America's water problems

>> Sunday, January 13, 2008

Another great article, I had forced upon me by a Google Reader subscription of mine, is this one from Salon.com regarding the unrepentant nature of expansion in water-poor areas. Ironically, most people would never have moved to these areas were it not for the technological changes made from oil--air conditioning, cars, etc.

Every once in a while, someone looks at a map, draws an imaginary line from Chicago to, say, Albuquerque, and thinks, "Wait a minute! If we can pipe oil across Alaska, we can pipe water from Lake Michigan."

When Richardson made that envious remark about Wisconsin's water, he tapped into the deepest fear of every Great Lakes politician: All those folks who fled to the Sun Belt will try to take the water with them. Richardson quickly clarified his remarks, saying he "believes firmly in keeping water in its basin of origin."

But he wasn't the first desert chieftain to look covetously at the Great Lakes. In 2001, President Bush tried to talk to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien about piping water to Texas. Chr├ętien wouldn't even discuss it. Three years later, trying to win Michigan, Bush declared, "We're never going to allow the diversion of Great Lakes water." Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey once told unamused Michiganders that the Southwest "could use some of that water of yours."

The Great Lakes define Michigan, not just geographically but emotionally. Michiganders see themselves as guardians of the Lakes, and have raised holy hell about issues as minor as exporting bottled water from local springs. For a state that's losing auto factories and college graduates, water is the last drawing card left. This year, when Georgia Republican John Linder introduced a bill to study the nation's water use, two Michigan congressmen condemned it as the overture of a plot to drain the Great Lakes.

"My constituents are not going to support diverting Great Lakes water, particularly to areas of the United States that have lured jobs and people from Michigan," snarled U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Lake Huron.

In other words: You wanted to go live in that sandbox. Don't come crying back to us when you can't find anything to drink. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Lake Michigan, was even more belligerent. He threatened to "call up the militia" to defend his region's water.

But taking water from the Great Lakes is not the same as taking coal from West Virginia, or oil from Alaska. The Great Lakes are not giant reservoirs to be drawn on whenever the nation needs a drink. They're an ecosystem. Lowering the Lakes would destroy fish spawning grounds and steal water from farmers. Thanks partly to the same climate change that has the South thirsting, the Lakes are as shallow as they've ever been. They haven't frozen over in recent winters, and no ice cover means more evaporation. In November, a freighter carrying limestone into Muskegon, Mich., had to turn back when its hull struck bottom.
So much for easy answers!

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