Erik Ness' contribution this week, "Will Madison Run Dry?," is a speculative look at what problems might cause Madison to experience the kind of water shortages that many cities in the U.S., not to mention the world, are beginning to face as demand increases and supplies recede. Contemplating the issue reminds me of two water-related situations from the past.
The first relates to an inspection of my prospective house before we bought it in 1996. The inspector remarked upon the presence of a cistern accessible through a crawl space underneath the kitchen. He recommended that it be filled in.
I never acted on that recommendation, thinking that someday the cistern might come in handy. I've not made use of it since, but after reading Ness' report and the observations of the water-management professionals he quotes, I'm glad I haven't and feel more strongly than ever that the cistern will see use again.
The second recollection goes back to Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus, he of the red vest, who, during his term from 1978 to 1982, made protecting Great Lakes water from interlopers one of his priorities. He even called a meeting of the eight states and the two Canadian provinces that border the lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to preempt the federal governments from giving water from the lakes to other entities. There was a proposal at the time to create a slurry using Great Lakes water to carry coal from Wyoming to ports on the lakes.
The slurry proposal never went anywhere, possibly in part because of Dreyfus' actions. But as Ness alerts us in his article, there is every reason to believe that covetous eyes will be on Great Lakes water again in the short-term future. Dreyfus wasn't misguided, he was just a few decades early. It is time to start paying attention to how much water we use and how we use it.