Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Waters Woes

Way down upon the Appalachicola, river that is, not seaside hamlet, there sits three species of endangered freshwater mussels. If you listen only to right wing outlets, you would believe the demon spawn Army Corps of Engineers are intent on making our current drought worse by continued release of water to save these cuddly molluscs. Well, they're are right. At least as Obi-wan Kenobi once said, from a certain perspective.

Here are the perspectives they are leaving out. Without a certain level of fresh water flow into the Gulf, the oysters of the Apalachee Bay also die. The difference between these molluscs and their freshwater cousins is the salt water branch of the family creates a $1 billion dollar industry for Florida's panhandle region.

But even if we stop the flow of water and let all the little Floridian slime balls die (for the moment, we'll ignore the interstate commerce lawsuit we will surely lose) where does that leave us? Solves the problem right? Not quite. Most estimates say that without some drastic action to address the water problem, the continued astronomical growth of the Atlanta region will exhaust the available supply within the next 50 years. Some say as low as 30 years.

But it will always be easier to pick on a few worthless shellfish than to pick on multi-million dollar development projects even if they pour endless streams of goop into our drinking water.

So in this case, the liberals must have it right! Not quite.

Georgia Senators Chambliss and Isakson are currently attempting to pass an exception to the Endangered Species Act in order to force the Army Corps of Engineers to stop saving above said shellfish.

There are some who would use our moment of crisis to advocate the destruction of the act. Here's the problem with that position. Yes, at first glance a freshwater mussel might appear to be useless but not so much if one considers how biospheres work. Maybe that mussel is the primary food of a certain heron. And maybe that heron is a food source of a certain species of fox. And maybe that fox is also responsible for keeping the squirrel population at a manageable level. And maybe those squirrels have the potential to carry bubonic-plague laced fleas.

It's a lot of maybes but that's the way things work in nature. Species do not operate in isolation. The elimination of one might provide short term relief but trip the domino effect which leads to devastation for our grandchildren. We should never view extinctions in such small slivers of perspective. With nature, one must always take the long view.

However the other side of the biological equation is things die. And many times there is nothing we can do about it. In fact, many times things should die. After all, how did we get here? Certain niches opened in the ecosystem and mammals rose to prominence. If not, dinosaur-men might be filling technorati with new blogs and we mice-men might be scurrying somewhere underground looking for worms.

It cannot be ignored that approiximately 10,000 years ago, our ancestors eliminated 99% of the mega-fauna in North America, probably causing temporary paroxyms in the biosphere, yet we not only survived, we flourished.

We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to save things. It is literally part of our nature. There is compelling evidence that our need to preserve caused our ancient mothers to stop cavalierly dropping babies on the plains of Africa to wander away towards the next shiny object while the next generation wailed in abandonment. This new instinct led to families, tribes and eventually civilization as we know it.

However, the cruel side of the evolutionary equation is an advantage can soon turn to a disadvantage. Self-sacrifice got us here and it could take us out. Most species eventually fail and probably should. Yet, we continue to try to save every last one. We just don't like to watch things die. One day, mother nature might turn the joke around on us and decide we've reached our own twilight.

This is not to say we should worry about a sudden attack of the sea turtles, but it is to say there are times where we should understand we are masters of our niche and that niche needs to be defended. A good time to bow up and get a little protective of our turf might be when our water sources are turning to mud. Even if it's our own fault.

It's enough to make the water deprived head spin. We cannot save the mussels without hurting ourselves. We also can't solve our problems by killing the poor, helpless, immobile blobs of goo. We certainly cannot return to eating nuts and berries in mud huts. But neither can we afford to believe throwing up a million more condos on the 'Hooch has no greater consequence.

These are complicated times and many are offering simple salves. And although mother's kiss certainly helps a boo-boo, it still needs bactine and band-aids. And the most severe water crisis of our generation needs solutions; comprehensive solutions which address every part of the hurt. Not just those that are politically convenient for our own political niche.


Jason said...

Brilliantly stated! I like your approach.

Mary Jo Shively said...

Yet another reason (added to the tens of thousands already on record) not to have children...

shelbinator said...

Damnit, I thought you were going to give us the magic answer. Or did you? I have to go back again.

Anonymous said...

mary jo, I wish your parents had the same attitude.

griftdrift said...

Does this mean we will shortly be visited by the Sugarbakers?

andisheh said...


Sara said...

Middle eastern countries have been building desalinization plants on their coastlines for decades now. I think Georgia, Florida, and any other coastal states with water problems should seriously consider this as an option. It will be expensive but like alternative energy it would protect us from this sort of dire shortage and rationing situation.

Joeventures said...


The big challenge Georgia would have to deal with, compared to the Middle Eastern countries, is gravity. The Middle eastern countries have cities lying right along the coast -- which for the coastal cities here, desalination makes for a good option -- but Atlanta is several hundred feet above sea level. Pumping millions of gallons of water uphill would have a much greater cost than what benefit we would gain in return.

Sara said...

To Atlanta that would probably be an issue, but what about using it to supply water to the southern half of the state that needs water so badly for agriculture?

Audacity said...

I need to start investing in desalination plants now, so I can retire early.

Joeventures said...

Well, the system didn't work, so I'm doing a manual ping/trackback.


shelbinator said...

You know what just dawned on me?

GA wants to say to FL, screw your shellfish industry and power plant, we need this water, and it's ours, 'cause the federal Army Corps just happened to build the reservoir in OUR state.

Imagine if the Shiites pulled that shit on the Sunnis with Iraqi oil. Isn't that exactly what we're trying to make sure they *don't* do?