Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Water Wars

We goofed, big time.   When Europeans settled in North America they believed it was "what you see is what you get."  As they planned for growth and expansion they didn't understand that what they took as normal was anything but.  The science wasn't available to warn them that, throughout most of North America, the 20th century was unnaturally wet or that some areas we intensely developed were subject to naturally-occurring megadrought.

That's not to say there weren't clues.   There is a reason the Great Plains were mainly grassland with the odd, stunted tree growth.  Let's call that reason historical sustained drought.   Yet, during a wet century, we were able to populate the land complete with towns and cities based on unduly wet conditions.

Oopsie!   Now we know we had it wrong.   Now we can use tree-ring based hydroclimate reconstructions to peer into the past.  And they're painting a much different picture than the assumptions we used in planning our expansion and development.   A recent study looked at Georgia and that state's history of prolonged and repeated droughts.

The reconstruction shows that the recent droughts are not unprecedented over the last 346 years. Indeed, droughts of
extended duration occurred more frequently between 1696 and 1820. Our results indicate that the era in which local and state water supply decisions were developed and the period of instrumental data upon which it is based are amongst the wettest since at least 1665. 

Given continued growth and subsequent industrial, agricultural and metropolitan demand throughout the southeast, insights from paleohydroclimate records suggest that the threat of water-related conflict in the region has potential to grow more intense in the decades to come.

...Given recent water shortages and emerging challenges,
Georgia and adjacent states have revised water management
plans to include greater focus on conservation and efficiency
(MNGWPD 2009). Unfortunately, many water allocation
plans are based on limited 20th century records and capture a
narrow range of potential moisture variability (e.g., Stockton
and Jacoby 1976).

Yet with the return of protracted and severe droughts and the ongoing depletion of regional groundwater reserves, Georgia officials show little interest in responding to their problems.  Instead they're planning for huge growth, up to 60%, in water demand by 2035 even assuming a 20% decrease in per capital water use.   This is a candle burning fiercely from both ends.

Fortunately for the US south and southeast, they're blessed with truly inspired leadership from Georgia's governor Sonny Perdue to Rick Perry of Texas.   When drought strikes them they know how to respond - they declare official days of prayer for rain.


Kev said...

I read something similar a while back that said the last 200 years on the prairies were the wettest ever and that their natural state was that of a desert,certainly doesn't bode well for the future

The Mound of Sound said...

I recall that too, Kev. Apparently droughts of up to 60-years in duration are not unusual events on the prairies. The magnitude of such an event is almost impossible for us to imagine. The resources necessary to sustain significant populations and infrastructure over the span of a multi-decadal drought would be utterly enormous, quite possibly beyond what our country could bear.

Anonymous said...

I just commented on the previous entry. But I was thinking still.

Two questions really bother me. Do you think that Canadians appreciate what is almost certain to happen as the Southern US becomes uninhabitable? Just as the Chinese are going to move towards Siberia the US pop is going to move towards and then into Canada. It may take a while but it's going to happen. It does jibe well with US support for a Canadian dictorship. Any country that has US resources under its ground tends to get gifted with a dictator to lubricate the whoile process of resource extraction.

And what do the heads of the oil corp's and other corps expect is going to happen to them as the planet dries out? Do they think that they will be immune to the problems? It totally escapes me and the only thing that I (and others I've talked to) can come up with is that the majority of them are mentally ill, perhaps psychopaths, so they really don't get that this train is bearing down on all people not just the 99%.

Perhaps they have a moonbase? I don't get it at all. Who promotes profit over everything else knowing that it will kill your children or their children. There won't be any going back to normal for the human species, in a couple of hundred years there may still be pockets of humanity clinging on to some kind of life, maybe they think that their money will mean that their progeny are in these enclaves? That's fucking nuts.

Have you thought about this issue? because for me, with all of the shit that's going on and coming down the pike, this question leaves me flummoxed. I'm intersted in hearing what others think.


The Mound of Sound said...

Interesting questions, Anon, and, yes, I and several others have pondered them at length.

Do Canadians grasp the potential impacts they may face from what is developing in the American south? No, they plainly don't. We're chronically "behind the curve" on things of this sort. Part of that results from a government deliberately suppressing information and dialogue on these problems which is typical of any emerging petro-state. That's not hyperbole, it's fact.

As warming increases, population migration out of the tropical regions is an identified threat. It's been said that, in the context of climate change, each nation's greatest threat is the country that lies immediately between it and the equator. For the United States, that's Central America. For us, well that's obvious. I only wish the hillbillies didn't have all the guns.

What do the heads of Big Oil think is coming their way? From what I've read, they're reasonably well informed. Despite that, there's a business disconnect that comes into play. Perhaps they hope we'll have "just in time" geo-engineering fixes or that the wealthiest will always find refuge. I'm not sure this is a form of mental illness but it is intellectually dysfunctional.

You should read Jare Diamond's excellent book "Collapse." He uses his anthropological skills to dissect societies that have succumbed to extinction events. What's remarkable is that it was not uncommon in such societies for them to have recognized, well in time to change, what was happening and what would likely result. Despite that they didn't change and went the way of the Mesopotamians, the Mayans, or the Easter Islanders.

What Diamond also discovered is that civilization-ending events seem to come on precipitously, faster than expected and faster than anyone could cope with. Societies that survived were those that stayed ahead of events and either adapted or relocated.

Your first question goes to the point of staying ahead of events and the risks we're needlessly taking on by refusing to heed that imperative.

It's the future generations who'll bear the brunt of our neglect. We think we're kicking the can down the road. They'll find out it's not a can but a grenade.

Anyong said...

Michael E. Mann is an American physicist and climatologist, currently director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. He was a Lead Author on the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001 and was organizing committee chair for the National Academy of Sciences Frontiers of Science in 2003. He has just finished a book called "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" and is continually being dragged into the courts of the US to prove his scientific research. He always wins his defence because his research does not happen to be bogus or a hoax. Anon 10:46 AM I have continually raised the questions you have asked as well. There are many of us who know what is going to happen if we continue to do what we are doing and we refuse to acknowledge global warming is mostly being created by people. The worse part of this environmental problem is refusal to openly declare popultion growth must stop at the rate it is increasing now. When people like Santorum denounce people like Michael E. Mann by saying people like he are trying to change who controls the money...there is something really wrong and we must continue to speak out against the policies of our governments when it comes to the environment. The other thing we must stop doing in the West is continually trying ease our guilt by talking about the Chinese. They are doing far more to develop alternative energies than we are. We are still burning huge amounts of coal in North America. The Japanese have proven we do not need to be burning the amounts of electricity we do. They, since the earthquake have cut down on their consumption for the good of country. Let's take heed as to what other nations are doing and stop trying to pass the buck.

The Mound of Sound said...

Actually, Anyong, the Japanese situation isn't as noble as you suggest. Yes the Japanese have cut down on their electricity consumption but, with 52 of their country's 56 reactors now offline they don't have much choice.