State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Get real: water pixies won’t solve your problems

image from wikipedia commons
image from wikipedia commons

It isn’t just developing countries that have problems with providing drinking water and sanitation to their citizens.  In a March 14th New York Times article, Charles Duhigg looks at the aging water infrastructure in Washington, D.C., and what it would take to keep it working.

He says,

State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may be too old to function properly.

For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

In the article, Charles S. Hawkins, General Manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority proposed, and eventually achieved, a water rate hike to pay for repairing the increasingly unreliable water and sewer system, over strenuous objections. To paraphrase one resident quoted in the story, we just want it to work, we don’t need to hear about the problems and we shouldn’t have to pay for it.

To me this is an example of the magical thinking common in the United States.  We are so used to having things that much of the world lives without, such as safe, clean, abundant drinking water, that we take it for granted to a dangerous degree.  It’s always been there in our lifetimes, and always will.  And if it isn’t, heads will roll.

A currently very vocal part of the population is calling for less government and lower taxes – they apparently think that pixies will come in the night and maintain the infrastructure which provides for their comfortable lives.  The pixies do this because the good citizens of the United States deserve to be looked after by divine right.

I often wonder what these people will do when climate change and natural attrition combine to disrupt more of the comfort-sustaining infrastructure and, if the less-government people get their way, the pixies take care of less and less of it.

I like to think that at some point they will realize that they don’t need magic after all.  We have the ability to take care of ourselves.  All we have to do is care, and live in the real world.

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14 years ago

[…] substantial investments in the aging, deteriorating water and sewer infrastructure, as I discussed in a previous post. If we don’t, broken mains and loss of service may be just the beginning of the inconveniences we […]