Cities Abandonded? Mass Migrations? The Questions No One is Asking About Drought

<p>Atlanta and the southeast are running out of water. But they're not alone: this year has been the driest on record in many parts of the globe. It's time to consider some worst-case scenarios, writes Tom Engelhardt.</p>
November 18, 2007, 11am PST | Michael Dudley
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Atlanta is hardly the only city or town in the region with a dwindling water supply. According to David Bracken of Raleigh's News & Observer, "17 North Carolina water systems, including Raleigh and Durham, have 100 or fewer days of water supply remaining before they reach the dregs." Rock Spring, South Carolina, "has been without water for a month. Farmers are hauling water by pickup truck to keep their cattle alive." The same is true for the tiny town of Orme, Tennessee, where the mayor turns on the water for only three hours a day.

And then, there's Atlanta, its metropolitan area "watered" mainly by a 1950s man-made reservoir, Lake Lanier, which, in dramatic photos, is turning into baked mud. Already with a population of five million and known for its uncontrolled growth (as well as lack of water planning), the city is expected to house another two million inhabitants by 2030. And yet, depending on which article you read, Atlanta will essentially run out of water by New Year's eve, in 80 days, in 120 days, or, according to the Army Corps of Engineers -- which seems to find this reassuring -- in 375 days, if the drought continues (as it may well do).

And then, there's that question which has been nagging at me ever since this story first caught my attention in early October as it headed out of the regional press and slowly made its way toward the top of the nightly TV news and the front-pages of national newspapers; it's the question I've been waiting patiently for some environmental reporter(s) somewhere in the mainstream media to address; the question that seems to me so obvious I find it hard to believe everyone isn't thinking about it:

"What if Atlanta's faucets really do go dry?" -- seem to end just where my question begins. It's as if, in each piece, the reporter had reached the edge of some precipice down which no one cares to look, lest we all go over. Let's face it, with water, you're down to the basics. And if, as some say, we've passed the point not of "peak oil," but of "peak water" (and cheap water) on significant parts of the planet well, what then?

These are questions I can't answer; that the Bush administration is guaranteed to be desperately unwilling and unprepared to face; and that, as yet, the media has largely refused to consider in a serious way. And if the media can't face this and begin to connect some dots, why shouldn't Americans be in denial, too?

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Published on Friday, November 16, 2007 in Tom Dispatch
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