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.

45 thoughts on “DUNE II”

  • DUNE II was a kickass game, arguably the first modern Real-Time Strategy game.

    As for water: yep. You could also have mentioned the tapping out of the Oglala aquifer that allowed the Great Plains to become the world's breadbasket (in the 19th century, it was known as the Great American Desert, and settlers in wagons tried to hurry across it as quickly as possible), and the likely effect that climate change is going to have on shifting rainfall patterns – rain is going to start falling in places where there's less infrastructure to capture it, not falling in places that have been built to expect it, and it will fall more eratically. Hope everyone likes lots of century floods and regional droughts, because that's what we're heading for.

    The entire history of the United States has been one of unlimited material resources coming online as the west was explored and charted. Farmland, grazing land, timber, water, oil, gas, uranium, coal, gold, iron, hydropower, empty plains and coastlines for new cities and houses – it was all there for the taking. Now, it's all been found and exploited and beginning to become exhausted. I'm not very optimistic at all about our system managing a transition to the new resource order.

  • Did I mention that another reason that I want to move to Canada is that they own 70% of the world's fresh water? 20 years from now, once I'm Canadian, I'll be more than happy to sell to your dumbasses 10 dollar a gallon water.

  • The issue of water shortage is largely a function of the ridiculous, cultural display of conformity right outside our front door: the lawn.

    Prices will rise, counties will ban lawns, problem will go away for awhile, cities will grow, the problem will come back, desalination plants will go in and the problem becomes finding cheap energy, not water.

    The root problem is of course population, which in this religious country will never be recognized or addressed until our cities make the slums of Mumbai look spacious. As a student in an environmental program, I have no hope for the future at all. Until the Papacy and the strange brand of Evangelical Christianity prevalent in this country get off their fucking high horses on the population/birth control issue, we're all in for a bleak future.

  • As water scarcity becomes a more publicly appreciated issue, the rhetoric to privatise water so that the market can more effeciently control usage through pricing mechanisms or some such odious handwaving bullshit will be the dominant policy pushed from corpoate offices through politicians and the media.

    Until the system, whether you want to call inverted totalitarianism or crapitalism or oligarcy or imperial sham democracy or whatever, actually, utterly *fails* and necessitates an actual replacement, this stuff is tiresomely, sadly, enragingly predictable.

  • Ok, try again.

    I've said for years that the Great Lakes region—the eastern Midwest, lower Canada, maybe on over to New England—will become an important population centre just due to the fact that it has one of the best freshwater supplies in the world. You could farm here with no irrigation whatsoever (if you had to) and you could get enough drinking water for a household just from roof runoff (again, if you had to); plus the groundwater and surface water is pretty plentiful.

    Also, it doesn't regularly split open, burn down, or blow away, unlike a lot of other populated areas, although we do get buried under a lot of snow from time to time.

  • I saw predictions of what blahedo is talking about almost 40 years ago. Even wthout AGW, this shouldm't be a big surprise.

    But yeah – we're fucked.


  • But yeah – we're fucked.

    Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo may be crime and poverty ridden, clinically depressing places to live where it snows five months out of the year and is cloudy for six of the other seven months, and the locals all hate themselves for being alive, but the rivers and lakes no longer catch on fire, there's plenty of Natural Gas and nuclear for the electricity. And a nice large lake filled with rather clean water from which to draw.

    So you westerners and southerners are fucked. Those of us with the marginally good sense to live near natural resources in spite of the weather will be just fine, and won't hesitate to stop shooting each other and shoot you instead if you try and take our water. On the plus side, by the time the problem gets serious, my house value might actually rebound to where it was pre-crash from all the people coming to their senses and fleeing the desert.

    (Also, this is anecdotal, but it reminds me that while Phoenix is colossally stupid in the way they mis-manage water, Vegas actually takes water conservation kind of seriously. Atlanta takes nothing seriously and is the embodiment of illogical southern entitlement on issues like this).

    will they forsake investments in the name of "austerity" and try to patch up the status quo with duct tape and coathangers?

    Most likely what they'll try to do is concoct some hair-brained scheme to run a pipeline from Chicago to drain the Great Lakes. Which will happen over many, many dead bodies, I assure you.

  • I disagree with many of the assertions that we're fucked. We're not, but it is this kind of thinking (among others) that allows us to shirk the drastic changes to our water habits and policies that could forestall many of the problems rightly anticipated. Lawns, as pointed out above, should not be allowed in the southwest. Grey water needs to be utilized more effectively– which would require some large scale infrastructure programs, no doubt– and other small home fixes, like repairs to leaks and renovations of cooling systems and the things that tax their efficiency should be subsidized and encouraged. Urban policy in California could be changed to allow more high-density develop there, which I think could help the environment in several ways (partly by drawing people back to CA from Arizona), including water consumption, as Ed Glaeser has shown nicely in his new book.

    For those interested, I recommend the fairly recent book "Unquenchable" by Robert Glennon. Glad to see this being talked about more, even if the CNN piece disappointed.

  • My understanding was that cities were actually very efficient in their water use, and that agriculture is the main culprit for most shortages in the US. Most water used in urban areas is cleaned and reused several times after purification, which is not the case for rows of iceberg lettuce in a desert.

    I know that in the Colorado River Basin many of the problems arise from an overallocation of water rights that have cemented over time, with no individual wanting to take the hit. What ends up occurring in many cases is that people are entitled to more water than is actually in the Colorado River in many years, and on top of it all we end up paying extra for violations of our treaty obligations to Mexico.

    The Economist seems to think that the solution to this and all other problems is privatization and functioning price mechanisms. I am OK with this when the price of water is not a binding constraint on poor people. I do not think that is likely in the US, although it is a real problem in parts of Asia and East Africa where subsistence farming is so pervasive. If water rights are ever tackled seriously in our lifetimes, I think the most reasonable approach would probably be to end the overuse subsidies to farmers, and build more water treatment facilities which use water efficiently.

  • "will they forsake investments in the name of "austerity" and try to patch up the status quo with duct tape and coathangers?"

    Their most recent solution was to drain Lake Lanier until it was dry and the try to sue Tennessee for control of the Tennessee River. Georgia claimed that the river was actually inside Georgia's original borders and control of the river should belong to them. Then there was the legal battle with Florida and Alabama over the flow of water from Lake Lanier (a federally managed, Corps of Engineers reservoir and main water source for Atlanta), with Atlanta claiming that they shouldn't have to share it with anyone.

    When you are firmly backed into a corner over raising taxes in ANY circumstance, in a state that can't afford to shore up it's failing current infrastructure, you aren't left with much in the way of meaningful solutions. But you can always litigate!

  • Growing up in Montana, we always heard rumors of California wanting to try and divert rivers from the Northwest down to it. I thought that was a joke until I read Cadillac Desert, which confirms that ridiculous idea. Rather than build anything sustainable, I'm sure Red America will just decide to steal water.

  • One other thing to consider is that nuclear requires large amounts of water for cooling (fresh or salt either one will work) so while it could be feasible for LA to use nuclear power, Phoenix couldn't .

  • Monkey Business says:

    And this is why I'd never move down to the south. Those hillbilly assholes think they can come to Chicago and run a fuckin' pipeline down to Atlanta? Let 'em try. They wouldn't make it past the South Side.

  • Sorry, Monkey Business — all they have to do is make a deal with the government. Rahm might not sell you out (at least not for cheap) but Hammond would do it for peanuts. They need the protein.

    New Mexico, during the hardest part of the winter, had a natural gas shutoff, courtesy their new GOP governor, to divert the gas to Texas. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Texas equals Big Oil. Did they really need that natural gas?

    Some places in the Southwest also have a Hundred-Year rule for property development, requiring that new construction have guaranteed water for a hundred years. Overlapping rights to that hundred-year water mean their taps will dry up very soon. Why are so many houses sitting empty? Don't cry for the construction mavens — cry for the people who are buying homes there. Out of towners like Bristol Palin may not be able to conceive of municipal water shortage. (I grew up on a well — it certainly never occurred to me that people would build or buy houses where there was no water — suicidal.)

  • CaptBackslap says:

    And the Michigan Secretary of State's office STILL hasn't got back to me on my suggestion for "Michigan: Humanity's Last Redoubt" license plates.

  • Monkey Business says:

    @ladiesbane Yeah right, and go through Gary? I don't even think they'd get to West Lafayette before turning around.

  • Elder Futhark says:

    Da Moose,

    Aren't you making a very unsafe and unwarranted assumption that the benevolent and benign US of A won't just muscle its way on up north, slaughter the existing occupants, and take it all for themselves? Sounds like your standard Red State strategy. I mean, everyone from Ben Franklin on up has had a major hardon for Canada, why NOT take it?

    And has anyone living in Siberia noticed that all the merchandise and products they buy is from China, and that they even use the fucking Chinese names for the shit they buy instead of the Russian words? I think we know who is going to own the water up there, now don't we?

  • Elder Futhark says:

    And no, Canada 70% of the world's freshwater? That's bullshit.

    Oh, and the Great Lakes? The top 4 inches are renewable water. All the rest is fossil water from the Ice Age glaciers. We can go through all that faster than you can say "Oglala".

  • We don't have a water shortage, we have profligate misuse and waste of water. As long as we flood irrigate crops and keep California lawns emerald green all summer, talk about water shortages is just bullshit. Water utilities should give people 50-100 gallons per person for day at cost, and charge 10x what we do now for usage beyond that amount. Agricultural water users should pay a large tax on water usage, large enough to make it highly profitable to switch from flood to spray irrigation, and from spray to drip.

  • "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?"

    Can I choose option C, "they'll ignore it until it becomes an epic problem, insist that the Federal government fix it with Blue America's money, and then complain when the Feds insist on paying prevailing wages, following environmental regulations and won't subcontract to Darryl and his udder brudder Darryl who are big donors to the state GOP"? Because that seems to be the standard methodology…

  • New Mexico, during the hardest part of the winter, had a natural gas shutoff, courtesy their new GOP governor, to divert the gas to Texas.

    This is not true. While our new GOP governor does not disappoint in her rightwing qualifications, the natural gas thing had nothing to do with her. There were shenanigans, that's for sure, but I think it had more to do with the way gas companies buy and sell gas than anything else. Our Gas Co. claimed they had purchased enough reserves for the sudden drop in temperatures, but I think we are going to find out they fucked up in how much they purchased. They blamed Texas brownouts for shutdowns at pumping stations, but the folks in Texas testified that they had no shutdowns.

    As for water? Yeah, the SW is in deep doo-doo. One of our problems is the tight relationship developers have with rightwing politicians here. Hence, the Repugs don't want to limit development, impose any sort of impact fees or water requirements on the developers, so houses go up and people move in and more and more water is being used. Fortunately, the one thing the developers agree to is putting in xeriscaped lawns in their new developments (cheaper, of course, than other landscaping). So there's that. And in Albq. we have fines for overusage of water and restrictions on watering as well–which are enforced. But we shouldn't fool ourselves–we are walking the wire.

  • terraformer says:

    As a southerner born and bred, I am so glad to have escaped that devolving region for the water-plenty climes of the upper midwest. As somewhat of an alarmist about water in particular, due in no small part to endless reading of sci-fi and associated dystopian futures, moving here just made something click, feel right. When the water wars come, we'll be ready. These people around here think big, and with respect to fresh water, the Great Lakes Pact signed by states (and parts of Canada) bordering the Great Lakes – which disallows export of their water – is the kind of forward-thinking attitude that is so absent in other parts of this country.

  • Fifth Dentist says:

    @ Cromartie

    Here in Georgia we've been feudin' in court with Alabama and Florida for years over use of water from the Flint/Chattahoochee/Apalachicola River system.
    Former Georgia "governor" Sonny* Perdue's big initiative in this area was suggesting that a land survey back in the 1700s was faulty and Georgia actually owned a portion of Tennessee — where there just happened to be a big fucking lake full of yummy H20.

  • Yeah I remember Gov Perdue telling everyone to pray for rain during the drought. I remember Six Flags over Georgia having a "Christmas in July" event in the middle of a drought. And I remember the assholes in Georgia trying to steal Tennessee's water.

    You know, "conservation" is such a socialsimy lefty commie thing to do in a drought.

  • Hazel Stone says:

    I'm not exactly a huge fan of desalinization, but wind (especially offshore wind) seems like a very cost effective way to do it cleanly. Of course, we could also stop wasting water and treating rivers like sewers.

  • Does anyone seriously expect that red state Amercia will acknowledge the need for infrastructure investment? They will look to "free market solutions" such as creating water cartels that will sell it to us at crazy prices by the thimble full – they will then call the clowns that extort the money "entrepreneurial" and a fine example of capitalism in action.

  • Hazel Stone says:

    Oh, and a couple things for your commenters:

    – Nuclear power is not a solution. The fuel is expensive and finite. The processing is horribly polluting and water intensive. The power making is also water intensive. No one wants the waste, and we already have 40,000 metric tons of it in the US alone. It is a dead end.

    – Feminism will save us from the "population crisis." Everywhere women have gained even semi-equal status and have control over their own bodies and access to birth control they use it assiduously and birth rates drop like a stone. So if you want us to have enough resources, promote womens rights.

  • As someone who follows and believes strongly in water issues, the ecological damage from our water use is far more significant than the possible consequences to humans. Certainly there might be issues with farming in the midwest…but farming there is already economically infeasible. Water is currently undervalued/subsidized, and having to desalinate water for our cities would make it more expensive but would probably not lead to dystopian scenarios anywhere in the near future (in fact there are cities around the world that already rely on desalination). That said, using water resources in unsustainable ways will put a strain on our economy.

    Far more significant is that a large proportion of the world's ecosystems rely on some form of fresh water. Some are dying quickly, some slowly, but as an environmentalist I think water issues are as significant as global warming, at least for developed countries.

    I would recommend the Circle of Blue WaterNews site. It does a good job of highlighting water issues. And of course there are plenty of issues with the marine environment, they are just far less visible.

  • Elder Futhark,

    You are right. It's not 70%. Canada has about 20% of the world's fresh water. I flipped the statistic. Sorry'bout that. Slightly dyslexic from-time-to-time. Still pretty sizable chunk. I like to say that I can admit when I am wrong. It's an important attribute in working toward the Truth….whatever that is.

  • Elder Futhark says:

    I still say the best idea is to wall Arizona off while we can. Have a big huge GOP/Teabagger/White Supremacist/Ayn Rand/Scientologist convention. Turn it into a roach motel. Once you go in, you don't come out. Put up live feed TV cameras everywhere. Shut the water off. Flood it with guns and ammo, each and every kind, from .50 cals to Stingers, and whats-his-name the host from Survivor, or the two little douches from Wipeout, or both. Michelle Bachman and her cannibal family as Hills Have Eyes reenactors. And special guest Herman Cain as the President.

    Then send in Snake Plisskin.

  • Entomologista says:

    Most likely what they'll try to do is concoct some hair-brained scheme to run a pipeline from Chicago to drain the Great Lakes. Which will happen over many, many dead bodies, I assure you.

    I'm pretty sure they've already tried this. And Wisconsin told them they can have all of the lake water they want, in cans labeled Old Milwaukee.

  • Hazel, the problem with feminism as a solution is that it is being embraced so much more by one side than the other. For every one liberated, well-educated woman that decides to have 2 or fewer children, there is a Duggar family trying to win the battle Got souls through copulation. Unfortunately, this means more & more elections where we are guaranteed to elect policy makers that screw the environment. I mean why bother when Jesus is coming back next year anyways.

  • If you are really enjoying your poli sci misery and want to up the ante and feel even more depressed with the country, start hanging out with economists. We'll make you smile by showing you regional changes over time in second mortgagees, the plummet of home valuation, the disappearance of light truck sales. Hell, look at those numbers long enough and you'll gladly drink a glass of sand, you might even request it.

  • Nobody wants to admit it, but all the investments in the world won't do shit. Global warming means significant parts of the United States are running out of water. Period. Done. Gone.

    Ever heard of the Anasazi people? When drought turned their farmland to dust, they left their cliff cities and moved away. That's what's going to have to happen to much of the American Southwest.

    Phoenix AZ and Los Angeles CA and San Diego CA and Taos NM and Las Vegas NV and Henderson NV are going to turn into ghost towns. People will no longer be able to live there. There won't be any water, and building giant pipelines from the Columbia River is a non-started. As for the pipelines already sucking the Colorado River dry…forget it. The Colorado River depends on the Sierra-Nevada snow pack, which is going away.

    The planet is roasting. We're in the midst of runaway global warming. Get used to it forlks–significant parts of the United States are simply going to have to depopulate.

    Despite all the Buck Rogers science fiction talk about desalinization plants and towing icebergs down through the Bering Straits to the port of San Pedro, that's all horseshit. It's been budgeted out, wayyyyyy back in the 1960s when Los Angeles was growing so much that engineers were blue-skying all kinds of crazy schemes to get more water. None of those schemes work economically. They're far too energy-intensive, and in a world of $175-a-barrel oil, they're non-starters.

    Within 20 years Atlanta is going to depopulate. Phoenix AZ, Los Angeles, San Diego, Taos NM, Las Vegas and Henderson NV, will all turn into ghost towns. Nobody's preparing for it. Nobody's talking about it. But run the numbers, study the yearly annual record highs (119 degrees Fahrenheit in the suburb of Woodland Hill CA on 23 July 2006, 114 degrees Fahrenheit in downtown Los Angeles this last summer in 2010) and you quickly realize that we're headed for 125 to 130 degree summer temperatures in Los Angeles and San Diego and 140 degree summer temperatures in Las Vegas and Taos within another 20 years.

    Humans can't survive those kinds of temperatures. Especially when gasoline costs $10 a gallon and everyone has to walk or ride a bike instead of driving.

  • The Man, The Myth says:

    Bravo mclaren. Isn't it weird how no-one but a few shut ins on the Internet seem to be aware of the world's medium term future? People always used to say that, "I'll be dead before these problems catch up with the world…" and I'll be damned – we won't be dead!

  • As an example of our well thought out future planning: money and support is being placed on new nuclear power plants as an answer for energy. What is the one thing each of these plants need? Water for cooling.
    Won't that be fun when water because scarce and/or expensive. Especially cost effective in hot climates where the water for cooling will have to be cooled if it is too hot. Talk about a mobius strip!

    Not to mention city budget cutting including public community swimming pools. I mean, why bother with one pool for a community when each person can have a private pool or, if too poor for that, an above ground pool of varying sizes. And lets not forget the water toy industry….slip and slide, water blasters, etc.
    I mention these to show our mentality is geared to a "water comes out of the tap so it will always be here so why worry" position.

    The problem is multifaceted and Americans prefer their problems and solutions to be one talking point.

  • If what I've seen so far about aquifers being polluted by hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") continues on this trajectory, drought will become the new normal regardless of any climate change (or lack thereof).

  • As a native San Diegan, mclarens predictions very much scare me. I love my city, and I don't think we're doomed, but we do need to manage our water more efficiently.

    That said, most projections I've seen actually show California's climate staying pretty nice. I think Arizona (of whose cities only Tucson and Flagstaff are worth a damn) is screwed, but many models of climate change show California staying pretty nice, so long as we can intelligently resolve our water problems.

  • What do we need the most to survive? I assume we need the air, water and food. The air is polluted by CO2. Well, it may change when we run out of fossil fuels. We can survive with that little fresh water if we change our habits dramatically and the best right now. To obtain food is pretty much depended on the water and the sunlight. Those are the rules for anyone and no matter where you live.

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