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Boo! Water shortages!

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Just in time for Halloween, the New York Times publishes two pieces on the climate change’s “other water problem.” Why worry about rising sea levels when you don’t have any fresh water to drink?

The first is a fascinating, frightening, and essential look at the potential devastation that water shortages could wreak in the American West. The immediate drivers of the crisis are population growth and historically recurrent periods of drought. But climate change runs like a river through the story. As the article notes, it is simply impossible to disentangle the topic of water from the topic of energy. One official predicts that soon we’ll be measuring our “water footprint” the way we do our carbon footprint.

The article is too rich with detail to summarize. As the saying goes, read the whole thing. One thing that struck me is that the sums associated with the infrastructure projects now underway to shore up water supplies in the West are absolutely staggering. Billions of dollars in pipelines and purification plants are required for single municipalities. And people think clean energy is expensive?

Of course, the West has a long history of dealing with water issues and water management. The Southeast doesn’t. Unaccustomed to drought and suspicious of environmental interventions, the Southeastern states are comically unprepared for the shortages they are now experiencing.

How unprepared? “On an 81-degree day this month, an outdoor theme park began to manufacture what was intended to be a 1.2-million-gallon mountain of snow.”

But the story isn’t funny. Desperate to avoid a crisis, state authorities are now pressuring the federal government to cut off water to rivers that support several endangered species. The consequences of this issue really couldn’t be more stark.

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