that region, which includes seven states and three or four major river basins. So on the answer to that question, yes unequivocally, I think science would set the sustainable limit of about 40%, currently our withdrawals are about 76% of stream flow in the region.

Ted Simons: What about silt and reservoirs?

John Sabo: Silt had kind of an interesting twist. Not unequivocal support, I think most people knew from the outset that the answer was yes, eventually these reservoirs will fill up, but it's just a question of when. What we found was it's going to take longer than the impression that you get from reading the book. So on the order of a century and a half for most reservoirs, but even much longer for some of the big ones. The flip side, sediment has already impacted the capacity for big reservoirs to deliver water to cities and farms on the order as -- the same order as major aqueducts in the area, like SRP cap, Los Angeles aqueduct.

Ted Simons: The concept of salt, and you're talking about growing food on desert farmland with water that has increasing amounts of salt 90, that's what was written in "Cadillac Desert." What did you find?

John Sabo: In the point in "Cadillac Desert" was we're bringing water from outside and putting it on the field and desert areas and there's high evaporation which leaves behind the salt and a lot more than would normally be there, because we're putting surface water in a place where there isn't supposed to be surface water. What we found pretty strong support, I would say unequivocal support for that assertion.

Ted Simons: OK. The last one is city versus farms. What did he say, what did you find?

John Sabo: Reisner said eventually water shortages would pit farms against cities, and I think in the paper we don't measure this explicitly, but you can already see the signs of that in the newspaper, for example, you see cities growing and wanting more water and asking why can't we get that water from farms? Farms use 80% of the water in the west, there's got to be some give there. We could use some of that to grow our cities a little further. On the flip side, farmers are saying those cities are just growing enormously, they're the problem, we need to grow our crops, otherwise we can't feed the people. I think there's hope in that conflict. And that hope is trying to get people to cooperate a little bit more and focus on sort of establishing creative trading markets for water between, for example, cities and farms, or between -- farm water to city water or farm water to environmental organizations who want to put that water back in the stream or to the delta.

Ted Simons: Real quickly, I know back when "Cadillac Desert" was written it was controversial from the beginning, it got a lot of people's attention. All the way up till now when you are doing this research and we're hearing some pretty dire consequences unless something changes here, people will -- heard it then hear it now and say, yeah, but things seem like they're going pretty well. The state's grown, the west is growing like crazy, Colorado river water means my water bill isn't all that high anyway, it's just a bunch of people complaining about stuff, let's live it up and not be so concerned about these issues. How do you respond to that?

John Sabo: Well the first thing I'd point people to is the recent controversy in newspaper issue about lake Mead, which had dropped to levels that were about seven feet from levels that would trigger all drought restrictions in Arizona. And those would have pretty significant impacts at least at the farm, not at the tap in cities. So there's I think a very tangible example of being at the upper limit of how we can stretch the water supply in the west. So that's the first way I would respond to that.

Ted Simons: And other ideas, I know increasing price of water, you increase something and folks start conserving it and they do a better job. Is that what has to be done? It seems like for most folks when they look at this issue, they always say, water is too cheap.

John Sabo: I think that the answer is yes. And I think it has to increase -- that price has to increase at the tap in cities. But it has to be done in a wise way. In a tiered structure so that people get what they need for basic need, but beyond that, it's considered a luxury and people pay more for that luxury. And a lot could be done with that revenue. Some of these markets I talked to could be established with that revenue.

Ted Simons: Do you think people are ready for no lawns, higher water price, shorter showers, trying to grow salt tolerant plants? Are we ready for that sort of thing?

John Sabo: They would be able to make the choice in that system. So they'd say, OK, my water costs this much for my dishes, my laundry, and my basic need. If I want a lawn I have to pay that much more it. And some will choose to do it, some won't.

Ted Simons: A book that's 25 years old often especially a book that deals with current issues, social issues, environmental issues, can get old. Were you surprised that so much of what was written in 1986 seems relevant today?

John Sabo: Definitely. From the onset of this project I thought we were going to find a lot of weak support for a lot of the arguments that are made in the book, and to my surprise there were only a few wrinkles, and little and minor nuances to his messages. I think more impressively the response I've gotten from the paper, from people who knew Reisner, is that Reisner was essential a visionary and was way ahead of his time, so I think that speaks for why the book still stand as a treaties on the topic in the west.

Ted Simons: John, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

John Sabo: Thank you for having me.

Social Venture Partners Arizona

  |   Video
  • Leaders of this organization explain its venture capital approach to charitable giving.
  • Terri Wogan - Social Venture Partners Arizona
  • Park Howell - Social Venture Partners Arizona

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Eight nonprofit organizations competed for cash last night at an event sponsored by Social Venture Partners Arizona. It's a partnership of successful professionals that takes a venture capital approach to charitable giving. Here to tell us more is Terri Wogan, she’s the partnership's executive director. And Park Howell of the partnership, he emceed yesterday's fast-pitch Expo where nonprofits had three minutes to make their best pitch for financial assistance. Good to see you both here, thanks for joining us. Terri let's start with you, give me a better definition, social venture partners, what are we talking about here?

Terri Wogan: Well we're basically talking about individual citizens who financially invest into nonprofits to help them succeed. But what makes us a little different is that we also give our time and talent, so it's a very hands-on engagement kind of philanthropy with the nonprofits we invest in.

Ted Simons: Talk to me about this idea of a venture capital approach to charitable giving. How does that work?

Park Howell: It's really incredible. We get involved where I'm a partner within the organization, we bring our funds, myself and about 100 others of us, and we work Terri and the gang to invest in nonprofits for kids and kids in education, and it's not just about giving cash and funding them, but then we get actively involved from marketing, from attorneys, CPAs and bring our professional services to those organizations to do what we call build capacity. And really all we're doing is helping them operate more like a for-profit entity to ensure their sustainability.

Ted Simons: Is that a relatively new idea for nonprofits to act more like for-profits?

Terri Wogan: Well a little bit I think it is. I think that’s gaining a little more momentum because of the challenges that our nonprofits have had, and they've had to be more creative. But it is a little different. We're looking at operations, most funders look at funding programs. We know they're the program experts, they have the passion, where we can really help them is helping them build their business model and their infrastructure so that they can go and deliver the programs they do so well.

Ted Simons: Is it a kind of message that you're hearing that -- does it take them back a little bit, is there a reprogramming that needed to be done?

Terri Wogan: They feel so hopeful and they find it very refreshing there's a funder that will actually fund operations.

Ted Simons: OK. Talk about this contest now out at sky song. What went on, this fast-pitch Expo?

Park Howell: It was amazing, we started with 40 different nonprofits that wanted to participate. They did a short write up of what they had to tell, their story. We whittled that down to 20 and over the last three months we've been working with these 20 nonprofits using 40 different professionals around the valley that gave their time as mentors. And it was to help the executive directors get their story down to a three-minute pitch. They're all experts, and they all want to tell you the complete story about what they're about, but from a professional standpoint we got it down to three minute pitches, and then we had this two-hour event where we had eight finalist and they had three minutes to tell their story to the crowd.

Ted Simons: It really is a fast pitch. Before we get too much further, how did you whittle it down to eight finalists, what are the criterias there? And who were the judges?

Terri Wogan: To get it from our 40 down to our 20, we had social venture partners, we have an investment team so we looked at all the nomination and we looked at innovation, we looked at sustainability, and selected the 20 we thought would be good if it for our partners to get engaged in and involved in. The evening -- and then we also -- that team also selected the eight presenters for the evening. Now, at the evening event we had seven community judges who selected a $10,000 winner that evening. And then we also had our social venture partners investment team select our next investee and gave them $10,000 as well. We also had a people's choice award, for $2500, people texted right there on the spot their favorite pitch. And so they selected a winner. And then we had the mentors award, who had seen the individuals and the executive directors starting from the very beginning to the end, the one that grew the most.

Ted Simons: And what kind of reward was that one?

Terri Wogan: That was $2500 as well.

Ted Simons: That was $2500?

Terri Wogan: Yes.

Ted Simons: OK. Who was the big winner? Who came out on top?

Terri Wogan: Popsicle Center. They're an organization that provide resource and tools to families and professionals who work with children that have feeding difficulties. That instinct to swallow is only about three weeks in an infant, and after that it's a learned behavior. So it's a population that is very underserved, and she delivered her pitch very well.

Ted Simons: I was going add, for something like that, all you gotta do, you got me at infant. But for three minutes, what did this particular contestant do that work so well, do you think?

Park Howell: That's a great call. I think it came down to her passion ran through, and she didn't look over polished. She was really speaking from her heart. And she touched the crowd. The amazing thing about that event, it grew so organically that we had people in the crowd that made an anonymous donation to make sure that every single nonprofit left with at least a thousand dollars in their pocket even if they weren't selected by the judges. That's how powerful this event was. And it goes back to that power of storytelling. And making sure have you your story down.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And I guess that's kind of the answer to my next question, but let's talk more about this. The purpose of an event like this. Because it sounds fun, you get people up there for three minutes and -- they have to hone things down and the whole nine yards, but what do nonprofits learn from an exercise like this.

Terri Wogan: I think they are learning to be focused and effective, and they're going to have to go out and give that pitch to go get funding. And in these challenging times they need to be creative, and they need to be able to succinctly tell their message. So we think we gave them a very important skill that they can take and use to go back and really leverage that information to raise money for their organizations. But we also think it's about relationship building. Because they built relationships with their mentors over the past two or three months, they also were ability to pitch to 200 people live in an audience and community leaders who were on the judging panel. We've already heard that some have connected and donations have been made. They've also made connections with each other. We had Los Angeles Social Metro partners had a few people here, they've already connected some of our nonprofits with their nonprofits in Los Angeles to see how there's synergy. So it's all about creating connections for the nonprofit community and highlighting social entrepreneurs and social innovation.

Ted Simons: So a win-win all around.

Park Howell: Incredible. Really an amazing event.

Ted Simons: It's good to hear about it. And thank you both for joining us on "Horizon."

Terri Wogan: Thank you.

Supreme Court Ruling: Westboro Baptist Church Protest

  |   Video
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas has a First Amendment right to picket at military funerals. ASU Journalism Professor Joseph Russomanno discusses the case.
  • Joseph Russomanno - Journalism Professor, Arizona State University
Category: Law

View Transcript
Ted Simons: In a decision handed down yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, whose members are notorious for picketing at military funerals. They spread their message of antihomosexuality by claiming dead soldiers are god's way of punishing the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality. This is the same group that threatened to protest at the funeral of Christina Greene, the youngest victim of the Tucson shootings. In its 8-1 ruling the Supreme Court said such protests are protected under free speech of the first amendment of the U.S. constitution. Here to talk about the decision is ASU journalism professor Joseph Russomanno, a first amendment expert who has done a lot of research on this case. I want to talk to you about that in a second, but first, describe this case for us.

Joseph Russomanno: Well, it involves members of this church who conduct what we might call informational pickets at various sites. And those include funerals of people who have been in the military who were killed in action, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. They chose one particular funeral to conduct one of these pickets, it was occurring in Maryland, the funeral of a 20-year-old marine by the name of Matthew Snyder, by the way this is the fifth anniversary of his death, ironically. And the father of Matthew, Al Snyder, basically said enough is enough. When he found out about these pickets, that he decided to file claims against the members of the church who were at that particular picket. He did, he won at trial, a federal appeals court overturned that and then we have yesterday's Supreme Court ruling.

Ted Simons: And in the claim he said that the church invaded his privacy and that the church intentionally inflicted emotional distress. Correct?

Joseph Russomanno: That's right.

Ted Simons: OK. 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court sides with the church. Surprised?

Joseph Russomanno: Not really. Maybe the only thing that was surprising was the decisiveness of the vote in my view, and that 8-1 vote. This particular Supreme Court especially tends to be very divided, we see a lot of 5-4 rulings, for example, for eight of them to agree on any one thing is a headline in and of itself.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about that lone dissenting vote, Justice Alito isn't that a surprise?

Joseph Russomanno: Not at all. I was in the -- at the Supreme Court the day it was argued, and based what I heard there, if I was to be asked which justice would be most likely to side with Snyder, I would of without hesitation said Justice Alito.

Ted Simons: Justice Alito wrote that the father was deprived of the elementary right to bury his son in peace, also that the church can't intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity with vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate. How come he couldn't get anyone to side on something like that?

Joseph Russomanno: Justice Alito was the only member of the court to buy the argument that what the pickets did was a personal attack on Matthew Snyder and his family. The other members of the court simply rejected that argument.

Ted Simons: I know the chief justice Roberts wrote the words can cause pain, we can't react to that pain by punishing the speaker. Your thoughts on that?

Joseph Russomanno: Well, what he has done there, and eloquently in my view, is follow a tradition that we've seen this U.S. Supreme Court over years, granted different memberships of the Supreme Court over years. But a court that has adopted that philosophy, that even offensive speech, outrageous speech, reprehensible speech, however we describe it in a given situation, which a lot of people of course believe the Westboro Baptist Church engages in, that even those kinds of speech should be protected, that when you weigh the first amendment rights against the individual rights of the other party in this case Mr. Snyder, that the first amendment wins.

Ted Simons: So significant test here, no doubt. Real quickly, a couple minutes left. You actually went to Kansas and met with these folks, Fred Phelps I believe is the leader of this church.

Joseph Russomanno: That's right.

Ted Simons: Give us your impressions. What did you see there?

Joseph Russomanno: Clearly this is a small church, its membership has varied over the years between 50 and 70. Almost all of the church members are blood relatives. They are members of the Phelps family. Clearly they have a I think what most people would regard as a radical extreme set of views. And to some extent, maybe to a large extent, those views dictate their lives. On the other hand, they are -- and this seems incongruous to say in some respects, but in other ways they are very normal people. They blend in with society. Their children go to public schools, they go to the same grocery stores, for example, that other residents of Topeka go to. So it’s -- it's a very difficult-to-grasp situation in many ways.

Ted Simons: Fred Phelps has to be getting on in age. Is this a situation where when he decides to leave this mortal coil, does that church survive? Does it get stronger, does it change? What are your impressions?

Joseph Russomanno: At the very least it changes. And there has been debate on this and varying opinions. Some people have thought that the church will disintegrate once he goes. And in part that's because I think it's accurate to say he has ruled that church and that family with an iron fist over the years. And once he's gone, that may lead to the church going away entirely. Others have said, no, that they see that others are in line to be the chosen one, to succeed him, to continue to rule the church.

Ted Simons: Last question, I mentioned this was a significant first amendment test. How significant was it, do you think?

Joseph Russomanno: This was and is a significant victory for the first amendment. And free speech rights. Yes, it's a very difficult ruling for some people to accept, and certainly it is understandable why that is. But the silver lining at the very least is that this stands for the right of free speech and it affirms that the government cannot tell us what kinds of messages and words are acceptable and which are not.

Ted Simons: Joseph, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Joseph Russomanno: Thank you. My pleasure.