Topic Tuesday #58 2013/08/27 - "Water Clock Running Dry"To return to the core of the 'Can We Fix It?' mission, we have a problem and we need a solution (no pun intended since it's about water). In the United States there is a vast water reserve that is being depleted at an unsustainable rate. The High Plains Aquifer lies beneath eight states from South Dakota to Texas and supplies 30 percent of the nations irrigated groundwater (it is also a key source of potable drinking water in the region). A new study, out of Kansas State University and published online Monday in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences', has concluded that it will be depleted within 50 years at the current usage rate. David Steward (professor of civil engineering at KSU) said, "It would take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer."
This is a complex problem with implications that are stupefying. Bridget Scanlon (Sr. research scientist and lead of 'the Sustainable Water Resources Program' at the University of Texas - Austin) had a few comments about the study.
"We know the aquifer is being depleted, but trying to project long-term is very difficult, because there are climate issues and social aspects that have to be included. Projections are so difficult because I think we're clueless about a lot of things, like extreme weather events. Farmers are trying to make a living, and they're responding to economics," she explained. "Asking them to drastically reduce water might be like asking me to retire now because there are so many unemployed people. This is a very nice study, but we really need to address droughts and socioeconomic issues, and other approaches to figure out the problem, beyond the technical. If we don't know what we're doing, are we just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?"It's a valid response. It is not dismissive, but urging more inclusion of other factors for strategy, which is a secondary target diverting from the crux of the matter. We are going to run out of water. It's not a matter of 'if'; it's a matter of 'when'.
What can we do? We can continue rationing water supplies. We can improve irrigation methodologies and technologies. At some point, we will need to harvest water from other resources. Desalination and pipelining it to the nation's breadbasket to keep food production going.
What happens when a town runs out of water? The people leave. It's just that simple. If you can't feed the livestock and crops with enough water, they wither and die. Then the farmers leave, and there is a food shortage and then costs rise as demand is shifted. Economies are drastically affected in our global community by a little thing like a drought. It is a fragile situation and deserves attention while there is still a resource to utilize. And... I haven't touched on "Fracking" yet.
Any ideas? Can We Fix It?