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Desert Diary
Ecology/Seen Consequences


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The threat of unforeseen consequences dogs almost every human action. Some consequences end up, in the big picture, as relatively minor, though perhaps regrettable, like the architectural doohickeys that turn out to be perfect for pigeon nesting. Others may be disastrous, like the introduction of salt cedar for ornamentals and windbreaks.

In the Southwest, as elsewhere, we've gone ahead briskly building towns and cities with little thought of possible consequences beyond transportation gridlock and air pollution. Yet, in many areas, we've adversely affected an already finicky resource; river and stream flow have always been somewhat erratic in the arid West, but as irrigation gives way to urban development, two major things happen. First, the irrigation water no longer is available to sink in and be released in waterways slowly over a period of months. Secondly, rain falling on roof tops, parking lots, and roads runs off rapidly, not only unavailable to recharge ground waters but adding immeasurably to the danger of flash flooding. In the long run, it seems that unforeseen consequences have a way of mutating into seen consequences.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.