Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Water Crisis: Saving For A Sunny Day

Summer is approaching, and with it comes anticipation of all its pleasure: picnics, barbecues, baseball, summer vacation and life-destroying drought. From San Diego to Atlanta, from below the Texas border to the Rockies, people of the Sun Belt are bracing for another summer of watering the lawn with their bathwater...at night...wearing a ski mask to avoid hefty fines. Just what are people doing to prepare and conserve in these hard-hit places? Let’s start with my old hometown, Atlanta...

To celebrate Sunny Perdue’s “Take a Shorter Shower” month, Stone Mountain Park premiered its Snow Mountain attraction last November. The 1.2 million gallon slush ball was conceived to give sunny Atlanta a most deserved winter wonderland, but apparently a bunch of prissy naysayers who like taking showers more than seeing children happy shut the attraction down after opening day. Reprehensible isn’t it? What had they to complain about? Besides this:

“Snow blowers were pulling water from the DeKalb County water system, instead of the park's lake because park officials wanted the snow to be pure white.”

People in Georgia wanting something to be pure white?! NEVER!


In a state where there are no natural lakes (the main reservoir, Lake Lanier, is a flooded town that routinely stuns and drowns swimmers with debris floating from the bottom), and where most of the watersheds have been paved over for parking lots and tract housing (Georgia’s lack of natural barriers made it prime for unchecked growth for the last decade), one would think that the legislature would have a better contingency plan than “Screw over Alabama and Florida” but that’s what it boils down to. Water wars between the three states have been flaring for over 15 years, and last year saw a particularly nasty clash between Georgia and Florida when the Northern Aggressor—in a rare, bipartisan decision—voted to divert millions of gallons of water that had been promised to Florida to protect endangered mussels and sturgeon in the northern lakes. Meanwhile, the hundreds of golf courses across Georgia kept their sprinklers on. As long as they can pay for it, who are we to stop them?

This smacks of an “almighty dollar” scenario that may play out on the other side of the country in Vegas, whose reservoir at Lake Mead is tapped by aqueducts to many surrounding cities. That reservoir is already at half capacity and declining rapidly. According to a report published by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, Lake Mead may be bone-dry by 2021.

I have heard people suggest that Vegas is protected by the vast wealth contained there, which will allow the city to simply buy water when it becomes necessary... I’m sure those generous casino and hotel moguls will be just thrilled to share with everyone. Might I add that this would necessarily be at the cost of towns that would see their water supply go to a higher bidder? Is this really an ideal scenario to anyone? And can one be sure that Vegas’ coffers won’t dry up as well? Casinos are not recession-proof, and if Cirque du Soleil has to start performing their hit water show “O” in a vat of urine, Vegas may lose its appeal and the house may finally lose a round. Benjamin Franklin said in his Poor Richard’s Almanac: “When the well runs dry, we shall know the true worth of water.” One can only hope that whoever has it will accept feather boas and sequined thongs as payment.

The Lake Mead crisis is complicated by a 1944 water-sharing treaty with Mexico, which guarantees that a certain minimum of potable water from the Colorado River reach the Mexican border. A desalination plant was built just north of the border to make good on this promise, but by the time the river reaches the Colorado River Delta—half a century ago, a two million acre expanse of wetlands and lagoons—it is a mere trickle, and the surrounding area is a salt flat.

Elsewhere, tensions over the Rio Grande water supply continue to rage in South Texas and Mexico. A decade-long water-debt to the U.S. by Mexico was resolved in 2005, but only after an estimated $660 million of losses because of failed crops in the Texas Valley. Texas is seeking redress through NAFTA in Canadian courts for these losses, and the soured relations between the two states show no signs of improvement.

During the worst years of the drought, the government did what it could to aid Southern farmers by funding updates and improvements to irrigation systems, but reservoirs throughout the Sun Belt are still pitifully limited, and rampant growth in cities such as Vegas and Atlanta and Phoenix (which seems to have the soundest approach to the water crisis of the three) threaten to turn these towns into dust bins in a matter of years. As much as some people would like to believe it, this is not a problem that money alone can solve. Only real planning and foresight will be enough to protect these cities from complete desiccation.

If you choose to invest in any city threatened by drought, then do not fail to research the city’s contingency plans and make your own. Increasing interest in sustainable housing is making additions such as home reservoirs more accessible. For those living in drought-affected areas, such considerations may become absolutely vital, and so for those investing in these areas, having a house whose residents can actually take a shower may make the difference between a hot-ticket and sand trap. Now...I’m off to the golf courses!


Anonymous said...

Why throw the "likeing things white" comment in an otherwise reasonable article? Reverse racism isn't pretty either.

Trenton Flock said...

I'm reluctant to make this too political a post, but I do feel compelled to give you an earnest response, seeing as I did open the door there.

My question is, why call it "reverse racism" when it is always just "racism" even when it is perpetrated by a minority? If your point in commenting is to emphasize that bigots come in all colors and intolerance comes from all sides, then you won't hear any dissenting opinion from me. I couldn't agree more. But "reverse racism" is a terrifically bad phrase, and I recommend that you avoid using it. Furthermore, I don't think that one can imply that my remark was unreasonable. Thank you for at least finding the rest of the article reasonable.

This is getting a little political, but I feel compelled to say this as well: Part of the reason why Atlanta has such poor mass transit, why people for years voted against allowing mass transit out to the suburbs, and why the city eliminated above-ground trollies in the first place is largely because of both overt and unspoken racism/racial tension in and around the city (As for the trollies, the official response was that the trolley wires were unsightly, but there is ample reason to suspect that it was other 'entities' which certain influential people found unsightly). Atlanta is used in city-planning courses in other parts of the country as an example of what NOT to do, and for good reason: Its design defies all logic if you want to have an efficient, pedestrian friendly city, but it makes perfect sense if you want people of different neighborhoods (even those within walking distance) to refrain from mingling. This is said with no agenda but to illustrate that there is a long history of bad infrastructure planning in Atlanta, and that some of these reasons come from unexpected (and insidious) places. This phenomenon is by no means limited to Atlanta, of course, but having lived there it readily comes to mind for me.

Thanks again for your comment.

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