Are we losing America’s water supplies?
How fast? And how dangerously?
Some day we’ll look back and see that a few of today’s threats to American families were false alarms. Right? (Like maybe the federal budget deficit. It’s beginning to seem a whole lot smaller than a year or two ago.)
But America’s water supply does not seem to be a Chicken-Little fear. A big study from the US Geological Survey, out this week, tells us:
“One of the best known and most investigated aquifers in the US is the High Plains (or Ogallala) aquifer. It underlies more than 170,000 square miles of the nation’s midsection and represents the principal source of water for irrigation and drinking in this major agricultural area. Substantial pumping of the High Plains aquifer has resulted in large water-table declines that exceed 160 feet in places.”
And depletion is accelerating. During the last eight years studied (2001-2008), the depletion was 32% of the total depletion during the entire previous century.
In the affected localities, it’s easy to foresee local limits on water use, and maybe some land subsidence. (Our Hometown Resilience Scores indicate exactly where drought is most likely.) But the big impact on the next generation all across the country will be on the our food supply. Most of it comes from the big aquifer areas throughout the country.
Two years ago this cost – and danger – was a worry. Today we see just how fast it’s growing.
When will I be able to afford solar electricity?
When depends on where.
An interactive graphic from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance helps us see when grid parity will reach our state. Will it be this year? Will it be 2022?
Grid parity? It’s when installing solar panels on our home (or shared municipal or community panels) saves money compared to buying electricity from our local utility. If, as predicted, the cost of photovoltaics continues to drop and the cost of fossil fuels climbs, there comes a moment when we save electricity costs by making the stuff ourselves. At the same time, we increase our resiliency against blackouts.
The Institute looked at 3,100 utilities across the country. The variables, described in Solar Grid Parity 101, include the costs of installing, maintaining, and financing panels, and the utility’s price and net-metering policy. The level of future government subsidy (30%, 10% or zero) is pretty conjectural and is left for us to play with. Same for the maximum amount of solar that will be allowed on a utility’s system.
Some surprises leap off the interactive map, including very different results for neighboring states. Clearly, it makes a difference where you live.
Another way to compare solar opportunities: Hometown Resilience Scores, developed by Savvy Families, tell you how much usable sunlight falls in each town across the US. (Available soon.)
Atlantic City rebuilds its boardwalk after storm destruction (happened).
New York builds a Hudson-wide storm barrier (Mayor Bloomberg’s plan).
And your town’s sewer system must be moved to avoid rising sea level (a whole lot of towns face this).
Who pays for these rising expenses? There are a few straws in the wind.
A while back, when a waterside road in Norfolk developed problems similar to sea-level rise, residents supported their municipality’s decision to pay to raise the road. I wrote at the time I wouldn’t want to live – even on high ground – in a town that’s likely to bail out its shoreside residents.
Recently, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment asked people the survey question “How much do you think the federal government should do to reduce the effects of rising sea level in the future – a great deal, quite a bit, some, a little, or nothing?” 45% said a great deal or quite a bit.
The same question was asked about state governments (53%), local governments (52%), and local businesses (48%). So, a majority expect these costs to be borne by government. And expectations are higher for state and local governments than for Washington.
Supplying a lot of disaster prevention and relief from municipal and state budgets may be the civilized thing to do. But think of the impact on local and state taxpayers! These inevitable additions to government budgets are why our Hometown Resilience Scores give a lower Tax Grade to any town in one of the 20 coastal states, and especially those in coastal counties.
The biggest risk to those of us living there is not the growing danger to our property; it’s the growing pressures on local and state finances.
Think our parents have retirement under control?
Seems an exploding cost may be waiting for them – and us.
My mother developed Alzheimer’s and for six years lived in progressively more expensive retirement and nursing homes. Long before the end, she couldn’t recognize us or experience more than a tiny fraction of her great humanity.
Today we learn from the Rand Corporation that the number of people with dementia will more than double over the next 30 years.
“The estimated prevalence of dementia among persons older than 70 years of age in the US in 2010 was 14.7%. The yearly cost per person that was attributable to dementia was [from] $56,290 to $52,362, depending on the method used to value informal care. These individual costs suggest the total cost in 2010 was between $157 billion and $215 billion. Medicare paid approximately $11 billion of this cost.”
Right, Medicare covers less than 7% of the cost!
Who pays the rest? It’s scraped from family savings and children’s incomes. Where there’s no money for care, some family members put their lives on hold to look after the older relative at home.
One big conclusion here: save more today to avoid draining tens of thousands of dollars or multiple years from our children’s and grandchildren’s lives tomorrow.
A second: think about where to retire. The same quality of medical care costs much less in one place than another. So arranging (early) for the Alzheimer’s patient to live where medical costs are low could save lots. To start researching this, you can check our Hometown Resilience Scores for the general cost of healthcare in towns all across the US.
Third-party reactions to the Rand findings are alarming. Read phrases like ”staggering,” “new gravity,” and “swamp the system” here.
An extraordinary new substance could
provide 60% efficient photocells.
A sheet of carbon hexagons called graphene has so many promising properties that the EU just gave researchers a billion-dollar research grant. Scientists can apparently get graphene to convert a photon from the sun into multiple electrons – electrons that become an electric current. That’s way more efficient than current one-photon-one-electron silicon technology.
Renewable electricity! Off-the-grid resilience! No more coal smoke! Forget about Peak Oil!
Our family is keeping our fingers crossed.
But the benefits will still vary widely. After all, solar power works best where there’s lots of sunlight. US cities and towns vary widely in how much sunlight falls on them. Savvy Families has rated each town in America for its average sunlight over the year. It’s one of our Hometown Resilience Scores.
These numbers are based on insolation readings at the nearest government measurement station. The station at Twentynine Palms in California, for instance, receives 5,487 watt-hours per square meter. Bellingham International Airport receives only 3,133. As a result, utilities, municipalities or private groups collecting and distributing solar power will pay widely different costs for a kilowatt-hour of the stuff.
Throughout America’s past people settled near plentiful energy, where streams could power mills or coal could fire furnaces. Whether it’s graphene or steadily-improving silicon, if our future – or our children’s – is to be powered by sunlight, it makes sense to settle where there’s lots of the stuff.
Our Hometown Resilience scores include
each state’s vulnerability to federal budget cuts.
Thinking about where you, or your children, should call home in coming years? Consider where Congress will cut back support for job markets and local economies.
In South Dakota, federal grants subject to ‘sequester’ comprise over 10% of the state’s revenue. In Delaware, they’re under 5%.
In Maryland, Virginia and DC, almost one worker in 25 has a non-defense job with the federal government. In Connecticut, it’s only one in 250.
Impacts from big non-defense expense seem to me all-but certain in every state in the country. Both parties are committed to major cuts over the next ten years, and if spending isn’t ‘sequestered’ today, it will be heavily pruned over the coming years.
With so many jobs and state services heading for attrition, it pays to know where the cutbacks could hurt the least. The Pew Center on the States has gauged these vulnerabilities state-by-state, and Savvy Families has incorporated them into our Hometown Resilience reports (available soon).
We hear lots about how our federal taxes may rise.
But little about how our federal services will definitely fall.
Oh sure, we read that park rangers will be fired, space exploration slowed, foreign aid shut off. But the cuts that affect us directly, in education, medical research, protection from toxins, community services – no politician wants to tell us what that will be like.
Yet, unlike whose taxes go up, the spending cuts are apparently a done deal.
Recently Eduardo Porter laid out the reduce-spending scenario, and the cuts being negotiated in Washington are far greater than I had realized.
“Our political leaders . . . are pulling the wool over Americans’ eyes about the kind of budget we are about to get. The truth is that both the president and House Republicans have agreed to shrink a critical part of the government to its smallest in at least half a century.
“The president and his advisers proposed cutting the discretionary part of the budget devoted to everything except defense and other security agencies to 1.7 percent of economic output by 2022, down from 3.1 percent last year.
“This is not irrelevant spending. It accounts for every government expenditure except entitlements, security and interest.”
The media paint vivid pictures of American families coughing up more in federal taxes. What seems far more likely is that we’ll need new strategies to get the same quality of education, community services, infrastructure, and environmental safety. Let alone the same enjoyment from our nearest national park.
Drying rivers are showing us our history.
Do we see what they’re showing about our future?
At least archeologists and historians can take advantage of severe drought.
With parts of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers at their lowest levels in decades, many sunken objects are being uncovered. This World War II minesweeper, a museum ship in St. Louis, was lost years ago, ripped from its moorings by flood waters. Now we know where it ended up.
What appears to be a thousand-year-old map carved on a boulder has also surfaced. The AP story quotes Steve Dasovich, an anthropology professor at Lindenwood University. ”It appears to be a map of prehistoric Indian villages. What’s really fascinating is that it shows village sites we don’t yet know about.”
The rock was originally on dry land, but the Mississippi changed course to submerge it.
The risk of drought varies widely from state to state – even county to county – across the US. What’s the risk in your hometown? Soon you will be able to check drought risk in our Hometown Resilience Scores, to be published in the New Year.
From sharp scissors to our sanity,
couponing can be dangerous.
If you’re like me, couponing is out. Yes, we can save money, but the amount of time and the bags of clippings . . . Ugh!
What I’d like is someone who plans the family meals around what’s on sale at the local grocery store. And allows for our tastes and dietary preferences too.
Turns out there’s an online service that does that. Do you live near an Aldi, Kroger, Publix, Ralph’s, Safeway, Target, Walmart, or Whole Foods? eMeals tracks their specials and builds menu plans based on what’s on sale. For $5 a month you get a weekly dinner plan plus a shopping list for the ingredients, many of which will be at special prices that week. They do lunch and breakfast plans too.
Do you prefer low-carb meals? Or maybe low-fat, portion-control, vegetarian, natural/organic, gluten-free or other some other type? You can choose the meal plan plus shopping list for any of these. (I’m sad to find they don’t offer an I-hate-to-cook option where all dinners take 15 minutes or less to prepare.)
Before you sign up, check some online evaluations (like this one at Money Crashers). It seems that eMeals is perceived as less valuable these days for steering you to sale items and more for doing nutritious meal planning that reduces leftovers and makes it harder for your family to eat junk food.
Apparently the dangers of couponing range from sharp scissors to our sanity. Maybe a frugal meal-planning service can help both physical and mental health. Any experience with this? (eMeals, not sanity issues.)