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September 17, 2011

3

Next on tap? A real conversation about water

by Geoff Grant

As author Robert Glennon said, “Ignorance is bliss when it comes to water.” And with the drought in Texas as a backdrop, there are a lot of blissful people in the Lone Star state.

Of course, Texas isn’t alone when it comes to this country’s growing water crisis. It’s a national crisis. Most of us just don’t realize that yet. And like so many other difficult subjects — think global warming, for one — it’s a serious issue that our government doesn’t have the political will to address, much less fix.

Water is a finite resource across the world. Already more than 1 billion people lack clean drinking water, most of those in Africa and other third-world countries.

In the U.S., water supplies are dwindling rapidly, but there’s been little conversation about conservation (try saying that 10 times fast). And with the U.S. population expected to soar to 438 million by 2050, it’s a conversation that is in desperate need of a kickstart.

But any discussion has been muted. I mean, think about it for a minute and be honest. When’s the last time you really thought about that all that water flowing out of your faucets, down your bathtub drain, or in your swimming pool or onto your lawn? The water’s always been there, always in abundance, and there’s been no pain involved in paying for it.

“We will go to any lengths to avoid confronting the reality of water shortages,” said Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona and author of the book “Unquenchable.”

But that endless stream is drying up, as is the free ride of water. Pardon the pun, but as a country, we’ve tapped out on our ability to access more water, be it by via pipelines, dams or aquifers.

Despite what Texas Governor Rick Perry believes (or doesn’t believe) about global warming, its effects are baking his backyard. In fact, the entire Southwest is slowly being turned into one giant dust bowl. Texas and Oklahoma had the hottest summer in their recorded histories as well as the worst droughts in their state histories. In Texas alone, it is being forecast to cost the state more than $8 billion in economic damage. And it’s only going to get worse. As one scientist said, “drought begets heat, heat begets drought.”

To put that in historical perspective, Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told Grist.org that the region would likely experience a “permanent drought” condition akin to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The question, then, becomes one of water conservation – be it through sustainability, energy conservation or habitat conservation – and that question will increasingly become a federal issue. Of course, if Perry is elected president, then his beliefs will come into play nationally. We may have another whole year to ponder that prospect.

But until our country begins the tough discussions about water resources, the problems are only going to multiply. Consider the vicious cycle that is factory farming and how it contributes to all of this. It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of hamburger. Seventy percent of the grain we grow in this country is used to feed farm animals. And the methane gases from those farm animals is 21 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. That’s an entire conversation in itself. And we are not close to getting it truly started.

And take a look at this video. Is this what awaits the American Southwest (video below)?

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 10 2011

    That video was scary!

    What I find frustrating about the water issue (ok… there is a lot I find frustrating about the water issue!) is how we (in Canada) are turning around and polluting our water in order to extract tar sands oil and natural gas (through fracking). It’s one of those evil “two birds with one stone” situations. Produce more fossil fuels to help climate change along while also polluting incredible amounts of water! What can possibly go wrong???

    Reply
  2. Oct 12 2011

    Thanks for reading. And the Keystone XL Pipeline project is certainly incredibly frustrating. The NY Times had a good piece about the approval process for that. There’s also a good org that is fighting that pipeline. Give them a look: http://www.tarsandsaction.org/

    Reply
  3. Oct 20 2011

    Thanks!

    Reply

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