Mar 15 2014
In a discussion of the current drought, I said, “When the toilets don’t flush, and the taps are dry, people will pay attention. That seems to be the human condition, little action on life-safety issues until lives are lost.” Then the question was asked, how long until that happens (toilets don’t flush, etc.)?
I don’t pretend to be a meteorologist, but I can count the years between strong El Niños, which experts say are predictors of droughts. http://ggweather.com/enso/oni.htm . In the link there was eight years between strong El Niños starting with 1957/1958 and ending 1965/1966; this was followed by seven years that ended 1972/1973. Then the number of years started to be longer with ten years ending 1982/1983; followed by fifteen years ending 1997/1998. After that the next strong El Niño occurred in 2009/2010 twelve years later. The number of years appears to be getting longer. Strong El Niños fill the reservoirs.
Currently we are in the third year of a drought. The reservoirs are about a third full. Let’s say the next strong El Niño does not come along for twenty years from the last strong one in 2009/2010. That’s five years longer than the recent historical span. If the trend for longer and longer spans between strong El Niños continues, adding twenty years would be 2029/2030. Will the toilets stop flushing and the taps run dry then? Being pragmatic, I think long before a third of the way through the 21st century, if the trends continue, there will be massive socio-economic changes IF water policy makers do not move on very significant initiatives to reduce dependence on imported water.
With drinking water very handy for us lucky people in the US, little thought is given to what happens when we cannot just reach for that water bottle or turn on a faucet. Charlie Reagan, the principal character in Water Shock describes what it is like.
“Charlie struggled onward. No shade to provide relief. The unrelenting sun burned into uncovered flesh without sweat to help cool it. He felt faint and lethargic. With each quick breath his lungs expelled the moisture in his body. Hot earth seared the soles of his feet through his hiking boots. He tipped his canteen to his mouth. Just a little to wet my lips and dry mouth . . . damn! It’s empty. Got to keep walking. Headache’s worse . . . can’t see very well . . . got to keep walking. Legs are cramping . . . “
We are mostly water. Three to five days is how long we live without water. We can go weeks without food, but not water. There are a billion people on this planet without access to clean drinking water. They know.
Lifeboat is a 1944 movie where several survivors of a torpedoed ship find themselves in the same boat with one of the men who sunk it, directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on a book by John Steinbeck that stars Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak and Walter Slezak. Part of the drama of the movie is when they run out of drinking water as they drift in the heat of the hot sun. One of the characters muses, “And I can’t help but think about those glasses of cold ice water I pushed away at the dinner table….”
Back to the question, “How long will it be before the toilets don’t flush and the taps run dry?” The answer is we may see it start to happen within a decade, but ironically it is relatively easy to fix….as long as those who have the power to fix it stop muddling around the edges and take real affirmative action starting NOW!