Natural resources spur debate in Minnesota. Mining and forestry find their way into many controversies. But water? Well, people want it to be clean, but no one begrudges anyone a cool glass of water. Have another! Water your lawn if you want. No need, of course, because there’s plenty of water everywhere. This is, after all, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
As a result, Minnesotans take for granted the value of our water resources in the global picture. We have enough. Even as the climate gets warmer and drier, we don’t feel any climatological danger.
The same is not true elsewhere. The nation’s two most populous states, California and Texas, face serious water shortages over the next 50 years. Our third most populous state, Florida, faces the most danger from rising sea levels, where salt water could consume the Sunshine State’s fresh wetlands.
That’s why one NASA scientist predicts that Great Lakes water will be piped to dry cities within our lifetimes.
Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist and senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He recently gave a lecture in Ohio on global water supplies, reported by Keith Matheny of the Detroit Free Press.
Because of the Great Lakes’ abundance of potable, fresh water, “you might imagine that there’s a giant bull’s-eye that can be seen from space that’s sitting above the Great Lakes — meaning it’s a target area, in a sense, for the rest of the country,” Famiglietti said.
“Because there’s so much fresh water, you can imagine that 50 years from now … there might actually be a pipeline that brings water from the Great Lakes to Phoenix. I think that that’s part of our future.”
Those are fighting words around the Great Lakes.
“I don’t think people in this region believe that is part of our future,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of the nonprofit For Love of Water, or FLOW, which works to protect the Great Lakes.
But the global water crisis “is far worse than most people imagine,” Famiglietti told ideastream, adding that in terms of both global water quality and water supply issues, “I’m sorry to say it’s almost an unsolvable problem.”
Currently, Great Lakes water is protected by a compact signed into law by former President George W. Bush. It was a bipartisan agreement, not especially controversial at the time. It states that Great Lakes water should remain in its natural watershed.
And so long as the American Southwest has other sources of water, nothing much will change. However, when people deplete those water supplies, huge population centers like Phoenix and Las Vegas will face a crisis like we’ve never seen. Will California and Texas be far behind? Under the circumstances, would elected representatives in these places respect the rights of smaller Rust Belt states around the Great Lakes?
Probably not, is Famiglietti’s point.
One of the Great Lakes’ best defenses is its location in the heart of the continent. The size and distance of the pipelines required could make large scale Pacific Ocean desalination plants more financially feasible. We can hope.
But I’ve written about water wars before. It could happen. And if not, it’s just as possible that 100 million people look to the Great Lakes region for refuge at a time in our future.