It's not just droughts that threaten the future of Charleston's water supply

Image by SC Department of Natural ResourcesImage by 20080724lakelevel.jpg Water that goes on forever, or an end in sight? It's hard to tell.

Even after the recent low lake levels, Charleston's water sources still feel nearly infinite. Sure, Atlanta was running out of water, the upstate is dry as a rock, but here the water still flows with little more than a suggestion to maybe cut back a bit on our usage. But our supply may be far more fragile than we realize, and Charleston Magazine has written up a good article to remind us of that.

The magazine says:
Making good decisions in this case is critical, McMaster says, because “we can’t manufacture a river. If we lose the rivers, we’ve lost something big.” With all that said, since we’re down here in Charleston—a few hours away from the drier Upstate, from the Catawba River crossing between York and Charlotte, and from the legislature in Columbia—should we give much worry to these water woes? Even in last year’s scorching summer drought, we didn’t have mandatory restrictions on local water use. But look closely at the South Carolina map. Officials tell us that many inland and Upstate water issues potentially affect Charleston, situated as our city is, downstream from everyone else. (The water of the Catawba, by the way, flows into the Wateree River and eventually into Lake Moultrie and the reservoir below, which happens to be a primary source of Charleston’s water supply.)

Water slide show
The magazine also has an excellent slideshow the low lake levels from several months back, as does The Post and Courier. The article weaves a good path, setting up how our water supply is interconnected, reminding us that what we get down here often comes from up there. Then telling how expensive and impractical it is to build up new sources of drinking water.

The author then talks of how other regions of the world have failed to adequetly manage their water resouces, leading to conflict. Wikipedia has much to share on this:
The Tigris-Euphrates River System is one example where differing national interests and withdrawal rights have been in conflict. The countries of Iran, Iraq and Syria each present valid claims of certain water use, but the total demands on the riverine system surpass the physical constraints of water availability. As early as 1974 Iraq massed troops on the Syrian border and threatened to destroy Syria’s al-Thawra dam on the Euphrates.

A cause for action

If Charleston Magazine has made its case you should be asking what can be done. At the top effective policy must be implemented by our political leaders, but the author talks (briefly) through what you can do as an individual, pointing out the example of James Island resident Mike Arendt:
That was last year. Ever since, it’s been pretty cool to be at Arendt’s house after a rain. That’s when he walks around and checks on the amount of rainwater in the 12 55-gallon drums he had installed in the elevated crawl space under his house. The rain that hits the roof of his 1,700-square-foot marshfront house—he claims he can catch 1,000 gallons in an inch of rainfall—washes into gutters that lead to filtered drains, where a simple pipe system carries it to the storage drums or to the 360-gallon cistern hidden under the steps of his back porch. Then, when Arendt wants to water his tomato plants, add water to his swimming pool, or do any other landscape watering, he simply flips the switch on a small pump and turns on any of four outdoor spigots.

In related news, the state drought committee will meet August 5th about the hammering drought in the upstate. And, the S.C. Department of Natural resources offers a 50 tips to conserve water.

The magazine's article is no savior to our problems, but it should call you to action on the issue. Simply being conscious of your usage may do a lot to help avoid future problems and over regulation.

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