13 December, 2018

"Just" Water


Even before I turned 10 it was obvious I had an insatiable appetite for history. I loved to sit with old folks and hear them tell me about the days gone by and by 13 I could have been certified as a Civil War expert. I had checked out The Sinking of the Bismark so many times from the school library, no one else had a chance to read it while I was in 5th grade and part of 6th as well. Except for the lack of love scenes, it behooves any screenwriters out there to give it a look – what a plot! But that has nothing to do with today's topic.

I had a good grasp of Kansas history as well. I knew about the pro-slavery Kansas constitution and the anti-slavery constitution – the latter is the one that won out after some bloody confrontations giving rise to the name “Bleeding Kansas.” I actually lived in both capital cities – Topeka, the anti-slavery capital we all know and Lecompton, KS about 18 miles east of Topeka, the pro-slavery capital that is mostly ignored.

Finally in high school I came across material on The Dust Bowl, and it simply floored me that no one I had talked to had ever said a word about it. I lived in Northeast Kansas, which was about 150 miles east of the Dust Bowl's eastern line, but such a phenomena would surely have affected beyond the borders drawn on a map. Yet, none of my mentors had even mentioned it.

On a recent day off, I immersed myself in Ken Burns' film, “The Dust Bowl” and watched the whole four hours (or so) in one sitting. It was my second time to watch it, doing it all at once was a bit overwhelming even with the knowledge I had going in. If your anti-depressant Rx is up to date, it's an eye-opener for sure, but without meds, it is one helluva story to follow. It was one of the “top five natural disasters” in the world and it was entirely man-made. Let that sink in. Mind you, as it happened, the humanity involved had no idea that they were at fault, but none-the-less, absent the mass of humans with their tractors and their plows, and there is no The Dust Bowl. A rather long drought, did nothing to help it, but it would not have caused the blowing dust that killed animals, domestic and wild, and humans alike. There had to be humans and their tractors pulling plows.

There was one mention at the very last of the film that I want to explore today, something I had heard of several times, in the back ground of other conversations, but here, in the film, a man was saying we have 40 years left and I began to calculate from the film's 2012 release about when he gave those numbers – six years ago, plus however long in production.

The forty years left was in reference to the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala Aquifer is a massive body of water that lies underground from South Dakota and Wyoming, through Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, ending in Texas. While it's been known about for some time, becoming a part of the White Cultures' science just over 100 years ago, the Ogallala was left pretty much alone. In the years around WWII, farmers began to use the Ogallala to grow crops that needed more water than they had and once farmers had a vision of all they could grow using the aquifer's water, the dam burst, so to speak, giving rise to the gloomy prediction of forty years left. The Ogallala provides 30% of the water used for irrigation nation wide, and also supplies many mid-Western municipalities with their drinking water supply.


The Ogallala Underground Aquifer
from Wyoming to Texas touching eight states.


Once depleted, the Ogallala will take 6,000 years to replenish. This is a finite resource. No politician seems to have the heart to say, “Uh, folks? We have a problem here,” and it's a big problem. The Ogallala is being drained in years with good rain, because farmers can grow crops that would not be attempted without that water. It is used heavily in rain short years to keep the traditional grain crops producing. It is used too heavily and this consumption needs to be addressed to prevent this resource from disappearing.

Without the water, a whole new chain of so-called “Okies” will hit the road for – literally – greener pastures, only California won't be one of them. Our water shortages are as bad as the Great Plains, if not worse. California agriculture ships alfalfa, a heavy drinker of a plant if there ever was one, rice and other plants to foreign markets which is absurd because in the real world we are shipping our water overseas – water we can ill afford to give up to make a farmer – or more likely, a company that grows the alfalfa and so on, rich. Our precious water is sent across the world when shortages are already here – if one should have any doubts, a quick internet search on the water levels at Lake Mead should quickly clear that up.

Of all the concerns we have about Global Climate Change, the one I never hear is lack of water – and yet that figures in the equation – especially when we also waste huge quantities of water in fracking. The chemical soup that is used in fracking – too toxic to reveal just what compounds are in that mix – ruins water and that water will never be used for drinking ever again.  Here is the hard truth about fracking: That water is never coming back. There is no way to clean fracking water –it is catastrophe that will serve no good to anyone for the rest of the life of the planet, unless a miracle occurs. We - as a species - count on water recycling through the system - this does not happen with water used in fracking - mind you, there are other examples where we have removed water from Earth's hydrological cycle that we won't get back.


We all need to be on the front lines pushing our governments to do more with less – to control this abuse of water and to make sure there is ample water for future generations. We can start by using less ourselves – I subscribe to the belief that we must treat water like the sacred, limited, precious life force that it is and so I take fast showers, less frequently; I put cold water in a bucket while I wait for my water to heat up and use it around the house (no, I don't want an instant hot water unit – that hot water tank figures in my survival plans as a source of water in an emergency!). But let's all be cognizant that all our water is a limited resource – whether you are growing crops that need more water than your locality can afford, or shipping the plants you irrigated across the ocean, noting that those plants used the water that had to be pulled from the Colorado River (which already doesn't have enough) thereby degrading the amount of water we have for wildlife and humans alike. We need to make these points to our Congresspeople and to the world at large.

Just water” is only “just” until there is no more. It is precious and a vital part of life. Let's value it and work to show everyone the priorities we need to embrace.

david

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