Re: Precarious

1

What's really cheerful is that the other day, sitting outside with PK having coffee at the local strip mall, a guy came by wiping the tables from the previous night's rain. We made some small talk, and I mentioned that the rain was good for the plants, at least, given the drought.

"Oh, that's just the government lying to you. I'm a gardener; I know we've got plenty of water."

This after we'd just been saying how seldom it rains here. We're doomed.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:18 PM
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Is Nashville safe or does it too face inevitable drought? I'm considering moving there.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:20 PM
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B, that makes it sound like not only doomed, but doomed with just cause.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:21 PM
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I'm a gardener; I know we've got plenty of water.

You could buy him his very own copy of Cadillac Desert.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:24 PM
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3: But *I* believe in the drought! I don't want to be doomed!


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:24 PM
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I'm considering moving there.

Becoming an Elvis impersonator, Brock?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:24 PM
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Time to start dragging icebergs south before they can melt? Nuclear power plants solely for desalination? Road-Warrior-style ravening hordes trekking across a vast, dusty wasteland?


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:25 PM
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Fuck, nevermind.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:25 PM
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4: If I had had it on me, I would have given him my copy.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:26 PM
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Xeriscaping is the way.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:26 PM
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Ogged, did you think I said "Memphis" or "Vegas"? Either way, you might want to have your ears checked.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:26 PM
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"checked" s/b "waxed."


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:27 PM
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It's been droughty in Nashville, but we are well stocked in whiskey. You should come join us.


Posted by: dob | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:28 PM
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Just how far are you pouring that melted wax?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:28 PM
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Ogged, did you think I said "Memphis" or "Vegas"?

God damn Americana.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:29 PM
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On the second point in the post, someone today recommended I get a flu shot (which I never do) to help protect against staph infection. This sounds crazy to me, since--putting aside the fact that I have no idea how or why that's supposed to work--I'm pretty sure that even with the uptick my chances of getting a staph infection and being struck by lightning are probably roughly comparable. Am I wrong?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:33 PM
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God damn Americana.

They don't go through Tennessee at all in that one.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:37 PM
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Wrong about the latter, certainly -- people get minor staph infections all the time -- and I can think of a plausible mechanism for the former. I don't know if it's true, but say that getting sick lowers your resistance to infection. You get the shot, you get sick less, you get fewer infections.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:38 PM
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Does Cadillac Desert quote the parts from Beyond the Hundredth Meridian where Senators make speeches that "rain follows the plow?" That water will follow, if not providentially (although certainly that) than by some imagined connection between inhabitation and rainfall? Build it and it will rain?


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:39 PM
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CDC says:
Staph
19000 deaths per year
94000 cases per year

National Weather Service (Storm Data):
Lightning
3,239 deaths over 35 year period ending 1994
9,818 injuries over 35 year period ending 1994


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:39 PM
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If you don't brush up on your Americana, ogged, how will you convince Gryce to marry you.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:40 PM
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19: Isn't that actually exactly backwards? Forest gets more rain than cleared land, right?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:42 PM
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Oh yeah, it's backward and arrant nonsense. And Powell made the mistake of saying so.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:44 PM
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Do you mean Grice, eb? Or are you making a meta joke? It's so complicated around here. God damn complications.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:45 PM
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19: Pare Lorentz's WPA documentary on the dust bowl, The Plow that Broke the Plains, deals with this and is worth watching. Related to one of last night's threads, Plow that Broke the Plains also might be considered one of the best horror movies ever made. B's gardener friend should really check it out -- when he takes a break from his other homework.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:45 PM
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It's a House of Mirth reference.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:47 PM
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I don't remember if Worster's Dust Bowl talks about rain following the plow, but I'd bet his water book, which I haven't read, does.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:49 PM
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27: Yes, Rivers of Empire does get into the plow-rain causal chain (ooh look, a poem).


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:54 PM
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And Stegner is still the best writer about water and the West. Come to think of it, he's probably just the best writer, full stop, when it comes to the West.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 4:55 PM
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Hey, I live in a desert state with two big cities growing with no end in sight, and no water in sight, either.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:02 PM
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Stegner was semi-Canadian, so his book might be of interest to our Canadian brothers and sisters here.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:04 PM
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30: good thinking.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:05 PM
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Stegner was semi-Canadian,

I'm semi-amused by this phrase.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:09 PM
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31: Really? Remind me where. I'm Canadian, by birth and affect, if not residence. And so I'm quite interested. But I'm also self-hating, so I'll probably just sypathize with Wally.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:11 PM
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Another Canadian!


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:13 PM
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30: good thinking.

It was that or a job at Harvard.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:14 PM
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35: I have the hockey sweater and inferiority complex to prove it.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:14 PM
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[sigh] The lake will not be "drained dry" as anyone who has seen it would realize. It will likely be too low to generate power at the dam and the river below the dam may be dry. Not that those are trivial at all, but the idea of a lake that size drying up is just hysteria. Hard to imagine a city of 4 million -- and the various municipalities downstream -- losing their water supply, but having lived in Atlanta for 14 years, it's not all that surprising. I'm sure Yankees are to blame somehow.

Some details here, if I may be so bold.


Posted by: paul | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:14 PM
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While we're talking about scary water things:

It sounds like science fiction, but it's true: Killer amoebas living in lakes can enter the body through the nose and attack the brain, where they feed until you die.

Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:18 PM
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Growing up Stegner lived alternately in Canada (Saskatchewan) and the U.S., though as far as I know he was always a U.S. citizen.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:22 PM
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Now read 1491 with the descriptions of how a few Indian civilizations based on irrigation or creative water solutions in arid climates just up and collapsed after long droughts. We won't last long with no water.

It's just damn depressing around here, too. Our creek has been dry since May. I haven't cut my lawn since July cuz it doesn't grow with no water. And I'm sneaking water to my trees because some of them have already died.


Posted by: cw | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:23 PM
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It's a shame that some land has more value than other land, and is owned by people. I mean, that's good now, because otherwise there would be no incentive to do productive things with the land, but it's a very heartless process when land goes from being worth something to being worth nothing.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:25 PM
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The really scary water supply stuff I've been reading has been about China.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:26 PM
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39: The LA Times had a much scarier story than that today. It seems that the inventory of houses for sale in SoCal is now greater than ever before, while sales are slower than at any time since 1980. The period in question includes, of course, the horrible recession of the mid-80s. Which raises a question: if our houses aren't going to go up in price, what, exactly, is the point? I had big plans to take out a home equity loan and learn to kite surf. But now it seems that staph infections or thirst will get me if the amoebas don't. Alas, it may be time to return to Great White North.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:27 PM
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One point in a speech by Li Cheng: "if the average Shanghainese resident took a shower even once a week, the city's water supply would be used up."


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:29 PM
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Great green north, you mean.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:30 PM
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The really scary water supply stuff I've been reading has been about China.

We need a bigger military, because they're going to take over the world.

I find the panic about India and China pretty amusing, as it seems to entirely ignore that these are really poor countries where shitloads of people don't even have clean water to drink.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:31 PM
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Shang-heinies.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:31 PM
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It's not so green these days. The drought is spreading, though that might take care of the amoebas.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:32 PM
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It seems that the inventory of houses for sale in SoCal is now greater than ever before, while sales are slower than at any time since 1980.

HURRAH!!!


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:33 PM
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Which raises a question: if our houses aren't going to go up in price, what, exactly, is the point?

It's nice to get a good fixed rate and watch inflation eat away at your monthly housing costs. And after 30 years, poof. No rent.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:35 PM
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these are really poor countries where shitloads of people don't even have clean water to drink.

That's what I meant by "scary stuff." Poor (and not so poor) people facing potential losses of their clean water supply. This and this, for example.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:38 PM
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It seems to me that a huge amount of the water that is wasted is wasted on subsidized agriculture. This is true in the US Southwest and eb's first link actually cheered me up a little because it revealed that it is true in China too. Subsidized agriculture is one of those things which, because it is not infinitely sustainable, will stop at some point.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:40 PM
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Wasted on subsidized agriculture, like, how? Like wasted as in, not applied well and runs off the fields? Wasted as in, growing stuff that we don't need a lot of? I always wonder what people mean by wasted.

(Which isn't to say it isn't wasted, but I don't know what laypeople (?) mean by that.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:48 PM
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Oh dear, an expert.

I guess what I mean is "the water that is used in places with scarce water". One could say that any water that is used is wasted, if it ends up being waste water.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:50 PM
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s/b "the water that is used in places where water is scarce and should be conserved"


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:50 PM
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Is it illegal to water your lawn in the Atlanta area yet? When it's illegal to water your lawn I'll believe there's a crisis.


Posted by: neil | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:51 PM
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My understanding is "wasted by being to grow low-value crops like alfalfa, or being used in enormous amounts to grow rice in a desert."


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:54 PM
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Do you mean that we use water for agriculture (cheap) when people in cities don't have enough? Or that environmental uses are getting shafted, but ag still gets its water?

I don't mean to put you on the spot. I just hear that phrase, and this was a chance to ask someone what s/he meant by it.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:54 PM
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Yeah, if this drought stuff continues we might want to try growing food in places where it rains from time to time.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:57 PM
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54: And now we're back to Cadillac Desert, which, if memory serves, argued that big ag in arid places was wasteful in many ways: growing things that nobody needs very much; growing things that cost more to grow than they fetch at market; growing things that require intensive and extensive irrigation, which, itself, is subsidized; and perhaps others. Fortunatley, I've convinced the brain-sucking amoebas to cultivate my land. Efficient!


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:58 PM
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In Oregon it's destroying salmon runs, recreational areas, and wildlife habitat. In the SW it's mining water, driulling a little deeper every year until it's all gone.

I'd call watering lawns waste, too.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:58 PM
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Do you mean that we use water for agriculture (cheap) when people in cities don't have enough? Or that environmental uses are getting shafted, but ag still gets its water?

I haven't been hearing about situations in which water was actually denied to people in favor of being used for some other purpose. Even though I know from your blog that that happens all the time, nobody on earth is ever aware of it except the interested parties. So I guess what I mean is when it is used unnecessarily, and thereby polluted to some extent, instead of being left in the ground. This concept may not make any sense, and by "used unnecessarily" I really mean just "used".


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 5:59 PM
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Is Cadillac Desert the formative influence on most people's thoughts on Western ag? Is that pretty much where your impressions start and end?

(Still asking out of sincere curiosity...)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:00 PM
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Highlands Ranch, the largest suburban development in the Denver area, and among the biggest newish developments in the Moutain West, had covenants requiring owners to maintain bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the aquifer beneath the development was running dry as of a couple of years ago. Denver, though, gets its water from the South Platte River, which has allowed it to maintain hegemony over the whole metropolitan region.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:02 PM
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64: No, but I've read it.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:04 PM
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64: Nope, I rely on my team of trained amoebas to gather information for me from throughout the West.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:04 PM
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64: For me, no; it's obviously a polemic. But the basic research is sound. One of my more formative authors on western ag and water stuff is, of all people, Gerald Haslam (his non-fiction stuff).


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:07 PM
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I have to add that, reading CL, I've more than once wondered what Megan would have to say about some of it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:07 PM
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64: I really regret buying that book (used) when I'd heard only good things about it and then not reading it before I'd heard a lot of criticisms. It's on the shelf right now, mocking me for not reading it.

I don't know what people mean by wasted, but one of the water subsidy criticisms I've heard is that keeping the subsidies too high reduces the incentive for growers to adopt more efficient or less intensive forms of irrigation.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:08 PM
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If we're being serious, Don Pisani is the person to read.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:08 PM
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By the way, Megan, did you read that Owens Valley book?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:08 PM
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Pisani's supposed to be good on land stuff, too. I'm just going to keep gesturing towards people I've always meant to read but haven't.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:10 PM
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Isn't that what everyone does?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:12 PM
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47: That is a pretty apt description of soviet russia, too.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:13 PM
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eb - shame on me. I checked it out of the library, and it sat on my bedtable for a month or so. I just couldn't bring myself to read more water stuff at home.

Haslam looks really interesting. I love the Central Valley and never know it well enough.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:13 PM
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73, 74: My gestures become more sweeping each year.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:15 PM
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Cadillac Desert is the beginning and end of my thoughts on water works in the West, certainly. I seem to recall you (Megan) saying that the information is old, though.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:16 PM
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The Bible has some good stuff on the water. I think it's somewhere near the back...


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:16 PM
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the


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:16 PM
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among the other things one might mean by "wasted" would be the comparative advantage sense.
you know, you *could* shift kuwait over to a solely rice-growing economy, and then insist that bangladesh make all its money from drilling for oil.

but it seems like it would be a waste.


Posted by: kid bitzer | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:17 PM
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I haven't read any books on the subject, unless it was somewhere in "The Control of Nature".

My thoughts on the subject basically spring from the idea that it just doesn't look right to have golf courses in a desert, and therefore it must not be sustainable.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:17 PM
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Ah, but what do you mean by "sustainable"?


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:19 PM
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Is it illegal to water your lawn in the Atlanta area yet? When it's illegal to water your lawn I'll believe there's a crisis.

Well, it's not Atlanta, but Charlottesville, VA, has had water restrictions on since August. It is, in fact, illegal to water your lawn, fill a non-public swimming pool, or wash a vehicle at a non-commercial establishment (i.e., in your own driveway).


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:22 PM
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76: Haslam is great, but I'm prejudiced because he's an old family friend. His fiction's good, though, and I wouldn't say that if it weren't.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:23 PM
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I've never read Cadillac Desert. My knowledge of western water issues is entirely from this blog called From The Archives.


Posted by: ptm | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:23 PM
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Returning to China, a professor in an environmental science course I had compared California's projects to divert water south to China's plans to divert it north. Rain never falls where you want it to. The big crazy idea in the mid-20th century was to divert Columbia River water south.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:24 PM
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84: illegal to water your lawn at all? Or just restricted to night/early mornings on a specific day of the week?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:24 PM
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from this blog called From The Archives

What? That blog is just about gratuitous emotional exhibitionism.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:25 PM
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Maybe we could work out some kind of cut-and-trade agreement to keep lawn watering down.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:27 PM
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Yeah, I think CD is outdated. CD is a decent picture of things going into the mid-eighties. There's been momentum towards raising prices and irrigation efficiencies since then. You could find really excellent and some pretty sloppy practices without much trouble. In the big picture, most of the worst practices in CD have stopped and I don't think there are many growers who take their water use lightly.

Cryptic Ned, your instincts are good.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:28 PM
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What? That blog is just about gratuitous emotional exhibitionism.

Don't forget the vicious personal attacks and wanton meanness.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:28 PM
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88: Pretty much not at all if you're just Jane or Joe Sixpack:

Watering of outside shrubbery, trees, lawns, grass, plants, home vegetable gardens, or any other vegetation, except from a watering can or other container not exceeding three (3) gallons in capacity. This limitation does not apply to commercial greenhouses or nursery stocks, which may be watered in the minimum amount required to preserve plant life before 7:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m.

Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:29 PM
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It's worth remembering that Ogged, fear monger, started this whole thing with a link to news of drought in the East, where such things are unusual, not the West, where drought is "supposed" to happen.

Drought in the West, then, really isn't that scary, I suppose, but I do find myself frightened by news that the Carolinas, Georgia, and, a couple years back, parts of the Great Lakes region, are all thirsty. Those droughts seem "unnatural" -- I know, I know, using that word makes me look like a rube -- whereas dried-up lawns in the arid West are the price of doing business.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:29 PM
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The big crazy idea in the mid-20th century was to divert Columbia River water south.

Nah, that was the medium-sized crazy idea. This was the big crazy idea (that source is just what a quick Google search turned up; the plan started out more respectable).


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:29 PM
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which may be watered in the minimum amount required to preserve plant life

AHA! LOOPHOLE!

DEAD LETTER


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:30 PM
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OG: that's an exception only for commercial greenhouses/nurseries.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:31 PM
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What? That blog is just about gratuitous emotional exhibitionism.

She is rather self-absorbed, no?

news of drought in the East, where such things are unusual

I don't get how you guys are supposed to handle droughts if you don't already have the plumbing to move water around. But I don't pretend to understand the east.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:32 PM
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I HEREBY INCORPORATE MY HOUSE AS A COMMERCIAL GREENHOUSE

ALL SPIDER PLANTS WITHIN ARE FOR SALE FOR $1 BILLION DOLLARS EACH


Posted by: OPINIONATED GRANDMA | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:32 PM
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89: Well, these days. But it used to be about infrastructure.


Posted by: ptm | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:33 PM
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98: I live in the West. But it's always been my understanding that back east they don't need the plumbing, because the water reliably falls from the sky. Or at least it used to.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:36 PM
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In the east people drown their fears of drought with a draught of hard liquor.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:40 PM
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I have reliable information indicating they do similar things in the west.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:54 PM
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Yeah, I think CD is outdated. CD is a decent picture of things going into the mid-eighties. There's been momentum towards raising prices and irrigation efficiencies since then. You could find really excellent and some pretty sloppy practices without much trouble. In the big picture, most of the worst practices in CD have stopped

Not near as outdated as I'd like. Drive around the western states, and there's still a ridiculous amount of shit like irrigation into arid areas for gowing alfalfa.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:54 PM
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Shit-like irrigation is good for crops.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 6:58 PM
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Good for craps, too. Gives 'em a place to go.

"Buh-bye little craps!" *flush*


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:04 PM
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Alfalfa is getting valuable again, what with the price of corn so high. Cheap water growing cheap alfalfa is an underpinning for cheap meat. (And by cheap I mean, meat that you can afford more than once or twice a week.) No skin off my nose if that goes away, but it would ripple through most people's standard of living in ways they don't expect.

Side note: a blooming alfalfa field smells so good.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:04 PM
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Megan's writing convinced me to sign up for Water Law, so now my main source is Legal Control of Water Resources, Cases and Materials (4th Ed.)


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:05 PM
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I probably should have told her that earlier. Thanks Megan!


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:06 PM
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On the cheap meat (ATM) thing, I went by Burger King at the student union today and noticed that I could get a hamburger for $1 but a veggie burger cost $2.49. Ah, supply, demand.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:06 PM
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As far as I know, various sorts of water-diversion projects (Canada to the U.S., Great Lakes to elsewhere, Columbia River south, Siberia to Uzbekistan) have been proposed and are technically feasible. The only thing stopping them is politics.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:07 PM
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Shit-like irrigation is certainly what they used on the various fields across the street from my old home. Wonder if they got their cow-crap straight from the dairies next-door.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:09 PM
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Look. The combination of good soils, long hot growing season and abundant water doesn't happen enough to support the way most American eat now, and certainly not at the prices they've grown accustomed to.

You can't move the soils or the sunshine. But you can move the water. If using it to provide cheap meat, or export food all over the world is more valuable to us than the other things we could do with it (have have native fish populations, for example), then growing alfalfa in the desert is the right choice. It isn't inherently wrong. It is just a question of what we want most.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:11 PM
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Alfalfa is an intrinsically good thing, but probably not good enough to subsidize. Cheap meat mostly comes from places like Florida. The West isn't really good for growing much of anything, not even beef.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:12 PM
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Really, Trevor? I hope you like it. There's some arcane shit in water law.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:13 PM
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Nothing against cheap meat or irrigation, but it's ridiculous to spend huge amounts of federal money on water projects to grow cattle feed in the most arid terrain in the country. It's a big country, there's lots of places to raise cows and grow alfalfa.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:14 PM
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the Carolinas, Georgia... Those droughts seem "unnatural"

No kidding! What the hell is the point of these steamy, humid summers if there's no actual rain?

All my knowledge of western water issues comes from flying over in a plane and thinking holy shit that's a desert. San Diego sure is nice today, though.


Posted by: cw | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:14 PM
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Yeah, but many of those lots of places aren't public lands. We can't have private landowners charging higher rent for grazing, can we?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:15 PM
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Too broad a brush, Emerson. You talking about the desert southwest? Imperial Valley? The Central Valley? 'Cause they have somehow managed to eke some decent yields out of a long growing season and some of the best soils in the world.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:15 PM
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As I understand (from CD) there was never any good reason to grow even alfalfa in Wyoming. (Wyoming does not have a long, hot growing season). It's just that they needed to get Wyoming's agreement to partition the water, so they gave them a cut of the water.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:16 PM
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It's not just agriculture; industry uses vast amounts of water.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:16 PM
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And Megan's right about intrinsics.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:16 PM
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115: There's some arcane shit in water law.

It is heaps more interesting than, say, Secured Transactions.


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:17 PM
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Emerson does not consider California part of the West.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:17 PM
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IIRC, John thinks that Minnesota is part of the West.

For me, water comes from the US Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, Washington Aqueduct.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:19 PM
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It's a big country, there's lots of places to raise cows and grow alfalfa.

But the distortion in that case isn't that we're subsidizing water in CA, it is that we're subsidizing corn and soybeans in the Midwest, where you could grow pasture on rainfall.

I'm happy to agree that the whole system is way fucked up. I'd like to change lots of it, although I don't think I have a lot of buy-in for the results of my changes (more expensive food, mostly local and seasonal, way less meat but not none). But no one piece is inherently ridiculous, given the rest.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:21 PM
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Shit-like irrigation

Surely I'm not the only one who's ever enjoyed the fragrance of the dairy farmer a quarter-mile upwind sprinkling liquid manure on his fields on a nice hot summer day.

Look. The combination of good soils, long hot growing season and abundant water doesn't happen enough to support the way most American eat now, and certainly not at the prices they've grown accustomed to.

That price bit is key. Agriculture works fine in a lot of places that get more rain than California, but they're not competitive with what California can produce when water and fuel are cheap.

We should be paying significantly more for food.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:31 PM
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Megan, I was talking about alfalfa and beef cattle in the West because you made cheap meat central to your argument.

So what about lawns? That's one of the main kinds of wasting water people talk about, and it doesn't feed the poor at all.

And there's the whole thing of mining water.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:33 PM
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Lawns feed the soul.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:36 PM
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This may expose me to a lot of opposite-experience-having objections, but I live in Atlanta, and in my media circles, we don't talk about drought all that much. There was so to-do this summer about watering restrictions, to the extent that my neighbors and I were vigilante enforcing, but nobody does that anymore. This is not to say it isn't a real problem, but rather that it's an even realer problem.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:40 PM
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Yeah, it's unbelievably dry here, like nothing I've ever seen before. We probably haven't had five days of rain since May.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:43 PM
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Yeah, I have the opposite experience. I grew up in SoCal with low flow showerheads, putting plastic milk bottles full of sand in the toilet tank, and "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down."


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:45 PM
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putting plastic milk bottles full of sand in the toilet tank

This is something that I heard about years ago, and have heard about every couple years since. Why have I never done it? Because I've never heard any actual people talking about doing such things, and therefore it sounds like a kooky, far-out idea that I never contemplate when I am in position to do such a thing, that is, never during the several thousand hours per year that I am in my apartment have I remembered that that would be a good idea. Well, fuck it. I'm going to be the change I want to see in the world. I'm going to take a huge step forward and do this incredibly easy and obvious thing that every right-thinking person should have done already!

Can't you see, policy-makers, that I'm crying out for my incentives to be altered here? Throw me a bone!


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:48 PM
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Bricks also work. Or having a modern low-flow toilet is effectively having a pre-bricked toilet tank.

Overseas, I've seen dual-mode toilets; low volume flush for piss, full-volume for shit. This seems so obvious that I don't understand why they're not standard here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:51 PM
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Hmmm, where am I going to get sand? I don't want to buy it at the store, it was probably brought there on a fossil-guzzling sand truck. Good thing I thought that through before doing it.

I'll just use dirt. And some rocks, and fill in the gaps with water, and then seal the bottle.

But I don't use plastic milk bottles, I use paper cartons, because I don't drink much milk. Should I buy something made of plastic, thus increasing the amount of plastic waste in the world, just for this project?

I guess I should use one that I find in the trash somewhere.

Please, policy-makers! I have no ability to rationally make moral decisions here! Create policies! Everyone's waiting!


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:52 PM
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I'd like to change lots of it, although I don't think I have a lot of buy-in for the results of my changes (more expensive food, mostly local and seasonal, way less meat but not none). But no one piece is inherently ridiculous, given the rest.

This is probably all completely correct, but it's reminding me of my embarrassing belief that most of the current lawsuits against the tobacco companies are actually bullshit, legally. Expertise in an area leads you to some funny places.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:53 PM
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Ah, bricks. But I don't know where I would get one of those either, thank you very much do-gooders in government who mandate that cyclone fences be put up around all construction sites so people can't wander in.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:53 PM
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We should be paying significantly more for food.

Agreed.

I've read this thread very quickly, but it seems that Megan has twice now been at pains to point out that no single practice is *inherently* ridiculous given the full scenario of infrastructure, climate and the lifestyle we the people have come to depend on.

Just paraphrasing Megan.

It's not clear what the argument here is, if there even is one. I haven't been reading Megan's blog, but the comments here, anyway, don't necessarily sound like an apologia for existing agricultural practice.

If anything, the argument would be over whether the expectation of cheap meat (and other things) is something we can afford to accommodate. Kind of obvious.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:53 PM
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Brock asks about staph infections, I check my RSS reader and I see an article called Staph fatalities may exceed AIDS deaths.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:55 PM
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Overseas, I've seen dual-mode toilets; low volume flush for piss, full-volume for shit. This seems so obvious that I don't understand why they're not standard here.

Last year they installed those all over the law school. With green antimicrobial handles!

We used plastic milk jugs, filled with sand from the backyard.


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:55 PM
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"The flow of water into [Durham's] reservoirs has dwindled to a trickle. On Aug. 27, Lake Michie was 11 feet below its full capacity and Little River Reservoir down 8 feet. On Thursday afternoon, Michie was down 14.3 feet and Little River down 17. Water was flowing into Lake Michie at a rate of .01 cubic feet per second; the average rate is 128 cubic feet per second. The Little River's flow rate was zero."

0.01 cubic feet is about a cup.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:55 PM
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Further to 138: Dammit, I hate it when I post things that are so obvious I wonder why I wrote it, but I lost track over the course of several minutes, and I figure, why the hell not.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:56 PM
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Am I being eco-conscious by peeing in the sink and then running the water just enough to rinse it out? I hope so.


Posted by: Warren G. Harding | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:56 PM
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Hey, cheap food isn't that bad a thing. Subsidize away, but let's get better outcomes.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:56 PM
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There are also bricks laying around in the back yard. We start more projects than we finish.


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:57 PM
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my embarrassing belief that most of the current lawsuits against the tobacco companies are actually bullshit, legally

But it's true.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 7:58 PM
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136, 146: Yup.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:01 PM
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my embarrassing belief that most of the current lawsuits against the tobacco companies are actually bullshit, legally

I don't know the legal aspects, but hell bells, what year is this again? That smoking is bad for you isn't exactly news. Smoke away people, but let's not act like Big Tobacco pulled a fast one on you.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:02 PM
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Expertise in an area leads you to some funny places.

Doesn't it though? And then you look at yourself and say, 'I'm defending Big Ag!' (In this context against these complaints.) But still!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:03 PM
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Worse than that is knowing there are other more profound and indefensible critiques of The Bad Thing, but they are too arcane to get into casually.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:05 PM
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126: "But no one piece is inherently ridiculous, given the rest."

This is what we come to when trying to make an argument about the relative efficiences in subsidizing big agriculture in the West. And, it seems, that was CD's point also: it's the whole thing that's ridiculous, start to finish, flawed from the get-go, the very notion of irrigating arid and semi-arid regions so that farmers can grow alfalfa (no matter how good it smells). All of the pieces, then, are ridiculous, given the corrupt whole that has emerged over time.

So we're left with the argument for cheap meat. Like it, don't like, but that's what there is. Right? Not efficiency so much as consumer lifestyle choices, no?


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:05 PM
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So taking out one piece of the puzzle, though logical and even obvious ceteris parabus, would in an objective reality make things worse. So we have to wait until an enormous crisis when these things become not just unsustainable, but no longer sustained, so that everything will be changed at once in the midst of massive suffering.

Perhaps I'm trolling in an effort to get quoted on "From the archives".


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:07 PM
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Back in a bit. Sorry to skip out.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:10 PM
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Ned: You could probably get a brick or two at a hardware store or gardening supply store--they're pretty cheap, at least if you're only buying a few of them.


Posted by: the Other Paul | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:10 PM
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Am I being eco-conscious by peeing in the sink and then running the water just enough to rinse it out? I hope so.

That's kind of gross. Plant a mountain laurel.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:13 PM
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153: Try Her Depot, they'll be cleaner and in a variety of designer colors.


Posted by: anmik | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:13 PM
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I like to think that 156 really was to 153.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:15 PM
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Yes, it was really to 132.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:18 PM
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Ned: fill the jug with water, once. You just want it to displace the volume of water of the jug, reducing the effective volume of the tank (the heavy prevents the jug from floating around and ballcock-blocking).

139, meet 20. 127, meet 112.

This thing on?


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:18 PM
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The problem with putting a brick in your toilet is that you reduce the toilet's capability in disposing of large poops. The water saved in gallons per flush is offset by the water lost because of having to double flush more often.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:20 PM
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There's a Laffer curve for flush efficiency.


Posted by: Trevor | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:22 PM
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Only if you crap every time you pee, or if you just let the yellow mellow.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:22 PM
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Pinch a loaf, skip the brick. Had a wee, efficiency!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:23 PM
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What? That doesn't even rhyme.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:24 PM
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So instead of this brick idea it would be better to just skip the toilet altogether for peeing, right? I'm going to join the sink movement.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:24 PM
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I am, however, reminded of the amazing toilet technology I encountered in Sweden. On the toilet tank, there is one button you can press that provides a small flush, and a second button for when you need a big flush.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:25 PM
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Siler City is about 25 minutes from here. In the war-torn postapocalyptic Piedmont, Durham will totally rock Siler City's pathetic little world.


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:27 PM
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166: those are all over Europe.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:28 PM
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Another good option is to install a urinal.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:28 PM
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If you really want to save water, slit trenches are the way to go.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:29 PM
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One of those fancy new water-free urinals, no less!


Posted by: Jake | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:32 PM
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Here is a good link on Scandanavians toilets and urinals. It has a picture of the flush size selector.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:32 PM
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I'm going to join the sink movement.

Movements are best left in the toilet.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:33 PM
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166: They also have ones on which you can press press the button a second time to stop the water.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:33 PM
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a blooming alfalfa field smells so good.

Amen.

Megan, isn't the big problem with the western water supply, not moving it around, but depleting the ground water and the resulting salinization of the soil?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:36 PM
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The big problem with the western water supply is that we need it back east. Sorry guys, but we were here first.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:39 PM
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Another good option is to install a urinal.

My generation scoffs at fantasies of so-called "homeownership".


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:43 PM
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At the risk of unleashing the hating on hippies, two friends of mine back home built themselves an "earth closet" as a downstairs bathroom. No smell. Worked brilliantly. There is something strange about taking the trouble to purify water that's then used to wash waste into the lake.


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:48 PM
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an "earth closet"

I call mine "the yard."


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:50 PM
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Earth Closet were a great band. I love metalcore ecowarriors.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:54 PM
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Cheap meat mostly comes from places like Florida.

Evidence?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 8:56 PM
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If everyone has to give up meat because of water, then we're doomed. I'd give up my car long before I gave up meat. Hell, I'd probably give up the right to vote before I gave up meat.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:00 PM
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It was a DIY version of this.

My Dad has MRSA. It's supposed to be extremely contagious and dangerous; no babies visiting him in the home, when he's in hospital he's in a sealed area and everybody scrubs down and changes clothes who deals with him - but then back in the nursing home, he hangs out in the halls and the lunchroom, has the same caregivers as everyone else - can anyone here explain this to me? Is there no standard way to deal with someone with MRSA, which is (I think) part of this staph epidemic?


Posted by: Penny | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:02 PM
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In the war-torn postapocalyptic Piedmont, Durham will totally rock Siler City's pathetic little world.

By next summer, we'll have annexed Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Butner, and we'll all be walking around in Fremen suits. Which reminds me, this is worth watching to the end.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:06 PM
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I want a stillsuit. Don't need one, but I want one.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:07 PM
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181: I was wrong on that one. I've read things about beef production moving to the subtropics, but apparently it was way off.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:09 PM
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I've read things about beef production moving to the subtropics, but apparently it was way off.

If, by subtropics, you mean Brazil, that would be correct.

There the ecological depredation is not excessive water use, but deforestation.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:12 PM
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So drought means no meat, but hey! better wine!

You're all invited to Virginia wine country for some vegetarian recipes (I've got tons to share!) and delicious reds, whites, and rosés.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:15 PM
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Deaths tied to these infections may exceed those caused by AIDS, said one public health expert commenting on the new study.

Isn't this sorta needlessly alarmist?

Some quick googling yields the following numbers:
Deaths from HIV/AIDS in the U.S. in 2005: 17,011
Deaths from Lung Cancer in the U.S. in 2004: ~160,00


Posted by: WillieStyle | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 9:21 PM
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@57: Yes.


Posted by: Greg Greene | Link to this comment | 10-16-07 11:45 PM
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I just realized my link in 188 was from 1988. I'm not sure if wine makers still prefer dryer seasons, but I think it's still the case, up to a point at least.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 12:06 AM
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Overseas, I've seen dual-mode toilets; low volume flush for piss, full-volume for shit. This seems so obvious that I don't understand why they're not standard here.

Give them time. It's hard to rationalise ripping out a perfectly functional toilet cistern and putting in a higher tech model when you've grown up believing they're good for about a hundred years.

The way to handle the meat issue is to reposition it as a luxury good. Forget the moral issue. Just raise the price until people can only afford it for special occasions, and after a few years it'll be "Hey, meat! I ate meat TWICE last week!", and hating on unthrifty freeloaders who choose not to insure their kids and buy a lamb chop for Sunday.

Agribusiness will be happy. They'll only sell half as much, but they'll charge four times the price.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 5:06 AM
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The steampunk apocalypse survival guide is probably relevant here.
http://www.steampunkmagazine.com/pdfs/steampunksguide-web.pdf


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 5:48 AM
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The drought sucks. I'm starting to get a little worried about my cedar trees.

I took water law too. Not just for the easy A, but because I wanted to get a handle on eastern water law. Talk about your arcane shit. Give me the simple elegance of western water any day.

My single-most flattering day in the law was in bar review, the day we did water. (It's on the bar in MT, as well it should be). The instructor -- we'd never met -- found out who I was and announced that I knew more about the material than he did. (I used to be famous).

It's been all downhill from there.

Good water engagements are kind of thin where I'm at now: did a thing related to Manzanar maybe 15 years ago, and something else related to a mining scheme in BC maybe a year or two after that.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 6:05 AM
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hating on unthrifty freeloaders who choose not to insure their kids and buy a lamb chop for Sunday.

I like this as a joke, but in all semi-seriousness, I think this illustrates where Obama goes wrong with all of his new politics happy talk. I sometimes think we ain't gonna convince people to stop hating - the best we can hope for is to channel hate in useful directions.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 6:47 AM
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184: What does it say about the future of conservation that my first thought was, "Oh shit, I'm going to need to start working out if I have to wear a latex bodysuit?"


Posted by: Robust McManlyPants | Link to this comment | 10-17-07 7:15 AM
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