Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When Time Runs Out

On May 20, 2014 I chaired a session on groundwater wetlands at the Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting in Portland, Oregon in the western US. We had about 125 participants in our gathering. In the numerous other meeting rooms surrounding us over 3,000 professionals and their students had gathered to listen to and share their knowledge of freshwater systems and organisms. Not all that far away, several hundred miles to the southeast, the waters in the Colorado River, the life blood of the western United States, continued to decline. In 2014, Lake Powell, behind the Glen Canyon Dam would only rise to about half of its holding capacity. Further downstream, the water in Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam would be even lower.  Below the lake, men and women were tunneling to build the lowest possible drain to suck whatever water remains in the bottom of the lake just above the ooze and the mud.  The water of Lake Mead feed Las Vegas, the city maintained by the scions of organized crime…the city that should never have been. In the South Pole one of the great ice sheets was melting. We wouldn’t use that freshwater to replace what the skies and clouds no longer produced. Instead, it would contribute to rising sea level changing the very outline of the coasts of many areas on the planet.  Back in Portland, while the flow of knowledge and the peculiar culture of the people of science swirled around me, I wondered what could be done about the condition to which my generation and the generations before me had brought to this world. Was it possible that all of this incredible knowledge and intellect could be harnessed to address and solve some of these staggering challenges?  It is possible but not probable.  After all, the newspaper that morning  announced that over half of the citizens in the US denied that there was any problem at all and those deniers included the unfortunately or intentionally ignorant legislators in the State assemblies and the US Congress.  We seem to have moved beyond our ability to restore those systems and balances so critical to a healthy functioning planet and now we will have to pay the piper. (Ironically, while my colleagues and I were meeting, Portland announced a water emergency in the city. They hadn't run out of water but some form of fecal coliform bacteria had entered the water supply.)