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Before I start, allow me to get this out of my system:

The horrible fires in Colorado and other western states are the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry. There is no doubt that our warming climate made these fires inevitable and the fossil fuel industry has spent millions of dollars on disinformation and lobbying campaigns designed to prevent our government from taking any meaningful action.

We are devastated by what we are seeing on the news and our prayers go out to those who have lost everything. We hope that America will finally begin to take seriously the consequences of our inaction.

Unfortunately, we can expect more such disasters as time goes on. Welcome to the new normal.

As I said in my last post, Much of the US’s agriculture is in areas which are classically dry. The central valley of California, the Texas panhandle and the Great Plains states just north of it are pretty inhospitable in their natural state. How do we grow all these crops there? Do we pipe in water from elsewhere? Sometimes, but usually there’s an aquifer that can be tapped.

Aquifers are basically big underground lakes and they contain most of Earth’s available fresh water. This is why people dig wells. There’s a lot of water sloshing around under ground. Some aquifers are larger than several states and contain millions of cubic feet of water. in fact, the aquifer under the Texas panhandle and the seven states north of it is arguably the worlds largest: the Ogallala aquifer. It covers more than  174,000 square miles of ground under parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and New Mexico. 27 % of the irrigated land in the US is over this aquifer and it provides more than 80 % of the drinking water for people living within its boundaries.

There are two kinds of aquifers. Rechargeable and Paleo. The rechargeable aquifers are exactly as their names suggest; rechargeable. When we draw water out, new water seeps in to fill the void. The water that seeps in has filtered its way down through soil and rocks and has been conveniently cleaned and purified by soil microbes, trees, rock formations, etc. This is a really neat process and it helps keep the life running around above the soil (us and other critters) healthy and happy.

The other type of aquifer is the Paleo aquifer. Otherwise known as Fossil Aquifers. They are also as their name suggests: ancient. The difference with these is that they don’t recharge. They are filled with water that’s been trapped and removed from Earth’s water cycle for thousands if not millions of years by geological processes. Basically, Mother Nature covered the swimming pool and forgot where she put it.

As I said; two types of aquifers. Rechargeable and not rechargeable. They both however, have the same weaknesses: depletion and pollution.

In the case of the Paleo or Fossil Aquifers, they can be pumped dry and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Period. No matter how big they are–and they can be the size of a small country–they can be emptied.

In the case of the rechargeable aquifer, they can also be pumped dry by using more water than the aquifer can recharge in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, it’ll recharge, but it could take centuries.

Up until we invented motor driven pumps, it was pretty much impossible for us to empty an aquifer regardless of how we were using it. Now, we have pumps that can move thousands of gallons per minute and we’re using them all over the world.

And all over the world, water tables are falling. Fast. India, China, Pakistan, the US. Everywhere. And it’s causing quiet a bit of alarm, though not a lot of it is making its way into the news you read every day.

For example: ever wonder why China has such a hard time leaving Tibet alone? Water. Asia’s seven largest rivers originate on the Tibetan Plateau. China needs the water because they are over-pumping their aquifers and polluting their lakes and rivers in a way that is truly unforgivable. Unfortunately, all the other countries the rivers pass through need the water as well.

What’s a country to do? Pick a fight and start a big, messy, wasteful war? Maybe, but that still might not get you the water.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that certain large, multinational corporations have been watching this trend toward fresh water scarcity for a long time. Decades in some cases. In some cases the very companies that are using up and polluting the groundwater are the ones looking to cash in on the short supply. Hey, it’s the new oil.

It’s also the perfect product. No one can live more than a few days without it, and it falls out of the sky (in some places, anyway). Side step the regulations for ensuring its purity (bottled water isn’t regulated the way your tap water is) and it’s nearly free to produce. Just fill up the bottles with whatever you have, convince the public that what comes our of their faucets is filthy and it’ll sell like hotcakes.

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