Monday, June 22, 2015
Can't complain about the rain
Sunday was another rainy day around here. In recent years I've started to call it the New England rain forest. It's been quite a few years since we've drought conditions. Even during a drought it was possible to take my canoe out on the local river.
After following the news about drought conditions in other parts of the country I'm happy to deal with rainy days. I'm really freaked out by the number of people who rely on imported water. Not only does the water come from far away, it takes a lot of technology and energy to make it happen. Even worse the water has to cross active earthquake faults.
We aren't the first civilization to rely on man made water systems to keep our cities and agriculture supplied. In fact, technological solutions to arid lands may be as old as civilization itself. Eventually all those systems failed. Sometimes conditions became too arid for the technology. Other times growth outstripped the resource base. Water supplies were occasionally destroyed during war. It appears that some civilizations lost the knowledge and ability to maintain the systems their ancestors built. Many things can cause complex water systems to fail.
That was long ago and far away. It can't happen here. Except it's happening now. The dams that once held so much water are disturbingly low. Some are so low that emergency changes have to be make to accommodate the lower water or they would not flow at all. Drillers are reaching deeper and deeper levels as they chase dropping water tables. We have better technology and more wealth that civilizations of long ago, but we are also supporting a lot more people and water hungry agriculture.
There are a lot of band aids that can be slapped on the system. Only recently have some areas gotten serious about conservation. Agriculture can be changed to use less water intensive crops. Those can be grown in wetter areas. There is too much invested in those dry areas to abandon them completely. Right now it's worth investing money to keep things limping along, all the while praying for rain.
The really bad nightmare scenario would be a massive widespread earthquake that destroys large sections of the system all at once. Millions of people could have water suddenly cut off. It could take weeks to get it up and running again. People die after only a few days without water, so it would be crisis management of the first order.
When I was kid I used to drink right out of the mountain streams, but that was in the days before giardia was common. Now I use a water filter or at least boil it. Those are pretty low tech methods of rendering abundant water supplies safe to drink. If I lived out in the dry west I'd make sure I'd at least have plentiful water storage. It would freak me out to have to rely on the rickety water supply systems that hydrate the area these days.