Pay Attention Oregonians: Drought Hits the South Hard

Though you will generally not see me mention my family much in H2ONC, I have to note that my wife hails from the Southeast of the U.S. (South Carolina, in fact). Her extended and immediate family are spread throughout the region. So I tend to pay careful attention to water-related issues from the area, after all, I too have a stake in it. Which brings me to an important point: water is a unifying necessity. The availability of it in one region does not mean it is always present for the rest of us. And the demands for water in drier parts will eventually have repercussions for those of us more blessed with favorable hydrology–just look at 20th century speculation about piping the Great Lakes or the Columbia to the desert Southwest.

The New York Times has published a lot on the growing implications of drought in the Atlanta area and the watershed that extends from the city’s primary reservoir into Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Check out the original article by clicking here. The short of the article is that poor (i.e. to little to late) water planning has combined with surging demand, fueled by surging growth of the Sunbelt city, and some extreme climate variability to build a dire situation for Atlanta. The city and State of Georgia are now requesting that the agency in charge of water rights allocations across state boundaries–the Army of Corps of Engineers–should allow the upper end of the basin (i.e. Atlanta) to release less water to the lower end (Alabama and Florida). The Feds have yet to make a decision. Water attorneys, environmental groups, businesses, government agencies, and others are lining up to stake a claim in the fight.

Lastly, it is sobering to note that if the forecasts of prominent climate modelers summarized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report are correct, then the Southeast will continue to dry out. If that is the case, expect to see much deeper conflicts and more serious economic repercussions. People have done some amazing engineering feats to bring water to them, or in the case of the 1930s Dust Bowl, gone to where there was water. This is a good time, therefore, for Oregonians to refrain from being smug while other regions of the country grow drier.

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