[Marxism] Peak water

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Oct 27 07:37:12 MDT 2007

The Huffington Post
BRIAN SKOLOFF | October 26, 2007 09:24 PM EST | AP

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — An epic drought in Georgia threatens the water 
supply for millions. Florida doesn't have nearly enough water for its 
expected population boom. The Great Lakes are shrinking. Upstate New 
York's reservoirs have dropped to record lows. And in the West, the 
Sierra Nevada snowpack is melting faster each year. Across America, the 
picture is critically clear _ the nation's freshwater supplies can no 
longer quench its thirst.

The government projects that at least 36 states will face water 
shortages within five years because of a combination of rising 
temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.

"Is it a crisis? If we don't do some decent water planning, it could 
be," said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the Denver-based American 
Water Works Association.

Water managers will need to take bold steps to keep taps flowing, 
including conservation, recycling, desalination and stricter controls on 

"We've hit a remarkable moment," said Barry Nelson, a senior policy 
analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The last century 
was the century of water engineering. The next century is going to have 
to be the century of water efficiency."

The price tag for ensuring a reliable water supply could be staggering. 
Experts estimate that just upgrading pipes to handle new supplies could 
cost the nation $300 billion over 30 years.

"Unfortunately, there's just not going to be any more cheap water," said 
Randy Brown, Pompano Beach's utilities director.

It's not just America's problem _ it's global.

Australia is in the midst of a 30-year dry spell, and population growth 
in urban centers of sub-Saharan Africa is straining resources. Asia has 
60 percent of the world's population, but only about 30 percent of its 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network 
of scientists, said this year that by 2050 up to 2 billion people 
worldwide could be facing major water shortages.

The U.S. used more than 148 trillion gallons of water in 2000, the 
latest figures available from the U.S. Geological Survey. That includes 
residential, commercial, agriculture, manufacturing and every other use 
_ almost 500,000 gallons per person.

Coastal states like Florida and California face a water crisis not only 
from increased demand, but also from rising temperatures that are 
causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. Higher temperatures 
mean more water lost to evaporation. And rising seas could push 
saltwater into underground sources of freshwater.

Florida represents perhaps the nation's greatest water irony. A hundred 
years ago, the state's biggest problem was it had too much water. But 
decades of dikes, dams and water diversions have turned swamps into cities.

Little land is left to store water during wet seasons, and so much of 
the landscape has been paved over that water can no longer penetrate the 
ground in some places to recharge aquifers. As a result, the state is 
forced to flush millions of gallons of excess into the ocean to prevent 

Also, the state dumps hundreds of billions of gallons a year of treated 
wastewater into the Atlantic through pipes _ water that could otherwise 
be used for irrigation.

Florida's environmental chief, Michael Sole, is seeking legislative 
action to get municipalities to reuse the wastewater.

"As these communities grow, instead of developing new water with new 
treatment systems, why not better manage the commodity they already have 
and produce an environmental benefit at the same time?" Sole said.

Florida leads the nation in water reuse by reclaiming some 240 billion 
gallons annually, but it is not nearly enough, Sole said.

Floridians use about 2.4 trillion gallons of water a year. The state 
projects that by 2025, the population will have increased 34 percent 
from about 18 million to more than 24 million people, pushing annual 
demand for water to nearly 3.3 trillion gallons.

More than half of the state's expected population boom is projected in a 
three-county area that includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, 
where water use is already about 1.5 trillion gallons a year.

"We just passed a crossroads. The chief water sources are basically 
gone," said John Mulliken, director of water supply for the South 
Florida Water Management District. "We really are at a critical moment 
in Florida history."

In addition to recycling and conservation, technology holds promise.

There are more than 1,000 desalination plants in the U.S., many in the 
Sunbelt, where baby boomers are retiring at a dizzying rate.

The Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant is producing about 25 million 
gallons a day of fresh drinking water, about 10 percent of that area's 
demand. The $158 million facility is North America's largest plant of 
its kind. Miami-Dade County is working with the city of Hialeah to build 
a reverse osmosis plant to remove salt from water in deep brackish 
wells. Smaller such plants are in operation across the state.

Californians use nearly 23 trillion gallons of water a year, much of it 
coming from Sierra Nevada snowmelt. But climate change is producing less 
snowpack and causing it to melt prematurely, jeopardizing future supplies.

Experts also say the Colorado River, which provides freshwater to seven 
Western states, will probably provide less water in coming years as 
global warming shrinks its flow.

California, like many other states, is pushing conservation as the 
cheapest alternative, looking to increase its supply of treated 
wastewater for irrigation and studying desalination, which the state 
hopes could eventually provide 20 percent of its freshwater.

"The need to reduce water waste and inefficiency is greater now than 
ever before," said Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water 
at the Environmental Protection Agency. "Water efficiency is the wave of 
the future."

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