Who's laughing now, Thirstbelt?!

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After all the abuse that Michigan has taken at the hands of the sunbelt, I just have to indulge in a moment of regional schadenfreude. Here in Michigan, we've been enjoying blue skies and 70-odd degree days, and my tomato plants are still blooming. So, hey, California, how you doin'?

Hmm, I wonder what Mike Davis would say? Oh, right: "Told you so."

So, gee, what's happening on the other end of the sunbelt?

  • Conserve Water Georgia - "our communities face water shortages that could challenge their ability to meet water supply needs."

  • State might ration water - "As the state considers restrictions on commercial and industrial users, water experts around the nation say they don't recall any major U.S. metro area being forced into such dire drought measures in about two decades."
  • Atlanta Water Shortage blog

So, folks, did you ever think of looking at a map when you moved down there? Sure, it's warm and sunny, but indulge me for a moment and recall what Michigan looks like.

Don't worry, we'll leave the light on for you and warm up some leftover casserole - remember, we're the upper midwest. We're hospitable and stuff.

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You're all witnesses

There are currently zero instances of the term "thirstbelt" on google. I win!

(Is coining the phrase enough for academic fame on its own, or do I actually have to, like, publish stuff? Oh. Drat.)

I believe that's known as

a "googlenope."

Heck, get something in an easy-to-publish-in journal and you're famous for all time.


Somebody beat you to "Thirst belt."


sunbelt = 4,540,000 hits, vs. "sun belt" = 1,780,000 hits. But they've got Wikipedia on their side.

But rustbelt = 244,000 hits, vs. "rust belt" = 473,000.

I'll just have propagate the one-word version of thirstbelt faster...

Unfortunately, we have

Unfortunately, we have problems, too.

Dry states are making noise about water "sharing". New Mexico governor Bill Richardson recently remarked that "Wisconsin is awash in water". I think it is going to get ugly.


I'm impressed.

I was going to link to that exact same article.

For years now, I've been

For years now, I've been saying that the southwest is going to go the way of the Soviet Far East by our dotage. My suspicion is that Georgia will eventually recover from this drought, albeit with some nasty dislocation in the short term. The southwest, though...too much of that water is coming from effectively non-renewable sources, and those snow packs are melting.

Get out your guns

I'm not sure that people are going to move here, or that they are going to want to move our water to where they are. Turns out that it is economically feasible to pipe our water west, even as far as California. That is why little diversions are so important to stop. If one entity can take the water out of the basin, it makes it harder to say no to others.

When I lived in Colorado, it was amazing to me how much water they wasted in an arid climate. They watered the highway medians in the summer! Some of the subdivisions still don't allow xeriscaping. They don't meter the water in many areas. Only now are they starting to think about reducing water use rather than trying to grab more from someone else. There are towns that are already trucking in water to use as their regular water source. But Western water has always been about might making right. Anyone interested in a good read should try Marc Reisner's "Cadillac Desert." It is a depressing, but accurate look at Western water. We are going to have to get a little less nice and Midwestern if we want to keep ours.

My older sister and her

My older sister and her husband moved to Las Vegas from Pennsylvania about two years ago, and I visited them for the first time in March. I had always thought of Las Vegas as a human tragedy--that's what the strip is for, after all. But the Disneyfication of the strip, combined with the growth of the city itself (I almost wrote "the growth of the suburbs," but most of the seemingly suburban development is actually in the city), has made the human tragedy less obvious, and the environmental tragedy far more so.

It's the things you describe: the perpetual waterfalls outside of the housing developments, the golf courses, the lawns, the general existence of the place there in the desert. (And the sprawl! Every housing development is a pod full of culs-de-sac, and the streets are the size of major thoroughfares back east.) I kept noticing brand-new highway on-ramps that were cut by gulleys--the little rain that does fall tends to erode these right away, because desert plants can't grow fast enough to keep up with the earth-moving.

And somewhere, in the background, there's a 100-foot-high bathtub ring around Lake Mead, where you can see how much the water level behind the Hoover Dam has fallen...

Let's not forget that there's some self-selection going on here: by definition, the majority of people who move to Las Vegas are not horrified by the thought of moving to Las Vegas, which means that they don't care, or haven't thought about, any of this. And they're going to come for the water.

Cost effectiveness

I vaguely remember a spate of articles a little while ago about how desalination plants had become a more cost-effective hypothetical water supply for California/Nevada than a Great Lakes pipeline. Colorado is probably still SOL. A brief google, though, shows that folks in Alabama are now talking Great Lakes pipeline. That's a little more geo/topographically realistic. (Wouldn't a Memphis->Birmingham pipeline be shorter and cheaper, though?)

Yes. The Great Lakes/Rust

Yes. The Great Lakes/Rust Belt states should start planning now for an ecological reurbanization growth strategy and pull it out every time somebody brings up diversion. Want are water? Move here. We want you here. We're ready to (re)build our cities to bring you here. We can't keep making the same mistakes. We must keep the water in our watershed so we have water in the future.

Planning for the rebound

This is something I've been thinking about for a while - given 10-20 years, I think we're going to see some reverse migration. Considering that Michigan currently seems quite capable of sprawling outwards even while maintaining a flat population, how will we deal with a decade in which we gain half a million people? Assuming we, in fact, deal, and don't just crumble under the weight.

Fun fact from last week's conference (that I haven't yet tracked down the citation for): a home built in a greenfield requires $60,000 to $80,000 in infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, electricity, phone, schools, police, etc). A home built as infill in an existing city neighborhood typically has infrastructure costs less that $5,000, and may easily have negative public costs by making use of existing, underused capacity. This is the standard "smart growth" fiscal line, but I'd never heard numbers attached to it before.

We also have to get more careful with our water - how can we tell other people that they can't have it if we're clearly squandering it?