Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Observations: Water Problems in the United States
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Residents of Eretz Yisroel are not the only ones who are worried about their water supply. Even the United States is also facing a water scarcity, but the situation in many other countries is worse. China, for example, faces more serious problems.

The U.S. has about 5 percent of the world's population but 8 percent of its fresh water. Nevertheless, shortages and problems are cropping up all over the U.S.

Parts of six counties in a region that borders one of the world's largest freshwater sources, Lake Michigan, could be in for serious water shortages within 20 years, a report by a regional planning commission said. The report surprised people who live near a lake system that contains one-fifth of the world's surface fresh water, but did not surprise a handful of corporations that have been saying that water will be for this century what oil was for the last.

This year, with shortages appearing in places that have never doubted the future of their supply, many parts of the United States have discovered water may indeed be a commodity more precious than oil.

A general warming trend, sprawl that covers the sponge of land that normally replenishes the nation's vast underground reservoirs, and the growing demands of agriculture and expanding cities are the reasons most often cited for accelerated water shortages.

Florida's reservoirs below and above ground are badly depleted and becoming briny with saltwater seepage. People have been hauled into court and fined for violating strict water rationing standards.

In Kentucky, more than half of the state's 120 counties ran short of water or were near shortages this year before heavy rains brought relief.

In the Pacific Northwest, where water is the master architect of a lush land, too little water has been promised to too many people, leaving farms and wildlife to wither. Even in the suburbs around Seattle, on the wet side of the Cascade Mountains, demand for water is outstripping supply, raising the prospect of shortages within 20 years.

Some major American cities in the Southwest, including El Paso, San Antonio and Albuquerque, could go dry in 10 to 20 years. But a number of towns in New England and the well- watered half of the Midwest are also facing the prospect of running out of water in a generation's time.

The federal government has offered little guidance. In the absence of a single power broker, a veritable free-for-all has emerged, with private companies and individual states and cities cutting their own deals.

In northeast Kansas, for example, the water shortage is so severe that state officials are discussing plans to build a pipeline, costing up to $200 million, to the Missouri River. But most of the water in the Missouri is already spoken for.

Some of the other big rivers that have long sustained American communities are running thin. The Rio Grande is down to a bare trickle and is so braided with chemicals and salt that animals that use it are dying.

Most of the U.S.'s fresh water -- about 60 percent -- is out of sight. It comes from below ground, in rivers and pools known as aquifers. These aquifers are being depleted at the same time that surface water is stressed by growing demands and heat.

It was the prospect of these growing national water scarcities that prompted Enron, the Houston-based energy conglomerate, to enter the water business. But Enron discovered that water was not as easily corralled as oil or gas. This year, after two years of foraging for water, Enron's water spinoff collapsed, reporting losses of more than $300 million and retreated from the stock market.

In Southern California, a private company, Cadiz, is negotiating with the agency that provides water for 17 million people to store water from the Colorado River in a Mojave Desert aquifer and then sell it back in dry years.

Farms use a majority of American water. Many water experts say it is inevitable that water to meet future needs will have to come from agriculture. Some are concerned that the fight over water will come down to a numbers game, ultimately leaving out wildlife.


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