Water Crisis Scenarios For The US Southeast


The water shortages in the US Southeast are serious now, as Lloyd's post of this morning well points out. Before you go read Lloyd and the New York Times, we suggest you do a little scenario thinking with us.

Here are two equally plausible scenarios for the next year. I named them to make for easy conversation. More scenarios are possible; but lets start with two. Which one do you think most resembles the future direction the Southeast is headed?

Springtime In Dixie
Real rain comes back in the winter and spring of 2008 - at least enough to pull back from the edge of a regional crisis - and life returns to "normal." More big houses get built. The landscape service trucks again block intersections every morning as usual. Power plant expansion plans go back in play. The cries of environmentalists for more water conservation measures fade into the din of traffic shuttling to and from the distant suburbs. Climate change is maybe not so real a threat after all.Vote For Rain
Because of modest amounts of rain in winter and spring, immediate crisis is averted, even though the long term trend of serious drought remains. Vote for Rain represents a growing clash between the realities of rural and urban life and denial that nature itself has changed, masked by demands that "The Government" do something. Waiting for the government sustains a collective sense of denial that drastic changes in lifestyle are around the corner. The popular notion of individual responsibility does not encompass resource conservation (except for some silly Tree Hugger types).

By the late summer of 2008, city folks are unhappy, but getting by. However, the agriculture, forest product, and energy sectors are on in a near emergency state. Practical interdependencies of urban and rural life are spoken of now. Wild fire and brownouts are real risks.

By the 2008 election season, there are ballot measures to force closure of water intensive industries. Other proposed measures mandate changes to individual behaviors: lawn watering, car washing, water blasting decks, driveway washing, types of toilets permitted by zoning, and so on.

Gubernatorial candidates make a host of promises: pipelines from the Great Lakes; water desalination plants; return to public ownership of previously privatized water systems; bringing in experts from the US West, formation of water resources planning councils, and more. There is even talk of economic development zones based on development of water saving technology.

Candidates for Federal office promise "calling in the National Guard" to haul water and the Army Corps of Engineers to "do something."

Yet, by election day in November 2008, little has changed, as these are all long term solutions. Per capita water consumption, on a steady down slide for months has plateaued by end of summer. The obvious need for serious lifestyle and design changes are barely discussed in the news. There is a sense that things will get better next year.

Vote for Rain does have a good news component. It gets people talking and thinking about climate change. The linkage between per capita energy consumption and per capita water consumption and climate is made for some. Vote for rain marks a tipping point in public consciousness, then.

Image credit::WX-Man, Accuweather Forecast from 2005

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