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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall . . .

October 28th, 2007 by Caroline Spector

 A few months ago, I was talking to Mom.  The conversation ambled around, as most of our conversations do given how similar I am to the tree I fell from, when out of the blue Mom said, darkly, “Well, some people don’t turn off the water when they brush their teeth.  They just leave it running.  It’s wasting water.”

Now this is a potentially big minefield for a myriad of reasons, so I said, “Well, Mom, not everyone lived in San Antonio during bad drought years.  Some people don’t understand drought on that kind of level.”

You see, from 1949 to roughly 1956, the eastern part of the Edwards Plateau (a region in Texas where my mother grew up) had a drought about as bad as the one in the Great Plains during the 1930s.

I got to thinking about this conversation when we were in Chapel Hill, N.C. a few weeks ago.  Marilyn, one of The Dude’s relatives, said to me, “You’ve been getting all the rain this year.  We need it here.  Everything is drying up and dying.”

I could understand her frustration.  Here in Central Texas, we struggle with drought.  A lot.  Austin seems especially prone to it.  I’ve seen months when every county around ours is getting rain and we’re the big dry spot in the middle. 

What I didn’t tell Marilyn is that she and everyone else in the Southeast better gird their loins and get used to drought.  Odds are they’re going to be seeing a lot more of it.

Atlanta, shockingly enough, is almost out of water – as in down to about a 90-day supply.  And now the governor is a battle with the Army Corps of Engineers over whether there’s a water  emergency at all

We’re so used to drought here in Austin that they print up the lawn-water rotation days and include them with electric statements.  And residents of California are plenty familiar with water shortages.  Those of us in traditional drought-prone states are the lucky ones.  We already know – on a baby level – what it is to deal with a lack of water.

Water scarcity is going to be the next big oil crisis.  (Along with, you know, the next big oil crisis.)

Not only have we over-taxed regional supplies, but we’ve settled in areas with no natural water sources, requiring importing water from other areas.  Los Angeles is a perfect example.  It’s in the desert.  (Sorry, a “semi-arid” area.)  And L.A. even had water wars during the turn of the last century to provide enough water for the growing city.

Drought is a scourge on mankind, but it’s one that we know happens.  The problem is, with global warming, droughts are becoming worse, lasting longer, and happening in areas where drought normally doesn’t occur.  No one is surprised by the wildfires in California.  However, the size and intensity of the fires is unusual, if not downright bizarre.  

Drought in the Southeast?  Sure, it’s happened before, but not like it has this year and not with millions of people who are stressing a water supply that was never expected to carry such a load.            

Here in Austin, we had what can only be described as a freakish summer.  We had rain almost every day for three months.  That is not summer in Central Texas.  Summer in Central Texas begins sometime between March and April.  We have some good rains in May, and then it’s hot and dry as hell until the first weekend in October.

Rain from May to the middle of August?  Not normal. 

Not breaking a hundred until the end of August?  Not normal. 

Hearing Austinites saying things like, “I’m getting sick of all the rain.”  Really not normal.

What I don’t get are people who say global warming isn’t happening.  Even if they can’t believe it’s mainly manmade in origin and choose to believe it’s a natural phenomenon, surely they can see that we’re not helping.

We’ve certainly lived through pretty dire drought conditions before.  The Dust Bowl was a combination of drought and bad farming practices that created dust storms of such power that the sky was blackened from the Great Plains to Chicago.

And just like the 1930s when human activity worsened the already dire climatic conditions, today we’re reaping the whirlwind of climate change aggravating natural dry cycles.

But hey, let’s just stick our head in the sand and say over and over again, “It’s just the Chicken Littles of the world trying to scare us.”  Yeah, we’re the ones trying to scare you.

Anyway, we’re just now getting fall here in Austin.  We had a mini-summer from the middle of August until the middle of October. More odd weather. 

And I hope that everyone in the Southeast and California gets some rain soon.

And I secretly hope we actually get to keep a little of that wet weather here.  

But I’m still going to turn off the water when I brush my teeth. And try to pare back even more my consumption of water where I can despite the fact that we had such a wet year.  And if I really get stumped for how to conserve water, I’ll call Mom.  I’m certain she’ll have some suggestions.    

Posted in Caroline, Daily Life, People, Science, The Dude | 7 Comments »

7 Responses

  1. Madeleine Robins Says:

    If she has suggestions, share them, will you? San Francisco is (despite native assumptions to the contrary) still part of California, and I have been getting increasingly concerned. I try to cut down on our water consumption here (using the run off water from washing dishes and running water until it’s hot enough to use to water the plants is a pain in the ass, but likely helps) but I’m always looking for new tips.

  2. Steven Gould Says:

    Albuquerque is doubly affected. First of all, we’re in the desert-no doubt about it. The road through here up the Santa Fe was called the Jornada del muerte for good reason. We get about 300 days of sunshine a year and we are Arid by definition (meaning average annual precipitation is less than half of evaporation, and the mean temperature of the coldest month is above freezing.) And we’re in the rain shadow of the Sandia Mountains. East moisture laden winds hit the east side and dump all the moisture on the side away from us.

    But like Austin, 2007 was a remarkably wet year for us, probably over twice what we usually get.

    But, it doesn’t really matter how much rain we got or snow, the **&##*^%^*#^%### developers are still building like crazy out on the west mesa and it’s just STUPID!

  3. Maureen McQ Says:

    We’re getting a rain barrel. It’s not much, but it’s better to water the tomatoes from the rain barrel than from the tap.

  4. Tricia Jumonville Says:

    My first year living in Central Texas (1969), the weekend I met my husband, we went walking in the snow. The next weekend, we hiked up Barton Creek (pre-development) – it was in the uper 80s, lower 90s. That’s been pretty much my experience of Central Texas “normal” weather in the 4 decades since then.

    However, even if this variation is normal (and I believe it is), we do, just as every other creature does, have an impact on the planet, and we should think and behave accordingly. Just not get our heads too big and think that we’re entirely or even mostly responsible for it.

  5. Sara Says:

    I’ve been showing An Inconvenient Truth to the Biology classes. It has gotten me thinking, what if the hanging chads had fallen another way and Al Gore had been elected president. How would the world be different today? I am pretty sure we wouldn’t be in Iraq, and I bet we, as a country, would be taking Global Warming/carbon dioxide more seriously.

  6. Bradley Denton Says:

    When we have a dry summer (in other words, EVERY summer except the one just past), it drives me ’round the bend to see all my neighbors dumping thousands and thousands of gallons of water on their vast lawns so their St. Augustine grass doesn’t die. Talk about leaving the water running.

    We had some St. Augustine in part of the front yard when we moved in, but we’ve been deliberately letting it get by on its own. (Partly because we want to conserve water; but mostly because we’re cheap.) And gradually over the past fifteen years, the buffalo grass that covers the rest of the yard has been taking over. (We also spread some buffalo grass seed to help it along.)

    The buffalo grass looks dry, dead, and crunchy for weeks on end when there’s no rain. But the day after a drizzle, bang! It’s green again.

    Works for me.

  7. rb Says:

    In other water-saving news, we are impatiently awaiting the arrival of a dual-flush toilet, which we ordered weeks ago.

    http://www.totousa.com/productpage.asp?PID=803

    My GYN and I got to chatting about bathroom remodeling, and she said she’d bought this toilet and, despite some initial skepticism, was able to report satisfaction.

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