DUNE II

Posted in Rants on March 2nd, 2011 by Ed

In semi-local news, Atlanta residents are up in arms over multi-thousand dollar water bills as CNN reports. The story is rather misleadingly headlined to suggest that the actual cost of water has increased dramatically when in fact the root cause appears to be incorrect usage data and billing errors resulting from a new, "efficient" computerized meter system that allowed the utilities to fire their human meter readers. Let's hear it for privatization, sub-subcontracting, and cost-saving automation! Roger "Every time the cost of labor goes up $1/hour, 1000 more robots become economical" Smith is smiling from beyond the grave.

I was hopeful upon seeing the headline that the national media might draw some attention to the underlying fact that Atlanta already has the most expensive water in the country – largely on account of the fact that the city is rapidly running out of water. As the 2007 Southeastern drought proved, the exploding population in cities like Atlanta, Augusta, Greenville, Columbia, Chattanooga, and Birmingham has taxed the very limited fresh water resources available in this area of the country. Atlanta's situation in turn highlights a growing problem among major cities across the Sun Belt. Ask Americans if they are worried about resource depletion and they are likely to mention oil or natural gas. While petroleum and its byproducts are being depleted at an alarming rate, the fact is that we as a country are going to have to deal with a fresh water shortage long before the gasoline and diesel stop arriving in our ports.

People who live in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and other major Southwestern cities that are already running out of water (having pumped the Colorado River down to a trickle) know that this is not mere alarmist fearmongering. It's far more likely that the cost of a gallon of water will triple or quintuple by 2020 for Arizonans than a gallon of gasoline. And America's issues in this area pale in comparison to many points on the globe. Africa and the rest of the developing world already know well that potable water is a scarce commodity – not to mention a potent weapon. China, which is rapidly pissing through its supply of everything, has already reached the crisis stage.

It is hard for most people to conceive of water depletion. There's so much, like, rain and stuff, not to mention the great big oceans. There is a kernel of truth here – Western Australia has proven that large scale ocean water desalinization can meet the needs of an urban area. The problem is that desalinization is terribly expensive and requires substantial investments in infrastructure. We like making long term investments in infrastructure here in America, right? Right? It's also a very energy intensive process, meaning that either the current energy supply will be further stressed or unpopular/unproven technologies like solar and nuclear must provide the electric power.

So what do you think, will state and municipal governments across Red America recognize the severity of the impending, or in some cases current, problem and make the billion-plus dollar investments to secure future water supplies? Or will they forsake investments in the name of "austerity" and try to patch up the status quo with duct tape and coathangers?

Yeah, that's what I thought. Just another reason to feel optimistic about the future.