Wishing a sustainable New Year

Low water at Long PineA few days ago, I told my 12-year-old granddaughter she had no immediate worry about rising sea levels. We live about 500 feet above sea level, and the level at the eastern seashore is predicted to rise only a few inches by the end of the century.

I lied.

It’s nearly the end of December. It is technically winter but in eastern Canada, lots of ducks and geese are saving their energy for making more ducks and geese by not flying south until the lakes ice over, which so far they have not.

We humans, on the other hand, can bend our environment to our wishes. We think we can simply manufacture more food and housing and we will be OK. So far, we have been able to pull it off. By some accounts, the next three decades are going to make water very expensive in some parts of the nation.

In a few years, she will be working to pay her own food and telephone bill — and to pay taxes to subsidize federal flood insurance for company heads who can afford to build McMansions on sand dunes in New Jersey and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, their property lines guarded by “Posted” and “No Trespassing” signs, private security agencies, and federal flood insurance heavily subsidized by taxpayers in Gettysburg and Hagerstown.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy, reckoned by scientists and economists who study such things to be a precursor of more severe storms coming as a result of global warming, caused something north of $50 billion in damages to business and residential properties, primarily in New Jersey and New York – damages paid for with state and federal taxes and insurance premiums.

If the scientists are correct, we all are in for more very expensive storm recoveries.

While sea water is destroying our coastal cities, fresh water is headed toward becoming more valuable than cell phones and computer tablets to thieves out to earn an ill-gotten buck.

During my lifetime, the U.S. population has more than doubled, to about 323 million. It is difficult, looking out our car windows, to believe we are becoming over-crowded. We see forests, pastures and fields of corn and sunflowers, and think there is plenty of space for more people. Technically, there is, except that every house we plant is a row of corn we cannot. Before the 2008 economic collapse, there reportedly were about 8,000 new homes on Adams County’s drawing boards. Quadruple that for Mom, Dad and a couple of kids and there is something more than the population of four Gettysburgs waiting to be spread over the county.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania American Water Co. – part of a company which claims to serve 15 million people in 47 states and Canada – is quietly buying municipal authorities – a surreptitious moniker which in the Keystone State means “municipal water treatment systems.”

This past summer, a municipal official questioned why Pennsylvania American would buy a state-subsidized wastewater treatment plant. Then a town in Texas got national publicity when it began to deal with a drought by infusing it’s drinking water supply input with the output of its wastewater treatment system.

Shucks, Pennsylvania water drinkers along the Susquehanna River have been doing exactly that for years.

And before the crash of 2008, a plan among developers and some nearby municipal officials would pipe three million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna River to new homes in Adams County townships.

There is much talk of “sustainable” development, but is development sustainable when we must take water from homes that have it to serve homes that do not – knowing that one day the source may run out?

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