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The Mississippi water levels are low, and are about to get a lot lower.

The stubborn drought that has gripped the Midwest for much of the year has left the Mighty Mississippi critically low -- and it will become even lower if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presses ahead with plans to reduce the flow from a Missouri River dam.

Mississippi River interests fear the reduced flow will force a halt to barge traffic at the river's midpoint. They warn the economic fallout will be enormous, potentially forcing job cuts, raising fuel costs and pinching the nation's food supply.

It's long been my opinion that way too little attention is paid to our fresh water resources here in the US. We have tons of it here in North America from the Great Lakes to the mindblowingly huge Mississippi water basin.  It's not just a source of drinking water, sewage management, agricultural irrigation, and watering our annoying-to-mow-and-probably-something-we-really-shouldn't-have-anyway Lawns.....it's also a critical component to our electrical system.

Our power is all about the water. Talk about gas, coal, nuke, whatever all you want...it still takes water. LOTS of it. The debates rage over what to use to fuel our nation, but WATER is almost always part of the equation and rarely mentioned. Our talking heads rarely pause to note that 90% of our power in the US is thermoelectric power....basically: boiling water to turn turbines. Billions of gallons of water. Hell...trillions of gallons of it.

Our very energy takes water.

Even extracting our fuel takes water. We let natural gas companies dump unknown chemicals into some of it and ram hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into the ground PER NATURAL GAS WELL to extract natural gas. That's why they call it "HYDROfracking"...because it takes a LOT of water.

Water is the unsung oil that keeps our nation moving and our quality of life rolling along. Except...you know...not as toxic. So when our water supply is in peril, everything is in peril.

Consider shipping. Transportation. Shipping by barge is far and away the cheapest way to ship goods. Move to trains. Or to semi. You're taking on a HUGE price increase, not to mention a larger carbon footprint.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi are navigable waters and run RIGHT THROUGH the American agricultural heartland.

So I'm not merely sentimentally worried about the dropping water levels in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. There's a very good reason my mouth went dry when I heard the Mississippi river is likely to become so low that a vast stretch of it will be unnavigable by barges within a couple of weeks due in part to drought....

...when we can't cheaply ship grains from the heartland to the world, that's a HUGE problem. When we can't cheaply ship fuel and farm supplies to the heartland, that's a huge problem.

As the waters drop in the Great Lakes due to dropping water levels, barge capacity falls. The amount of goods that can be shipped in a barge falls, prices rise. Our ability to ship FOOD around the US and around the world suffers.

Here's an excellent National Geographic article about water evaporation on the Great Lakes, its causes and implications. I'll give you a hint...it's climate change.

This is another place where climate change, a warming planet and more drought, and threats to the global food supply intersect. At all costs we at the most basic level need to watch the food supply and distribution.

Originally posted to Muskegon Critic on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 09:13 PM PST.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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