Sunday, November 04, 2007

Water Woes

Uptown Ruler takes note of the Southeast's water woes, highlighted in Orme, TN. (Cross-posted from Scrutiny Hooligans.)
The Associated Press reports “As twilight falls over this Tennessee town, Mayor Tony Reames drives up a dusty dirt road to the community’s towering water tank and begins his nightly ritual in front of a rusty metal valve.

With a twist of the wrist, he releases the tank’s meager water supply, and suddenly this sleepy town is alive with activity. Washing machines whir, kitchen sinks fill and showers run.

About three hours later, Reames will return and reverse the process, cutting off water to the town’s 145 residents.

The severe drought tightening like a vise across the Southeast has threatened the water supply of cities large and small, sending politicians scrambling for solutions. But Orme, about 40 miles west of Chattanooga and 150 miles northwest of Atlanta, is a town where the worst-case scenario has already come to pass: The water has run out.
The mayor wonders what the 4.5 million people in Atlanta will do. I had my own perspective on the problem:
As Dreyfuss once said, “Well, this is not a boat accident! And it wasn’t any propeller; and it wasn’t any coral reef; and it wasn’t Jack the Ripper!” But for Atlanta, anyway, it wasn’t a shark or the drought either. It was overdevelopment.

The drought just precipitated the crisis that’s been a long time coming. Atlanta’s been sucking hard on the Flint River Aquifer for years without regard to what sprawl was doing to the water supply.

“Heavens, we can’t tell developers no. That would interfere with their personal freedom and right to put their land to its ‘highest and best use’.”

In 1998, I put in a wastewater neutralization system for a lens coating operation in an office park in Alfalfa-retta, north of Atlanta. I asked what the small out-building was at the edge of the parking lot. The Culligan rep told me it was a well house (in an upscale office park!).

He knew clients (including hospitals) drilling wells all over Atlanta because the Metropolitan Sewer District wouldn’t let people use all the water they wanted (both because of the MSD infrastructure capacity and water source limits, I think). So they were drilling their own wells to get unmetered water.

I was on the edge of another client’s lawsuit in Duluth Buford, GA, in 1999 when the county Fulton reneged on its water contract to supply the water needed for a new, water-heavy manufacturing operation we helped design.

The drought is just the straw that’s broken the camel’s back. The Flint River Aquifer has been under strain for a decade as Atlanta keeps growing, the developers keep developing, and the water supply keeps shrinking.

It was only a matter of time before the taps started running dry. Nobody listens. Nobody cares. Anyone who raises the alarm is an anti-business kook.

For years, I’ve wondered when we’d start seeing bumper stickers that said, “Suppose they gave a subdivision and nobody came?”

Maybe soon, now.
Then from today's LA Times:
But experts say the Southeast’s struggles over water resources are far from over.

“What was not on the table, and what has got to be on the table, is Atlanta’s unrestricted growth and cavalier attitude to water use,” said Sally Bethea, executive director of Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a watchdog group.

[. . .]

“Atlanta is a greedy, poorly designed behemoth of a city incapable of hearing the word ‘no’ and dealing with it,” said a recent editorial in the Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times.

The editorial said Atlanta’s “politicians can’t bring themselves to tell their greedy constituents complaining about the low flows in their toilets this week that perhaps if they didn’t have six bathrooms, it might ease the situation a bit.”

There is sowing, and then there is reaping.

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