It's not just there's a water shortage, it's that we have a lot more people, more demands on the water, and collapsing infrastructure. Business as usual is failing to meet the challenge. We're already into the adaptation phase - those of us who can see the writing on the wall anyway.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
tin41 closes with this question:
So the question is: what do we do when there is no water?The people of Wichita Falls, TX are finding out.
WICHITA FALLS, Texas—City officials began blending 5 million gallons a day of treated wastewater into their municipal water system this week, launching one of the biggest so-called direct reuse programs in the country.The Scientific American article by Mike Lee spells out the rationale: there's no water to be tapped for 200 miles; every community in the area is facing the same problem. Other Texas cities, including some large ones, are contemplating similar steps.(A complementary article behind a paywall suggests that Drinking from the Toilet is the 'wave' of the future.)
While some residents in this city of about 105,000 are concerned about drinking water from a sewage treatment plant, city officials and business leaders say it was the only way to adapt to an unprecedented dry spell. The lakes that supply the city have dropped below 25 percent of their capacity.
The Wichita Falls story has some numbers that explain why.
At 60 cents per 1,000 gallons, it's far cheaper than any other source of water, [Wichita Falls' public works director Russell] Schreiber said.And…
He said there have been few complaints so far. A glass of the finished product, sampled at a downtown restaurant, tasted about average for West Texas.
Most cities in Texas draw their water from rivers and artificial lakes, which means they're generally drinking water that's been used upstream. Fort Worth and Dallas, for example, discharge their treated wastewater into the Trinity River, which supplies part of Houston.There's an old joke with some painful truth in it. "Remember to flush - the people downstream need the water."
Without rain, water availability becomes a critical issue. Both the BBC and Scientific American have noted that Oklahoma is starting to see dust storms again. Is this the return of the Dust Bowl? We have a much better handle on how to manage the land these days - but we also have a Republican party fanatically opposed to using the government to solve any problems - and it took the Federal Government under FDR to institute the changes across the region that eventually got the first dust bowl under control.
Drilling for water is only a limited solution. As tin41 notes, it can take a long time to recharge an aquifer. The NBC news report he linked to lays out the international concerns about regional water use in the midwest.
“This country became what it became largely because we had water security,” says Venki Uddameri, Ph.D., director of the Water Resources Center at Texas Tech. “That’s being threatened to a large degree now.”This is in some ways another legacy of Richard Nixon - his agriculture Secretary Earl Butz reversed FDR era land management policies, and encouraged farmers to "plant fencerow to fencerow." This made the U.S. a major exporter of food, and pushed food prices down. It also led to the rise of giant agribusinesses and made small family-owned farms economically unviable. We're now seeing that the industrialization of farming has turned agriculture into an extraction industry, with water as the key resource being depleted. It's the old Devil's bargain of maximize profits now, and don't worry about what happens down the road because IBGYBG thinking.
With the world population increasing, and other critical global aquifers suffering equally dramatic declines, scientists acknowledge that if the American Breadbasket cannot help supply ever-growing food demands, billions could starve.
“The depletion of the Ogallala is an internationally important crisis,” says Burke Griggs, Ph.D., consulting professor at the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. “How individual states manage the depletion of that aquifer will obviously have international consequences.”
It's not just the midwest either. NPR notes the continuing California drought has farmers desperately drilling for water, and hoping El Nino is on the way.
California's aquifers supply 40 percent of the state's water in normal years; but in this drought year, it could be as high as 65 percent.To make things even more interesting, the oil industry in California has been selling off water extracted along with gas and oil to desperate farmers - but the question is, do the numbers add up to a net gain or net loss. (And this is water that, once pumped, is not going to be replenished any time soon. When it's gone, it's gone.)
State officials estimate that water tables in some parts of the Central Valley have dropped 100 feet below historical lows. Groundwater pumping could also put more stress on the San Andreas Fault, which has moving plates that can cause earthquakes.
And those aren't the only consequences.
"We're on a one-way trajectory toward depletion, toward running out of groundwater," says Jay Famiglietti, a University of California hydrologist and a leading expert on groundwater. He points out that California is the only Western state that doesn't really monitor or regulate how much groundwater is pumped.
"So it's not unlike having several straws in a glass, and everyone drinking at the same time, and no one really watching the level," Famiglietti says.
...What is more, critics say, California must rely on industry figures for the amount and kind of water used in oil production. According to the Western States Petroleum Association, 323 acre-feet of water were used in fracking 830 wells in California in 2013, compared with 2.7 million acre-feet for agriculture here in Kern County, the heart of California’s oil industry. (An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre up to a foot high.) Figures and details on water use in conventional oil production were not available, according to the association.Charles P. Pierce has the skinny on an OOPS from fracking in North Dakota that brings up the inconvenient fact that not all water from the depths is usable.
Saltwater is a naturally occurring, unwanted byproduct of oil and natural gas production that is between 10 and 30 times saltier than sea water. The state considers it an environmental hazard.So, while cities and farmers are fighting for water, the energy industry is producing some, using a lot more, and also producing some pretty nasty brine that has to be disposed of. None of this is good news in areas where usable water is in short supply.
The byproduct, also called brine, may contain petroleum and residue from hydraulic fracking operations.
Karolin Rockvoy, a Mackenzie County emergency manager, said it was apparent from looking at vegetation that the spill went undetected for some time.
The number of saltwater spills in North Dakota has grown with the state's soaring oil production. North Dakota produced 25.5 million barrels of brine in 2012, the latest figures available. A barrel is 42 gallons. There were 141 pipeline leaks reported in North Dakota in 2012, 99 of which spilled about 8,000 barrels of saltwater. About 6,150 barrels of the spilled saltwater was recovered, state regulators said.
At the same time, there are other regions of the country where water is too much of a good thing.
Several towns along the Mississippi River are hoping heavy rains hold off, as flood waters are expected to rise over the next week.It's hard to believe it wasn't that long ago that the Mississippi was going dry. It's not just about the earth heating up - it's about the increasing range of climate fluctuations.
Low-lying areas around Iowa City, Iowa and in river-hugging cities along the swollen Mississippi River have already flooded, and flood barriers have been erected in most of those areas.
The National Weather Service reported that the Mississippi River crested in Davenport, Iowa at 20.89 feet Friday — well above flood stage of 15 feet but nearly two feet below the record set in 1993. The high waters caused flooding of low-lying areas along the river, such as River Drive in Davenport.
The level is expected to drop starting Saturday and settle below 18 feet by Thursday.
Coralville Lake, a reservoir built north of Iowa City to control flooding on the Iowa River, is projected to crest next week about a foot below its emergency spillway.
But heavy rains in the coming days would lead to more serious flooding.
In upstate New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken official notice that there is something up with the weather.
"The property damage that you see in Madison County is explosive in its effect," he said. "It looks like a literally a bomb went off in a house. You see those pictures on TV. You don't normally see them in the state of New York."Indeed, the increasing variability of the climate is making the need for government action to deal with it more imperative every day. Whether it is not enough water or too much water, or some other extreme manifestation of weather, the response has got to be comparable. One of the reasons we need government is to invest in and maintain the physical infrastructure of civilization. The NRDC points out just one example where we are falling short.
Cuomo offered condolences to the loved ones of the four people who died in the tornado.
"There was a tragic loss of life in this totally random event, he said. "You have a house on one side of the street that is there, you have a house on the other side of the street that is just gone. That was the path that the tornado happened to take."
In response to the tornado, he said state officials would continue to hold citizen preparedness trainings across the state.
The bottom line is this: the tap water in some cities might pose health risks to vulnerable consumers -- people who have serious immune system problems, pregnant women, parents of infants, those with chronic illnesses and the elderly should consult with their health care providers about the safety of tap water. (See this fact sheet from the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water for more information on protecting the vulnerable.) And our nation must make a major commitment to upgrading and modernizing water systems and protection of drinking water sources.We have an aging infrastructure that was A) built for a smaller population, B) that is under stress from a multitude of new directions, C) is based on assumptions about climate that no longer apply, and D) is increasingly obsolete and inefficient. Interest rates have never been lower, employment levels are not where they should be, the economy is lagging far behind where it could be. Global warming demands action in any case. There is a LOT we need to do ASAP - but the Reign of Morons is killing us by slow degrees and allowing our country to crumble.
Politicians can tell lies about the science, they can legislate away rising sea levels, they can refuse to act while ignoring the cost of inaction, they can tell themselves soothing stories and deny the problem…
When people turn on the tap and there's no water, when there's no food because the crops have dried up, that's not something that can be ignored. What's happening in Wichita Falls and elsewhere only seems extreme by contrast with earlier, simpler times. Civil unrest, even war is not outside the range of possibilities when there's not enough water.
The Reign of Morons may continue for a while yet, but Katie McKissick's Symbiartic Blog over at Scientific American calls people to Don't Be A Water Jerk, and has some great art work she did on that theme. We don't have to wait for our political system to recover from the damage being done to it by Republicans to take action on our own.
UPDATE: Hat tip to Atrios for linking to this NY Times article on how to manage a water supply to control losses from leakage.
Imagine that you run a company that sells bottled water. You spend lots of money, and use lots of energy, pumping the water out of the ground, purifying it and transporting it for sale. Then, one day, you discover that a large number of bottles never make it to the stores. They are falling through holes in the trucks.Read the whole thing.
Wouldn’t you want to know what could be done about it? Wouldn’t you be crazy to allow the situation to continue?
Well, that’s what’s happening with many water utilities in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates (pdf) that public water systems lose, on average, one-sixth of their water — mainly from leaks in pipes. The E.P.A. asserts that 75 percent of that water is recoverable. (In truth, the volume of leakage in the nation’s 55,000 drinking-water systems is unknown, because few conduct water audits using the standards established by the International Water Association and the American Water Works Association.)
Update 2: In comments, julesrules39 makes the important point that it's not just about having water to drink or grow food; it's also about energy.
...96% of our electricity in the US requires vast amounts of water. In fact, according to the USGS, the power sector is the largest consumer of US groundwater, ever more so than agriculture. Some is thermoelectric (like coal, gas, nuclear, concentrated solar, etc.) that use water for cooling and such. In Vegas, they are concerned about the lake getting too low as the Hoover Dam provides power to three states (Vegas, parts of LA and Phoenix). I just saw an article about how they are screwed.Read the whole comment.
So, it's not just food and water at risk, it's an energy security issue as well. This is why introducing more wind, geothermal and solar PV into the mix is important. They don't need water for electricity production. But, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, ALEC and now the utilities are all trying to slow the growth of renewables. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake given this coming water crisis.