Water problems have been around for ages – a repeat

The following post was written in 2016 during that presidential election season. Water is our dearest resource besides the air we breathe. For several years, the World Economic Forum has noted water shortages and climate change are our biggest concerns, with the latter making the former problem even worse.

The water issues that have been plaguing Flint, Michigan residents are not new. Our planet has had water (and sewage) issues dating back to when people gathered together in villages. In Steven Solomon’s book called “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” he describes how the mastery over water resources kept leaders of civilizations in power. The needed mastery revolved around water to drink and bathe in, water to carry sewage away, water for transportation and trade and water for naval control.

Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • Every major city has had water/ sewage issues. In London in the 1850s, a  major problem came to a head which was called the Big Stink. The planners had sewage lines dropping waste into the Thames. When cholera and dysentery epidemics broke out, initially, the planners thought these were air borne diseases. But, when they realized a brewery, where employees drank free beer, had only minimal breakout, they realized the diseases were water borne. It turned out the sewage line was perilously close to the line that pulled water from the Thames to drink. Once that was remedied, the breakouts subsided.
  • In Edinburgh, the Scots had an unusual way have handling sewage. It turns out, the city dwellers would throw sewage out of their homes around 10 pm, which is the reason people smoked after meals to mitigate the smell. This made foot traffic very perilous and less than sanitary.
  • In Chicago, when the city got so crowded and filthy, city leaders realized they needed to carry sewage away, but they could not figure out how to do it. An engineer had an idea that they should lift the buildings using railroad car heavy duty jacks and build the sewage and water lines beneath the buildings.This actually worked too well, as Lake Michigan began to get filthy and fish would be coming up through the water lines into bath tubs. So, they had to remedy where the sewage was dumped.
  • It is thought that the greatest Chinese achievement is the Great Wall. Yet, a more monumental achievement per Solomon was to build a canal between the two major rivers in the country – the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This was a massive undertaking, but led to transportation and trade across the country.
  • Solomon also advocates the two greatest achievements in US History that made us a world power is the building of the Erie and Panama Canals. The former linked the east coast with trade of goods with the Midwest, making Chicago a very important port. The latter gave us access to two oceans and helped with global trade and naval might. He also credits the two Roosevelts as our greatest water presidents, with Teddy building the Panama Canal and buying watershed rights in the west. FDR built many dams to create hydro-power.

I mention this now, as Solomon has been a staunch advocate for addressing our water problems before it is too late. Flint-like problems exist in several cities right now. Yet, this goes beyond Flint, as our planet is drying up our water resources and it is noticeable by satellite pictures. It is also being made worse by climate change, which the Department of Defense says is one of the greatest threats to our planet. And, The World Economic Forum echoes these concerns with the global water crisis being the number one risk in their 2015 Global Risks report followed by climate change inaction. Solomon is adamantly against fracking as the amount of water wasted is huge per frack. He also notes that not only climate change will make the water crisis worse, but so will over-population.

Finally, the man who predicted the housing crisis two years before it happened, who is featured in the movie “The Big Short,” has only one investment right now. He is buying up water rights. Yet, outside of the Flint issue which is being spoken to by Clinton and Sanders, no candidate is addressing our water concerns and only one Republican candidate admits that climate change is a problem, John Kasich, with both Democrats being vocal about it. These might be questions we want to ask our candidates about, especially with Department of Defense and World Economic Forum noting their concerns.

*NOTE: The city of Cape Town, South Africa has come perilously close to running out of water on more that one occasion. It was so bad, the city had a countdown clock. In Solomon’s book, it is noted Muslims are permitted to pray with sand than water, as it is such a dear resource in Saudi Arabia.

14 thoughts on “Water problems have been around for ages – a repeat

  1. While reading your post, the movie Water World came to my mind. We are so spoiled over here when still we are aware that we need to take care of that gift. I could imagine well that one day it will be the most valued treasure all over the planet and the reason for wars. I hope we can turn the tide in time.

    • Erika, so true. This is a reason this investor is buying up water rights. Plus, the Koch Brothers did the same. My guess is they look to make a profit off of diminishing water supplies. We must do better, plus clean up the plastic and chemical run offs. Keith

      • It is shocking to still see that some people (organisations) are so ego-driven that they don’t realize what consequences their actions cause on the long run.

      • Erika, true. There are some who want to profit off privatizing public services, where they can charge a premium for faster or better service. Regulations that keep things fair are there for a reason. Keith

    • VJ, there truly has not been. There is a town in Texas where the water was used up because of fracking. And, the drought and wildfire areas in the US need water badly..Keith

  2. A timely post Keith. SF writer picked up on this years ago.
    Kenneth Blumer back in 1960s wrote a short story titled ‘To The Pump Room With Jane’. It was written in a pastiche of Jane Austen’s style, one of the aspects being ‘Jane’s mother was hoping to arrange for Jane to marry an eligible sea captain whose ship was one which brought large portions of icebergs to Britain to make up for the water shortages.

      • One benefit of reading well reasoned SF plots is that when something happens you’re not quite as surprised, because you remember reading something similar at some stage.
        (Sad to say there are also some dreadful ideas which made it to publication- such as the film ‘Sunshine’ so ludicrous a concept as an adult film as to be not worthy of repeating here)

      • Roger, you could say that about a lot of genres. Right now, CGI films are all the rage, but that plot thing is lacking and dialogue is hard to come by. This is one reason foreign trained actors get the better roles in American movies when dialogue is required. Keith

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