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In Defense of DHS: An 'Analysis' Recently Declared That Desert Hot Springs Is the Worst Place to Live in California. Here's Why We Disagree.

In Defense of DHS: An 'Analysis' Recently Declared That Desert Hot Springs Is the Worst Place to Live in California. Here's Why We Disagree.

Friday, July 24, 2015  |  Brian Blueskye

When I moved to Desert Hot Springs a decade ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I didn’t know a thing about the desert city when I moved here from Cleveland in 2005. However, I was soon filled in by others: DHS has a lot of crime. Meth houses. Trashy people. Corrupt government.

In the d...

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A Bill That's All Wet: House Effort Seeks to Build Dams to Alleviate Water Shortages

A Bill That's All Wet: House Effort Seeks to Build Dams to Alleviate Water Shortages

Tuesday, July 21, 2015  |  Elizabeth Shogren

If you tuned into the debate on a drought bill in the House earlier this month, you would have gotten a bleak picture of the agriculture industry in a state that fills the produce aisles in much of the rest of the country.

You also would have heard the water shortage blamed on radical environmentalis...

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Drought's Impact on Electricity: Natural Gas, Wind and Solar Help Fill Hydropower Gaps

Drought's Impact on Electricity: Natural Gas, Wind and Solar Help Fill Hydropower Gaps

Tuesday, July 14, 2015  |  Jonathan Thompson

The water-energy nexus spans the world of electricity generation and water movement, particularly in Western states. It takes water to produce steam for coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, and they usually need water to cool them down. Huge amounts of electricity are needed to pump water acros...

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Internet Access Where It's Needed: Coachella Valley Unified Uses Buses to Offer Connectivity to East Valley Areas in Need

Internet Access Where It's Needed: Coachella Valley Unified Uses Buses to Offer Connectivity to East Valley Areas in Need

Friday, July 10, 2015  |  Kevin Fitzgerald

The Coachella Valley Unified School District is doing its best to keep the East Valley connected.

The district—which encompasses 21 schools at the eastern end of the valley from Indio to the Salton Sea—recently announced that the school board had approved the installation of wireless Internet routers...

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Snapshot: Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert's Heartthrobs Auction

Snapshot: Palm Springs Leather Order of the Desert's Heartthrobs Auction

Wednesday, July 08, 2015  |  Jimmy Boegle

As Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2015, Clifton Tatum has made waves that extend well beyond the leather world.

The eighth-place finisher at the International Mr. Leather competition has been on magazine covers. He's been in an advertisement promoting Palm Springs. And he's raised a whole lot of money for ...

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The Power of Drought: As Lake Mead's Levels Fall, Hydropower Dips—and Prices Rise

The Power of Drought: As Lake Mead's Levels Fall, Hydropower Dips—and Prices Rise

Tuesday, July 07, 2015  |  Sarah Tory

When the Hoover Dam was built in 1936, it was the largest concrete structure—and the largest hydropower plant—in the world, a massive plug in the Colorado River, as high as a 60-story building.

For nearly 80 years, the dam has been producing dependable, cheap electricity for millions of people in the...

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A Senate committee has voted to overturn a new rule that defines which waters and wetlands the federal government can protect from bulldozing and pollution.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill, 11-9, on a party-line vote with only Republicans voting in favor.

A new federal rule would protect tributaries, no matter how seldom they hold water.

The vote came just two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the new clean water rule, which would protect tributaries and wetlands, no matter how seldom they hold water. As previously reported, it also would offer protection for certain regional waters, such as vernal pools in California.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the bill to block that rule was part of his mission to prevent “EPA regulatory overreach.”

But California Democrat Barbara Boxer, appealing to her colleagues to vote against the bill, said, “This is the environment committee, not the anti-environment committee.

“Members of this Committee should understand that when we weaken the Clean Water Act, we are putting people in danger,” she said.

The bill would make the agencies rewrite a more limited rule that would exclude many types of waterways and wetlands.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who authored the bill, said the new rule defined “waters of the U.S.” in an overly broad way that will give federal agencies authority to regulate private property across the country, burdening farmers and other landowners. “I expect nearly the whole country would be included,” he said.

Under his bill, a new rule would be crafted to protect rivers that are large enough for boats to navigate—but not every small waterway, pool or wetland.

Inhofe said he was working with the GOP Senate leadership to schedule a vote in the full Senate, but did not yet have a date. House Republicans also are working on a bill to reject the new rule.

Elizabeth Shogren is the D.C. correspondent for High Country News, where this article first appeared.

There are around 760 million acres of public land scattered across the 11 Western states and Alaska, managed by several different entities, each with its own set of rules and regulations. This can be a bit confusing, even for experienced wanderers, so we've put together these (general, playful, by no means set in stone) guidelines to help you figure out what kind of public land you're on, and exactly what you can do on it.

All you have to do is look around!

This originally appeared in High Country News.

Last fall, when California voters were about to go to the polls to weigh in on a complex proposition to improve the state’s water situation, some environmental groups balked. Though the bill—Proposition 1, to authorize the raising of $7.5 billion on the bond market—promised money for better parks, more wildlife habitat and the restoration of urbanized rivers (like maybe the one that runs through Los Angeles), it also set aside $2.7 billion for “water storage projects” that have a “public benefit.”

It was never quite clear what those words meant. Would the $2.7 billion become seed money for two new dams on the state agricultural industry’s wish list? Or would it go toward groundwater storage projects that keep water closer to home? The bill was written to be “tunnel neutral,” meaning it wouldn’t automatically pay for a pair of canals that Gov. Jerry Brown wants to build, to draw water from the Sacramento River and ostensibly reduce pumping from the ecologically stressed California Delta. But it wasn’t “tunnel negative,” either.

“It’s mystery meat,” said Adam Scow, California director of the activist nonprofit group Food and Water Watch, about that $2.7 billion pot.

Nevertheless, with Brown’s juggernaut of support lined up behind it, the water bill passed easily, with 67 percent of the vote. So now Prop 1’s opponents have a new cause: Riding herd on the nine governor-appointed members of the California Water Commission, the people who will decide how the money gets spent.

Formed in 1913 to referee water-rights wars in the state, the California Water Commission now exists to advise the Department of Water Resources and supervise the State Water Project. In its current incarnation, it includes at least one bona fide environmental leader of a conservationist bent, Kim Delfino, of Defenders of Wildlife, but also one passionate advocate for Central Valley farmers and their water rights, grower Joe Del Bosque, who last year got President Obama to visit his farm with a tweeted invitation. Also on the commission are a Silicon Valley contractor, an engineer, a water-district manager, an educator and a consultant. Joseph Byrne, a Los Angeles attorney specializing in California environmental law, was appointed in 2010 and serves as its current chair.

The commission has just begun to deliberate on that $2.7 billion; much of the January 21 meeting was spent setting rules for that process. Members of the public who showed up to speak weighed in heavily on the conservationist side, warning against big water-storage projects that will exacerbate California’s already unkeepable promises to farmers. Such endeavors “have a long history of claimed environmental benefits that didn’t come to pass,” said Barry Nelson, of Western Water Strategies, formerly of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Tim Stroshane, of the Environmental Water Caucus, pushed for expanding the use of existing groundwater basins, such as the one in north Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley; “investing in them will lead to less demand for imported water,” he told the commission. “Real water reliability would result.”

The commission has a deadline to finish its Prop 1 work by the end of December 2016, at which point—assuming they meet that deadline—California may have moved a tiny bit toward a more sustainable water system. Or the state will have continued farther along its current path, in which no storm, no matter how big, can make a dent in the grindingly persistent drought. Already, agricultural interests are circling the wagons around their share, accusing Brown of reneging on his promises by allocating $532 million in Prop 1 funds for stream restoration, recycling projects, aquifer cleanup and other environmentally friendly ideas. Never mind that such projects were in the bill from the start—they are, after all, what got environmentalists on board—and don’t cut into the water storage funds.

No doubt the water commissioners, too, will anger some segment of the state’s population, no matter what they decide “water storage” means for California’s future. But they also have a chance to set the state on a course toward fewer crises, and hence fewer water conflicts. As Department of Water Resources director Mark Cowin said at the commission’s January meeting, the “new responsibilities that come with Prop 1 make these probably the most important years in the California Water Commission’s history.”

The commission may not, as the Pacific Institute’s chief water wonk, Peter Gleick, rightly argued last November, be able to solve all of California’s problems with Prop 1 funds. But their work might just mark the start of asking the right questions.

This story originally appeared in High Country News.

The 2015 Humana Challenge Championship was still up for grabs as the last group, containing the sole leader, Bill Haas, came down the 18th fairway on the Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West in La Quinta.

Waiting, watching and keeping loose on the driving range were five players, including Idyllwild’s Brendan Steele, who had finished their rounds tied at 21 under par—one shot behind Haas.

“The tournament’s definitely not over from my perspective,” Steele said as he waited for more than an hour to see if his 21-under total would get him into a playoff. “With the water on the last couple holes, anybody can make a bad swing at any time, so you just kind of hang out and see what’s happening. I can’t act like, ‘Hey, I did a good job, but it’s not enough, and I’m going to go home.’ I’ve got to be ready, just in case anything does happen.”

However, the jailbreak playoff was not to be, as Haas battled to a final-hole par and took home the $1 million-plus paycheck.

Meanwhile, fan favorite Phil Mickelson finished in a tie for 24th place, 7 shots off the lead—and it seemed the weekend was just what he needed. As he wound his way around the three courses, he seemed relaxed and unconcerned. For the first three days, he played a convivial and charming host to the amateur players in his group. Whether regaling them with amusing anecdotes or generously offering helpful tips, Mickelson seemed to be at ease.

“I’ve got some things to improve on, but it was a good week to kind of build a foundation (and) work on my game,” Mickelson told the media after his last round. “We had great weather. That allows you to work on the fundamentals and get the swing basics down without having to fight the elements, without getting into bad habits.”

How does the 2015 season ahead look to these two players?

“I’ve been feeling really, really good, shooting good scores at home,” Steele shared. “I know that doesn’t always translate, but I’m just seeing a big difference in my game.”

Meanwhile, Mickelson said he was excited for the upcoming year.

“I feel I’m ready to go, ready to get started,” he said. “It was a good week to get the year started. Now we’ll see the next two weeks if I can get that fine-tuning done and shoot the low scores I need.”

Scroll down to see several photos from the Humana Challenge.

The fame that El Gato Classic founder Eddie Elguera’s skateboarding career gave him led, in part, to a drug and alcohol addiction in the early 1980s. (For more on the El Gato Classic, see the main story.)

He retired from the sport, and then became a born-again Christian before eventually returning during the boom of vert-skating in the 1980s. He opened the Rock Church, where the slogan is, “Loving people to life.”

Elguera was not shy about discussing his fall into drug use.

“Basically, when you’re at the top, and you have people throwing money at you, the opportunities are there for people who want to give you drugs and give you alcohol,” he said. “It’s so important to have a good structure around you that helps you to bounce wisdom off of. I was focused for the first two years, and I wouldn’t allow things to come in like that, because I knew what my goal and purpose was. But I didn’t have the big picture, so I dropped off the map.”

After retiring from skateboarding and taking a job at a fast-food restaurant, he had an encounter with a woman who turned him on to teachings from the Bible.

“This lady came in and just began to share the gospel about God and Jesus Christ,” he said. “That day, I gave my life to God, because she said, ‘You will never find fulfillment in skateboarding or drugs, and you’ll only find it in Jesus Christ. God will use you and find you’ll have purpose in life.’ I accepted the Lord; I started going to church. That was back in 1983, and in 1986, God began to speak to me about starting to skateboard again.”

“It was great to get back into it after a six-year hiatus. I was afraid because of not being at the top any more, but at the same time, I knew it was for a greater purpose. I got back into the competition scene, and pretty soon, a friend asked me to come and share my story at a youth group, and then a couple more, then I had a skateboard ministry where I went around to different churches and shared my story.”

Christian Hosoi, who will also be appearing at the El Gato Classic, recalled Elguera’s Bible-study meetings at skateboarding events. Hosoi also had drug problems and served a prison term after being arrested in 2000 at the Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii after attempting to transport more than a pound of crystal meth. He became a born-again Christian while in prison. Hosoi is currently the outreach pastor of the Sanctuary Church in Orange County.

“(Eddie) is a great example of what a man of God can be,” said Hosoi. “He’s a businessman and a professional skateboarder. We’re both still professional skateboarders. I’m a pastor at the Sanctuary Church, and he’s a pastor at The Rock. We still get gnarly; we still get rad; and we still hang out with all of our friends who do crazy things, but we just love people. I love his saying, ‘Loving people to life.’”

Friday, 19 September 2014 14:20

Astronomy: Get Ready for Two October Eclipses!

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There are two eclipses in October 2014!

The first is a total lunar eclipse, in the predawn hours of Wednesday, Oct. 8. You’ll want to set your alarm when you turn in for the night on Tuesday.

Here are the times for the various stages of the Oct. 8 lunar eclipse for the Pacific time zone, with the moon’s position in Palm Springs.

  • Moon enters umbra at 2:15 a.m. (moon’s azimuth is at 227 degrees; altitude is 52 degrees).
  • Total eclipse begins at 3:25 a.m. (245°; 41°).
  • Deepest eclipse is at 3:55 a.m. (251°; 35°).
  • Total eclipse ends at 4:24 a.m. (256°; 29°).
  • Moon leaves umbra at 5:34 a.m. (267°; 16°).

During totality in Palm Springs, Uranus (magnitude 5.7) should be visible in binoculars nearly 1 degree to the left or lower left of the center of the eclipsed moon. A medium to high power telescope reveals the planet’s disk, 3.7 arcseconds across.

October’s second eclipse is a partial solar event, in the afternoon on Thursday, Oct. 23.

A solar eclipse can be viewed indirectly, by looking at a projected image. Take a postcard or 3-by-5-inch index card; puncture a small pencil point hole in the center of the card; and allow the projected image of the sun to fall on a second white card, held 3 or 4 feet away, in the shadow of the first card. You can improve the view by using a long cardboard box: Cut a large hole at one end, and cover that hole with the first index card with the small puncture hole. Then tape a sheet of white paper inside the box at the opposite end, to serve as a screen.

You can also stand in the shade of a tree and look for projected images of the eclipsed sun, on the ground or on a sheet you have spread on the ground, or on the side of a light-colored building. Try this method a few days before the eclipse, at the same time of day, and look for round projected images of the full disk of the sun.

Groups organizing a solar eclipse watch can also order a quantity of solar eclipse viewers for participants. Both hand-held safe eclipse viewers and eclipse glasses (to be worn like regular eyeglasses) are available from Rainbow Symphony. Both styles are identically priced and employ the same filter materials. The minimum quantity for those items is 25, at 85 cents each, with bigger discounts for larger quantities. To order, go to www.rainbowsymphonystore.com, and click on eclipse shades.

The viewers can be kept for use during future eclipses! In the next 10 years, there will be three more solar eclipses visible from California. These filters can also be used to check for sunspots; very large ones would be visible through the filter.

In Palm Springs, the eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23, begins at 2:12 p.m., as the moon’s disk makes first contact with the upper right edge of the sun’s disk. Greatest eclipse for Palm Springs occurs at 3:31 p.m., as the moon’s disk covers the upper right portion of the sun’s disk—45 percent of the solar diameter, or 33 percent of the disk area. The eclipse ends at 4:41 p.m., as the moon’s disk makes last contact with the upper left edge of the solar disk.

During the eclipse in Palm Springs, the sun will be sinking through the southwestern sky, at an altitude ranging from 38 degrees at the start of the event, to 15 degrees at the end.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

Most researchers studying grizzly bears are from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or university ecology departments, not biotechnology companies.

Still, Kevin Corbit, a senior scientist at the Southern California-based biotech firm Amgen, spends his days in a lab in Pullman, Wash., analyzing bear blood. He leaves the actual touching of the 700-pound predator to the capable handlers and their trusty anesthesia. Corbit chuckles as he reflects on his work: “I guess it’s not logical to study bears with a biotech job.”

Maybe it is logical, though, judging from a study he recently published, in collaboration with Washington State University’s Bear Center. With the goal of developing a better long-term treatment for human obesity, Corbit strayed from the status quo of testing mice and rats, which aren’t great predictors of human response. Instead of trying medications on rodents, he decided to examine the genetics of grizzlies and their metabolism. The bears were the perfect fit: Before hibernating each year, they become extraordinarily obese.

In the new study, Corbit and his colleagues discovered a natural state of diabetes in bears that not only serves a real biological purpose, but also is reversible. The bears’ bodies effectively turn up or down their responsiveness to the hormone insulin—much, Corbit says, “like a dimmer switch.” The bears are at their fattest in the late summer, sometimes consuming more than 50,000 calories and gaining up to 16 pounds in a day. But despite the weight gain, they’re at their least diabetic. Their insulin dial is turned up, which helps them store fat for seven months of hibernation.

When the bear hibernates and needs to live off its fat stores, it turns its insulin responsiveness way down. The animal becomes, in human terms, like a Type 2 diabetic, and insulin-resistant. Yet the bear is actually losing, rather than gaining, weight. Year in, year out, despite the extremes of fall gorging, then foodlessness for the entire winter, the bear’s blood sugar remains consistent. It stays healthy thanks to PTEN, a unique genetic mutation (that appears in only some humans) that allows for the insulin dimmer switch.

In addition to pointing out that diabetes is a natural and temporary condition for grizzlies, the research shows that the dominant theory that human obesity and diabetes go hand-in-hand may need rethinking.

Corbit is already thinking about what this could mean for how people are currently treated for the condition. “I worry that giving people insulin over the long-term may end up hurting them,” he says. While injecting insulin in the bloodstream can bring down high blood sugar, it also prevents the breakdown of fat, which leads to cardiovascular problems and other serious medical issues. An alternative treatment for obesity, Corbit thinks, could lie in discovering how exactly grizzlies use the PTEN gene to control their insulin levels.

Ultimately, Corbit wrote in a New York Times op-ed last winter, drug development could take a hint from “millions of years of evolutionary experimentation.” Through unique genetic mutations, animals have evolved in ways to overcome conditions that continue to afflict humans. The new grizzlies research is just one example of how we can learn from them.

“Nature has figured it out,” he says.

Now he just needs to find a way to translate thousands of years of evolution into a treatment for obesity. Slumbering grizzlies may have brought Corbit closer than ever.

This article originally appeared in High Country News.

The full moon occurs on Sunday, Aug. 10, at 11:09 a.m. The moon passes perigee—221,765 miles from Earth, the closest approach of the year—at the same hour.

But this “supermoon,” visible at dawn and dusk on that date, is not the brightest moon of 2014, because of the phase effect, which makes the moon’s brightness decrease sharply when it’s a few degrees away from being exactly 180 degrees from the sun. You can duplicate this effect one night by standing between a stationary bright-light source and a highly reflective road sign, so that the shadow of your head is cast upon the sign. Note how the sign really lights up around your head’s shadow, giving the shadow a brilliant “halo.” However, if you take a step or two to left or right, you’ll notice how quickly the road sign fades away.

August's full moon passes four to five degrees north of Earth’s shadow center, causing the moon to set after sunrise and rise before sunset on Aug. 10. Further, the timing of the full moon, during the daytime, places the moon widely northwest of the Earth’s shadow at sunrise, and northeast of it at sunset.

Even with the moon not as bright as could be, there are no truly dark skies between dawn’s first light on Aug. 8 and nightfall on Aug. 14. This fact will largely spoil this year’s Perseid meteor shower, which would otherwise be at its best in the predawn darkness hours of Wednesday, Aug. 13.

If you’re outdoors that morning as twilight brightens, watch for Jupiter rising in the east-northeast, 5 degrees to the lower left of Venus. Venus goes east against background stars by 1.2 degrees per day compared to Jupiter’s 0.2 degrees; watch their separation narrow by about 1 degree daily.

Don’t miss the spectacular pairing of Venus and Jupiter on Monday, Aug. 18, within 0.4 degrees. Five days later, on Saturday, Aug. 23, the old crescent moon joins the brilliant planets in a beautiful scene.

Evening planets: Find the planets Mars and Saturn in the southwest at nightfall, and compare them in brightness and color to each other; to bluish Spica, to their lower right; and to reddish Antares, to Saturn’s left. The stars will twinkle noticeably.

Watch the Mars-Saturn gap shrink until they’re 3.4 degrees apart on Aug. 25, and then widen to 5.0 degrees apart by Aug. 31. The moon will appear near these planets on Aug. 31.

Robert C. Victor was a staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs.

Monday, 03 February 2014 15:29

More Modernism: Some Events Worth Your Time

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From Thursday, Feb. 13, through Sunday, Feb. 23, Modernism Week will take over the Coachella Valley with an overwhelming number of events celebrating midcentury architecture and design.

We’ve scoured the calendars, and here are five happenings that caught our eye. For a complete list of events, visit www.modernismweek.com—and do so soon, as many of the events will sell out, if they have not already. (As of our press deadline, tickets were still available for these events.)

Modern Mambo! At Caliente Tropics

Caliente Tropics will celebrate the opening of Modernism Week with—what else?—a mambo party! From 8 to 11 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 13, enjoy a Havana-themed party featuring DJ Alf Alpha; cocktails by Ultimat Vodka; chocolate treats by Godiva; and great food from the fine folks Crave. Tickets are $150; visit www.modernismweek.com. Caliente Tropics is located at 411 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs; 760-327-1391.

Modernism Week After Dark at the Purple Room

Gary and Joan Gand—you probably know them as the Gand Band—have put together an impressive schedule of music at the Purple Room during Modernism Week. On Friday, Feb. 14, the Gand Band will perform a “Motown to Memphis” show featuring Tony Grandberry. The following night, they will be joined by special guests to re-live the music from the iconic 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. On Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Blue Hawaiians will perform on Surf Rock night. Costs vary. For a full itinerary, visit www.purpleroompalmsprings.com, or call 760-322-4422. The Purple Room is located at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

Never Built Palm Springs

From 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15, the Saguaro Palm Springs will host a panel discussion led by Erin Feher, editor of California Home+Design. Panelists include Sidney Williams of the Palm Springs Art Museum; Lance O’Donnell of o2 Architecture; Jennifer Siegal of the Office and Mobile Design firm; and others. The topic of the discussion: the Palm Springs that “could have been.” Panelists will address a series of proposed projects that were—as the title of the event says—never built. Tickets are $15—or for $30, enjoy the talk after brunch at Tinto. Head to www.modernismweek.com for tickets. The Saguaro Palm Springs is at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive; 760-323-1711.

Showing of ‘Mid Century Moderns: The Homes That Define Palm Springs’

At 1 p.m., Monday, Feb. 17, the Horizon Ballroom at the Hilton will host a screening of the film Mid Century Moderns: The Homes That Define Palm Springs. The movie examines the homes of the Alexander Construction Company, which designed homes in Twin Palms, Vista Las Palmas and the Racquet Club Estates. It also takes a look at the Alexander Homes, which have never been shown on public tours. Tickets are $12; get them at www.modernismweek.com. The Hilton is at 400 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, in Palm Springs; 760-320-6868.

Hugh M. Kaptur: Gentle Giant of Desert Design

The Palm Springs Public Library will feature a free lecture by Matt Burkholz on Hugh M. Kaptur, the architect who will be in the spotlight this year during Modernism Week. Kaptur was one of the youngest of the now-renowned midcentury modernist architects, and was a major force in the Coachella Valley’s architecture world, designing 200 residences, commercial and recreation centers, hotels and other structures. Seating is first-come, first served for the lecture, which begins at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 22; library doors open at 10 a.m. The Palm Springs Public Library is located at 300 S. Sunrise Way; 760-322-7323.

As all eyes in the West turn to the skies for relief from 14 years of “mega-drought,” as Gov. Jerry Brown put it when he declared a drought emergency in January, this is as good of a time as any for those of us in the West to ask: “How did we get caught between a rock and a dry place, and what, if anything, can we do about it now?”

To answer that question, we have to go back to the boom-boom years of America’s dam-building. No politician in the West was a bigger believer in the transformative power of impounded water than Arizona’s favorite son, Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was the Bureau of Reclamation’s biggest booster in Congress when the agency proposed mind-boggling water projects to tame the mighty Colorado River.

Never mind that the Hoover Commission, in a report commissioned by Congress, warned in 1951 that the Bureau of Reclamation would bankrupt the nation with senseless dams and irrigation projects, while holding future generations of Americans hostage to unpaid bills and unintended consequences.

At a time when Goldwater and the Bureau of Reclamation were enjoying a Golden Age of water projects, their chief nemesis was an environmental crusader named David Brower. Brower, president of the Sierra Club and founder of the Earth Island Institute, single-handedly led the fight against building Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. And lost. He called that defeat “the darkest day of my life.”

Time and old age have a way of bringing people to their senses. Toward the end of his life, Goldwater took political positions that left most of his libertarian allies scratching their heads in bewilderment. Is Barry going senile? Did somebody poison his soup?

No, Goldwater’s public epiphany came about when PBS aired Cadillac Desert, a series based on Marc Reisner’s eponymous book. In the third episode, when Goldwater and Reisner were discussing the adjudication of the Colorado River, the silver-haired Goldwater looked out across the sprawling megalopolis of Phoenix and asked, “What have we done to this beautiful desert, our wild rivers? All that dam-building on the Colorado, across the West, was a big mistake. What in the world were we thinking?”

That admission reverberated across the high mesas of the Southwest like summer thunder. A few months later, when Brower and I talked over lunch, I asked him, “What did you do when Goldwater said it was all a big mistake?”

He cackled and then let out an expletive. “I reached for the phone and called (Goldwater), and I said, Barry, let’s do the right thing: Help me take out Glen Canyon Dam. He said he would! Then he died a few months later.”

Brower died a few months after that.

Taking out Glen Canyon Dam would not have altered today’s water crisis in the Southwest, but it would have made a resounding statement. It would have said: “Wild rivers rock.” It would have said, “We should have left well enough alone.”

We can’t go back to that America any more than we can return to the days before the Civil War, or to the Indian Wars, and fix things. We’re stuck with the aftermath of those decisions, many of them poorly informed, unwise or downright bad. And, sadly, as the Hoover Commission warned 63 years ago, the consequences will be with us for generations to come.

The Colorado River, though, is a special case. It has always been a special case—now more than ever. The drought that grips the Southwest today is the worst in 1,250 years, say some experts, and it shows no sign of releasing its grip. No doubt, the region’s leaders despair over vanishing options. The Bureau of Reclamation has announced it may start rationing water to downstream states by 2015. And no climate model is predicting rain.

What in the world were we thinking?

Paul VanDevelder is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He lives in Portland, Ore., and is the author of Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire through Indian Territory.