Thursday, March 1, 2012

Water and the Extreme Illusion of Abundance

Some thoughts on water by Cynthia Barnett in Blue Revolution excerpted in the Utne Reader.

We take water for granted in much of the USA, because we suffer from the extreme illusion of water abundance. But have no doubt, water abundance is an illusion and our profligate use of water today, and we are using it profligately, will endanger, not only ourselves, but future generations and the entire planet. There is simply no substitute for water. Unlike oil for which we can develop substitutes, water is the essential ingredient. When the water’s gone, life as we know it is gone.

To get an idea of the magnitude of the illusion, consider Lake Mead. Lake Mead is the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam that supplies water to millions of Americans, and for millions of acres of farmland. David Pierce and Tim Barnett at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography say there’s a 50-50 chance the lake will go dry – dry – by 2021! I’ve been there. The lake is huge; its more like a small inland sea than a lake. This is an amazing, horrifying prediction. But quite believable when you see the high water marks on the cliffs getting steadily lower.

Florida has so over-pumped its once abundant groundwater that the hundred-thousand-square-mile sponge known as the Floridan Aquifer, one of the most productive aquifers in the world, can no longer supply the state’s drinking-water needs.

Americans have become so profligate in our use of water and so mesmerized by the illusion of its abundance that the swimming pool, which used to be the sought after status symbol, then the diving board, has given way to pools with waterfalls, grottoes and swim-up bars. Americans guzzle about 410 billion gallons of water per day. That’s more than the entire flow of the entire Mississippi River.

But we need not be so profligate. We can do many things to conserve water. First and perhaps both easiest and most difficult is awakening from the illusion of water abundance. It’s not that we don’t have enough water. It’s that we don’t have enough water to waste. More about this in the next post.

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