Sunday, September 05, 2010

Aral Sea Almost DRIED UP: UN Chief Calls It 'Shocking Disaster'

Aral Sea Almost DRIED UP: UN Chief Calls It 'Shocking Disaster': "NUKUS, Uzbekistan -- The drying up of the Aral Sea is one of the planet's most shocking disasters, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday, as he urged Central Asian leaders to step up efforts to solve the problem.

Once the world's fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region."

The Aral Sea is one especially horrible example of what is happening to the world's lakes and rivers. Damming rivers for crackpot schemes to irrigate deserts and build cities where only reptiles would be comfortable; industrial pollution; overpumping of ground water that won't recharge for a thousand years; using millions of gallons of water to extract oil from tar sands, and on and on. We are about 10 to 20 years from a global water crisis, and in fact it has already started in some places.

Now, let's bring this down to the US and the housing industry. The western US is sucking rivers dry and draining the aquifers so deep that the ground is subsiding. The Rio Grande is running dry. Some years it doesn't even reach the Gulf of Mexico. The Colorado River is in danger of basically drying up by 2050 or so, by some estimates. The level of the Ogallala aquifer that underlies the midwestern US and supports 1/5 of our agriculture is being overdrawn so badly that is dropping by 1.75 feet per year. It took 6000 years to fill, and the most dire estimates say it will run dry in 25 years. I could go on, but if you take a look at this book or any number of others with a similar message, you will see that the evidence for an impending world water crisis, including parts of the US, is overwhelming.

Now--with that as the background, what are the implications for the American real estate development industry? For example:

1. Should developers be permitted to build new subdivisions in deserts and other places that don't have sufficient water (such as Atlanta, GA)? Is it wise to keep building vast quantities of housing in and around Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Atlanta, Riverside and San Bernardino, etc., when they are pumping in or otherwise stealing millions of gallons of water already?
2. Should golf courses be permitted at all in such locations? Or is it time to shut them down in order to avoid wasting water?
3. Should local communities be allowed to adopt building moratoriums and keep developers out entirely, on the sole grounds that there isn't enough water?
4. Should HOAs be forced by state law to permit low-water yards, regardless of what the governing documents say?
5. Should state laws impose water conservation measures on cities and HOAs?

What do you think?

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