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Opinion

Saddle up: Study says Midwest will be at the center of new water wars

Last week, the journal Global Environmental Change published a study concerning people’s access to freshwater in the coming decades, and what it could mean for conflicts in the coming years. “Hydro-political” was the term they used.

The authors included maps of regions from all over the world, including North America, color-coded to show how high the risk was in a given area for hydro-political conflict, grading from blue at the lowest to an orange-brown at the highest.

According to this study, Grundy County needs to watch out, with the maps saying most of the United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Lakes are at high risk for these types of conflicts in the future, with Grundy County right in the middle.

Our area won’t be running out of water, of course. Between the rivers, creeks, aquifers and the proximity of the Great Lakes, which contain 21 percent of the world’s surface freshwater, we’re sitting just fine. (Wikipedia says there’s six quadrillion gallons of freshwater in the lakes, although I’m not convinced that’s a real number.)

If we can keep it.

As with any region rich with something someone else wants, the risk isn’t if we have enough but if others will want to take it. Imagine herds of ranchers roaming east from the Dakotas and square states, coming for our rivers and our wells because they bled their own lands dry.

Growing up, we watched all sorts of videos in school about saving water. We were taught to turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth, take showers instead of baths and to check for leaky faucets to help save the planet.

Of course, this was all for naught. A warm bath was not going to be the cause of any apocalyptic events. A recent report showed that 71 percent of greenhouse gases, largely supported by the scientific community to be a main contributor to climate change, are released by just 100 companies, mostly oil and coal companies.

Don’t worry about the faucet dripping in the middle of the night. It’s really not a big deal. And, to be honest, neither is your car, even if it burns diesel. Your individual choices have little effect on the whole environment of the Earth. Even collectively, us private citizens are not really the problem.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t have to deal with the consequences. It’s not as though the CEO of Gazprom – No. 3 on that carbon emissions list – is going to have to worry about a flood of ranchers taking his water. If necessary, he could hire his own private army to protect, and probably pay them in bottle water.

I’d like to say that, as a people, we could come together, work out our shortage issues so everyone has enough. But this is 2018 and sharing is a foreign concept and we only need to look at how we handle – or don’t handle – the Asian carp issue on the river to see how we would handle a real crisis on the river.

In a way, this coming crisis, which probably will happen in my lifetime – 2040 is a year climatologists like to use – is a lot like those old Western movies. One of those original ones, where the good guy wore a white hat and the bad guy wore a black hat. They’re always arguing over water in those movies. And we in Illinois need to brush up on those conflicts because they never stopped fighting over it in the Western states.

We have about 20 years to discuss and plan. After all, I don’t think Nebraskans are naturally prone to forming hordes and flooding over territory like the Mongols of old. In fact, they aren’t that much different than you or I. For the next few decades, there’s no reason we can’t plan in advance and negotiate with them.

The alternative involves some amount of building concrete bunkers and stockpiling ammunition and weapons I previously never understood the need for. I have no desire to purchase a BAR and I’d prefer it if I never had to still.

But it’s not clear what we, as people, can do to halt the problem since we, as people, aren’t the problem. A Chinese coal company is the largest polluter on the planet. In Illinois, there really is nothing practical we can do.

Maybe the only thing to do is buy a black hat and wait.

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