Monday, October 22, 2007

How Not to Deal with a Drought in Progress

Athens, Georgia, may have had its act together - at least from what the local utility manager said. But the rest of the state, and its neighboring southern states, too, seemed to have ignored the fact that they were rapidly running out of water. This New York Time story (thank goodness one major paper is closely following these extreme weather stories) tells a story of neglect, irresponsibility, delusion and probably gross over-optimism.

Maybe the past has included plenty of dry spells. A couple weeks during the normal rainy season. A couple months through a hot summer. Even a whole season of hot dry weather, lowering the reservoir levels. But this situation has been going on intensely since the last rains of the winter. Even I've been following the story long enough that it's been plain to me that there was a crisis. But look at what's been going on down there while I've been worrying about them from way out here in California:

The response to the worst drought on record in the Southeast has unfolded in ultra-slow motion. All summer, more than a year after the drought began, fountains blithely sprayed, football fields were watered, prisoners got two showers a day and Coca-Cola’s bottling plants chugged along at full strength. In early October, on an 81-degree day, an outdoor theme park began to manufacture what was intended to be a 1.2-million gallon mountain of snow.

In late September, with Lake Lanier forecast to dip into the dregs of “dead storage” in less than four months, the state imposed a ban on outdoor water use. Gov. Sonny Perdue declared October “Take a Shorter Shower Month.”

On Saturday, he declared a state of emergency for more than half the state and asked for federal assistance, though the state has not yet restricted indoor water use or cut back on major commercial and industrial users, a step that could cause a significant loss of jobs.

Jeez Louise! Can we please elect some intelligent problem solving managers to public office? Soon? Here's more evidence of criminal incompetence:

The sense of urgency has been slow to take hold. Last year, a bill to require low-flow water devices be installed in older houses prior to resale died in the Legislature. Most golf courses are classified as “agricultural.” Water permits are still approved on a first-come, first-served basis.

And Georgia is not at the back of the pack; Alabama, where severe drought is more widespread, has not passed legislation calling for a management plan.

A realistic statewide plan, experts say, would tell developers that they cannot build if no water is available, and might have restricted some of the enormous growth in the Atlanta area over the last decade. Already, officials have little notion how to provide for a projected doubling of demand over the next 30 years. The ideas that have been floated, including piping water from Tennessee or desalinating ocean water, will require hundreds of billions of dollars and painful decisions the state has been loathe to undertake.

What can you say but, "Oy!"

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