Published: July 14, 2013
I've been asking everyone I meet if they have ever heard of the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most say "no," a few say "of course, we saw an article in The New York Times," but then aren't sure what it is, while the balance stare at me blankly. If you have a computer, open a search engine and type in "U.S. Drought Monitor." If you don't have a computer, go to a friend who does, or to the library, and look at this site. The national map shows a pristine white East with a Red to almost black West, with redder meaning a more severe drought. We are in big trouble.
The East, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean, has more annual rainfall than annual water use, and is usually drought free. The West on the other hand is an "arid desert," John Wesley Powell's words from 1878. The West consumes more water than falls from heaven, and relies on rivers, aquifers, and wells. The West uses 80 percent of its water for agricultural irrigation and needs water power from dams to provide the energy to light up Las Vegas, cool Phoenix, and run the movies and computers at movie star homes in Bel Air, Calif. With higher temperatures, the West uses much more energy than the East for cooling.
First go to the "South" section of the site and next "The High Plains" maps where you see the horrible story in bright red and black. Remember these are not Presbyterian colors, nor Mormon colors, nor conservative colors, nor liberal Democrat colors; they are the data colors and hold no skewed opinions. Forget experts, politicians and legislators: you look at the map!
While you are on the computer go to "U.S. National Debt Clock." There you see that we are borrowing money to pay the interest on our debt which is now either $17 trillion or $200 trillion depending on whether you add our unfunded liabilities to the total, of course recognizing the honor and word of our nation is pledged to pay these unfunded liabilities to Social Security and medical recipients. We don't have the bucks to do so, but as comic strip character Alfred E. Neumann said, "What, me worry?"
Again, $17 trillion is not a number dreamed up by a talk show host, $200 trillion is not a conservative or liberal phrase; it's the data, DUH. Before you finish reading this, the total debt will go up approximately $1,689,000.
On the water front, it would be convenient to decide to spend several hundred millions or billions to build dams and pipes to save Colorado, Texas, and Arizona from the drought, but where will we get the money? I know! Print some! But the Chinese may stop buying our bonds to convert that debt to cash. We also face losing our "most favored currency status" very soon.
So with all those happy thoughts behind us, we now get to bias, "the normalcy bias," where people can't, don't want to and don't consider the facts. It's just too scary. While your computer has the search engine cooking, please type "normalcy bias" in the search box, and see what happens. You see that it's about people ignoring hurricanes and war terrors, because it's too distressing to consider such dire happenings.
You learn that the "normalcy bias" caused millions of Jewish people to stay in Nazi Germany, feeling that Herr Hitler was really a nice guy and all those rumors about gas chambers were started by conservative lunatics. They stayed, refusing to face reality, and millions were immolated.
The normalcy bias knows no racial preference, no political party preference, no wealth favoritism; it's just a fact of human nature. So if we were to say to a retired general, or a retired plumber or a little old lady in Longmont that in 20 years their pension checks will stop and that they won't get water out of the spigots in the kitchen, they will call us lunatics and liars. So be it, you were all warned with nonpartisan numbers, maps and data.
Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.