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Thursday, February 7, 2008

What do we do with our "overabundance" of water?

As I walked over the Roberto Clemente Bridge on my way to work this morning, I took a few minutes to take in the scene of the rising Allegheny River and thought: Atlanta Georgia would love to have our problem. While the Atlanta metropolitan area has to enforce very strict laws on restricting the watering of one's lawn during the day time, here in Pittsburgh we have too much water, so much water we don't know what to do with it.

The constant rising and falling of the temperatures during the last few winters here has led to flooding and other problems with our aging sewage and drainage infrastructure. For this reason, quality, not quantity, of the water is our region's chief concern. With that said, water quality is an issue that has been studied, reported, and debated around here, and has even led to fines levied against the region's sanitary authority. I want to bring up the subject of what to do with our "overabundance" of water, because nobody seems to be talking about that.

If drastic measures are not taken to move from dirty to clean energy, if coal plants in our region and around the world continue emitting CO2 into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and will eventually put parts of the city of Pittsburgh under water. What are we going to do about all of our water? Do we just sit here and wait for the next generation do deal with it? Is there anything we can do?

We don't have a lot of oil, wind, sun, or other resources here in Pittsburgh, so beyond human capital at least the only natural resource that we could leverage to help us build up the regional economy is water (yes, we have plenty of coal too).

The three possibilities that we need to figure out are:

  1. How to turn our vast amounts of water from our rivers into hydroelectric power, enough power to run the city
  2. Can we transport the excess water to places that need it? If this is feasible, how do we do it? Pipeline? Rail? Can we sell our excess water to regions like Atlanta? How about sending it to places that do not have safe drinking water - maybe Africa?
  3. Market the region's abundance of water as a key differentiator when compared to other regions, like an Atlanta. As water shortages throughout the US increase, Pittsburgh would have a huge advantage.
Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I'm not alone. Several times over the course of the past year I have heard former Allegheny County Executive James Roddey mention that water is a strategic asset to the region and that we need to find ways to capitalize on it. He's right - we do have a unique opportunity. So now what do we do about it?

Note: Yesterday afternoon I received an email from Mr. Roddey himself. Here is what he had to say in response to this post:
Start with doing everything we can to clean up our rivers. Next, we need to consolidate our many separate water authorities into one regional supplier. We then need a plan to provide an adequate water supply to the five county metro area of Pittsburgh. Then…………we market our significant, potable water advantage over the rest of the US!! Forget about sending water to areas such as Atlanta, etc. It’s far too expensive by today’s standards. (Maybe not so in 10 or 15 years.)
[we can then say] “Locate your company in a place where you can be assured of a reliable source of fresh water and a place where your employees don’t have to water their lawns on alternate days.”

1 comment:

Alex Nixon said...

strikes me that utilising your water is something that'll take a lot of money, effort, and general political unrest. To us normal folk, it's the perfect solution, but to the powers that be... well we know how they think. It won't happen until there's no alternative, though that may be shockingly soon! I like your blog:-)