I read a disturbing article on the state of the world’s water supply that I’ve linked here: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/07/06-5
The article is titled The Real Threat to our Future is Peak Water and it is a fairly gloomy assessment about water in specific parts of the world, including much of the American mid and southwest. The author, Lester Brown, says, “Today some 18 countries, containing half the world's people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers – China, India, and the United States – and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico.” This is problematic because most of the water in these deep aquifers is being used for irrigation, which has fueled an increase in grain production to feed growing populations of people. When we exhaust these aquifers, they will not replenish, and much of the land will go out of production, which will spark food shortages.
I was reading this article as we here in western North Carolina were experiencing one of the bigger rain events in our climatological history. There’s no lack of water here and the only cracked-earth photographs I’ve seen are of buckled roads, sinkholes, and fractured culverts from too much rain. I’ve heard many people say they’ve never seen it rain so hard and for so long. So, I think it’s fair to ask why an article on Peak Water has any relevance for those of us living here, where, for the moment at least, we have abundant water.
Many of us remember less than a decade ago when a persistent, multi-year drought gripped the entire region and state. In Madison County, numerous residents had heirloom springs go dry or were forced to dig deeper wells. In the mid-1980s, a drought forced many farmers in the Southeast out of business and saw others accept shipments of corn seed and hay from the Midwest in order to survive. We have plenty of water right now, but before we complain about too much water, it might be good to recall our dry past.
More importantly, we need to understand how societies respond when faced with a lack of water. Think New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Or in India right now, where thousands of farmers, faced with dried-up wells and an inability to grow even subsistence crops, have committed suicide. It isn’t hard to imagine the economic and political pressures that would come from the migration of millions of people looking for water. Those people probably won’t wind up in Madison County, but the effects of massive dislocation will be felt worldwide. People will do what they have to do to provide food and water for their families.
There is an old mountain saying: “A drought will scare you to death, but a wet time will starve you to death.” Our region’s farmers are finding truth in that adage with drowned crops and normally productive fields saturated with standing water. But farmers in India, Mexico, parts of China and the United States, and many other countries are living the opposite – a total lack of water that can starve you to death just as effectively.
As we experience and recover from our abnormally soggy season, we should be thankful for the gift of water, and remind ourselves of how quickly the world’s water tables can turn.