So the hydrologic cycle in Wichita Falls, Texas just got a little shorter and they’re treating sewage water directly and putting it back into the municipal water system. Honestly, it’s probably a little less disturbing than it sounds and someone interviewed in the article makes a good point that all of the water we use was someone else’s toilet water at some point (see: water cycle). At the end of the day every drop of water was probably brontosaurus piss at some point. Still, the important thing here is that the city of Wichita Falls (pop. around 100,000 so it’s good-sized) is at the point where they have to make these uncomfortable decisions to get water.
Wichita Falls is in the Texas panhandle and situated on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground sea below the American Great Plains. This vast reserve of water has made commercial agriculture possible in this arid region. I’m not sure exactly how to word this, but it’s also made civilization possible in the region. I struggle with how to word this because of course there were bands of American Indian tribes there before we came and as of now it’s the most sparsely populated region of the Continental 48 but I think you know what I mean. If you look at a map of the US at night, notice how once you get past Lincoln, Nebraska and Dallas, TX you don’t really see much besides a string of lights along interstates and a few little dots here and there:
Anyways, the water in this ancient aquifer is being used up at a rate that far surpasses the rate it replenishes. Most of this water is used for ranching and row crops and there’s big problems on the horizon for the region (and perhaps the country/world) when it gets to the point where they can’t use the water anymore. There’s already towns on the fringes of the aquifer that have basically “dried-up” as the shoreline (?) has shrank and left them high & dry.
When I was in Iraq there was a guy in my platoon who was from Western Nebraska. Really smart guy, he had a degree in aeronautical engineering and a great analytical mind. He told me about some of the problems of the region and I remember one of the more PG conversations we all had was “what should Western Nebraska do? (or really anywhere in the high plains)”. That’s a tough question and one I still think about from time to time with no good answer besides pack up shop and let the bison come back. Although that’s probably the best solution I can come up with, that’s one of the most difficult ones to swallow in our growth-orientated culture. I’d like to tackle the issue of the aquifer deeper sometime.
The past couple of years have been rough on that part of Texas and really the whole Great Plains/Midwest area due to drought. The thing about drought is that the misery can compound itself by affecting vegetation and soil quality the next year and continue to make things worse. If water tables are lower and vegetation and soil quality are down from last year’s drought, this effects of this year’s drought is only going to be worse. This of course makes the region’s agricultural products (grain, cattle, cotton, etc.) a little more dear. The situation gets worse when you consider a few other major grain producing regions have been in a drought too. I know phrases along the lines of “if you don’t believe there’s inflation, go to the grocery store” have been thrown around a lot in alt-media circles, but I’ve REALLY started to notice food prices climbing this year.
While the particular situation of Wichita Falls using sewage water is probably more disturbing than truly alarming, it does seem like something where mother nature is kicking back a bit after people living on the wrong side of the land’s true carrying capacity for too long. Even if this part of the world has a good rainy season this year, it still doesn’t solve some of the long term problems associated with the overuse of water for commercial agriculture and human settlement in this arid regions.