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Drought in the U.S. puts the political focus on cross-border bulk exports - whether Canadians like it or not
William Walker WASHINGTON BUREAU TANNIS TOOHEY/ TORONTO STAR PRECIOUS RESOURCE: Too many people in places too dry to support them has the U.S. in trouble.
BEAR WALLOW, Va. - DEEP IN THE southern Appalachian mountains, you take a series of blind hairpin turns and a steep climb, past four giant mines spitting coal into waiting railcars, to get to Chris and Michael Arnold's house.
The climb begins off the main highway, just past the rodeo ring and the riding mower racetrack.
The Arnold family is accustomed to the precarious drive, made more hair-raising by the absence of guardrails. Only the evergreen trees would break your fall off this dirt road barely two cars wide, at more than 2,000 metres elevation.
For almost three years, the Arnolds have been hauling up to their mountain home a commodity even more precious than coal in this southwestern Virginia area.
"We just didn't have any water. It just kept getting worse and worse and worse," Chris Arnold says as she and her twin redheaded 10-year-olds, Kellie and Reonna, unload groceries from their van.
"My husband has to haul water, anywhere between two to three days a week during the work week and both days on the weekend, to keep our water for a bath and enough to boil for cooking," she says.
The problem in Bear Wallow is no different from anywhere else in America where there's a water crisis. The spring-fed well simply dried up three years ago, owing to overuse.
All over southwestern Virginia, large river beds are down to ankle-deep trickles, smaller creeks are dried up altogether and overgrown with weeds. The coals mines have also collapsed many wells.
In other states, lake levels are at historic lows. Rivers are drying up. Wetlands are being lost to development.
Across the country from Arnold, Layfayette, Ore., southeast of Portland, is going the way of Bear Wallow. Residents have been told the taps may run dry this month. The commuter town's population has doubled and the water supply has been depleted.
It's a simple equation: more Americans using more water than nature can regenerate.
For Chris Arnold, it means everything's on hold: toilet flushing (periodic), clothes washing (at the coin laundry in town), dishwashing (once a day) and baths (also once, taking turns).
"You don't know what it's like until you've boiled snow to have water to cook with for your children," Arnold says, her voice wavering with emotion.
"When you have to boil snow to give your babies a bath...it's pretty hard."
She keeps her dishes in a bowl of recycled "bleach-water" during the day before washing them. Nary a drop is wasted down the drain. It all gets reused for something.
When her husband hauls up enough water to run the washing machine, she does the white load first and then reuses the dirty water to wash the dark loads.
During these hot summer months, the Arnolds' plight is being played out in 18 states, from the rapidly developing West to fast-growing southeastern states.
And that's a lot of voters.
The political pressure is mounting for President George W. Bush to fix it, and he is looking north for a solution.
Bush wants to open a "dialogue" with Canada about buying fresh water. It's a discussion Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his Liberal government would rather not have.
Canada opposes bulk water exports to the U.S., even though some premiers, most recently Newfoundland's Roger Grimes, say water is a provincial resource and Ottawa cannot stop the sales.
Ironically, Ottawa's position on another provincial resource - softwood lumber - is that it is properly a tradable commodity under the North American Free Trade Agreement. But Canada wants water exempt from NAFTA.
The difference is, Ottawa wants to sell lumber, but it doesn't want to sell water.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), August 12, 2001
What about desalinization? It keeps Saudi Arabia afloat. We've got to come to this somewhere along the line, but you never hear about it.
-- Sparky (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 12, 2001.
I recall, way back in 1958 when my job was Business Manager of a publishing company in Chicago. My Dean Witter broker was located in the same building, and we spent a lot of time together. He was touting a company that was developing water desalinization systems, and enthusiastically recommending to me that I buy their stock, because this is the "coming thing."
Sure ain't coming very fast, is it?
-- JackW (email@example.com), August 12, 2001.
Obviously these plants take a while to build and are quite expensive as mentioned in the following article from Florida this past July.
If everything goes as scheduled, the plant would be in operation by December 2006, said Tampa Bay Water spokeswoman Michelle Robinson.
Robinson said that when the plant is complete, residents who use 8,000 gallons of water per month could expect to see their water bills rise by an additional $16.87 per month through 2008. The project would increase the wholesale cost of water from the current rate of $1.50 to $2.88 per 1,000 gallons.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 12, 2001.
Rain falls hits the ground runs to a storm sewer~ Doesn't soak in. Now aquifers are drying up.......! Hell if i know what the problem is
-- kevin (email@example.com), August 12, 2001.
It's population, population, population. Too many people to consume a finite amount of water. It's the old economics law of supply and demand being applied to the human condition.
This is why desalinazation is a must - no matter the cost.
-- Big Cheese (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 12, 2001.
Beef. Lawns. Mines. Pavement. Climate Change.
Beef production uses vast oceans of water (especially the Oglalla aquifer in the Great Plains).
Lawns are a stupid use of water, especially in urban areas.
The mines listed in the article destroyed the groundwater for the neighbor's well, but mining companies have more clout than rural families.
Paving the planet disrupts hydrology, especially of recharge areas.
Climate change is clearly going to shift water supplies/rainfall/etc.
www.ifg.org/bgsummary.html (water wars & global economy)
www.cia.gov/cia/publications/globaltrends2015/index.html -- climate change (desertification) and depleted resources equals an unstable world
-- mark (email@example.com), August 13, 2001.
George W. Bush wants to grant amnesty to over 3 million illegal aliens living in the U. S. Reagan did this in 1986, and even more people came to the U. S. illegally because it gave them hope that if they entered illegally someday the U. S. government would make it all o.k. Our natural resources can no longer support this growth.
Please see: http://www.numbersusa.com/interests/urbansprawl.html
-- K (firstname.lastname@example.org), August 13, 2001.
Santa Barbara either built, or was planning to build, a desalinization plant a few years ago. The construction cost alone, not to mention the operating costs, would have made my miserable 50 g.p.m. well worth over a million bucks, if I could have figured a way to relocate it. And it only cost me $900 to drill it!
Desalinization seems like an act of desperation to me--deperation brought about by the failure to address our population issues.
-- joj (email@example.com), November 06, 2001.