We lived about 2 years in southern Idaho, at the north edge of the sagebrush desert. Yes, agriculture is booming, and the fertile volcanic soil produces huge crops of sugar beets, world-famous potatoes, alfalfa, corn, etc. Not to mention supporting huge dairies (6,000 cows–and attendant cheese factories) and beef feedlots. But at the cost of drilling very deep wells and installing costly pivot irrigation systems. Farmers had to have $millions invested in equipment and water. Water wars were constant, esp between large farmers and small property owners.
Those who did not have the dollars to invest in the deep wells/pivot systems relied on the old irrigation canals routed from the Snake River upstream, flowing here and there across the landscape. I believe they were built by the Mormon settlers. Having a canal abutting your property did NOT give you water access. If you stole a bucket of precious water from the Canal Co, it was theft. Newbies buying property did not know they had to buy water rights… One couple we knew had about 15 acres and he raised game birds. Their water rights included water from a small canal…however, all of the water was drained by the big farmer upstream. Legal protests, etc were to no avail. They finally sold out and moved to Wyoming.
The water in So. Idaho is derived from the snowpack on the Sawtooth Mtns on the north horizon (think Sun Valley ski resort.) The snowmelt sinks under the volcanic rock at the foot of the mountains, slowly flowing south, underground, to the Snake River valley. There are hundreds of gushing waterfalls in the cliffs near Hagerman Idaho where the water emerges to join the Snake. People there have water rights to farm trout. But try and get some rights as a newcomer…not gonna happen. Water is scarce and precious.
We know that the water table in Kansas/Nebraska etc is falling and becoming saline. Drought has affected our area in Oklahoma seriously for years, and it looks dry again this year. The California drought might wake a few people up this year, probably not. Rain is crucial for crops, and by extension, for livestock. They cannot live without grass and hay. People have no idea how precious water is. We tend to take it for granted, just like food in the supermarket. We can only live 3 days without it–less in hot weather. Only a small fraction of water on this earth is fresh, and less is potable & not polluted. Yes, I agree with all of you, water will probably be the flashpoint in the coming disaster times…