So apparently Lake Superior is a meter below it's annual average this year, according to this CBC Radio piece. (WMV link. Start listening about 15:30.) Given that we're talking about the largest source of freshwater in the world, that's enough water, the piece says, to keep Canada slaked for a decade. And it's going away.
Have I mentioned there's a really dumb idea out there to send water from the Great Lakes to the American Southwest? Any chance I'll be able to win my ecology back at the blackjack tables in Vegas?
The suspects for this recent drop in water levels are more diverse than usual -- global warming for sure, but it's also being blamed on overzealous dredging in the St. Clair River, apparently. Basically, somebody deepened a channel between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, and now apparently all the lakes from Detroit on up are draining much faster than previous.
Which wouldn't be a good thing at the best of times, but when you combine drier summers and warmer winters it means the rivers which feed Lake Superior have dwindled, too. So water's rushing out and not being replaced quickly enough.
All of this is just a roundabout way of saying that Bill Richardson may be right on the war, but sending water from the Great Lakes south so that people in Las Vegas can have larger pools is insanity. And my other favourite Democratic governor of a border state agrees.
We need to start thinking about different ways of doing things with water, just like we need to start thinking about different ways of using energy. And a big one is going to be "stop creating permanent settlements in a desert, people!" Barring that, if America isn't smart enough to put together solar-thermal power and seawater desalination, I don't see why the Northeast should be dried out for a Southwest that's already a desert.
Fred Pearce did a really, really good book about the global water problems we're facing, but one of the most interesting bits in it was the (apparently not new) concept of "virtual water", where economists talk about the amount of water embodied in, say, a T-shirt made from cotton in Egypt or Russia or whatever. Basically, some countries are massive water exporters depending on the products they sell, while others are massive water importers. The "water" can be bound up in finished products, or simple crops like tomatoes or alfalfa.
It would be interesting to look at something like ethanol or tar sands oil and see the amount of virtual water Canada exports to the US as oil.