“You don’t miss your water …’til your well run dry …” — “You Don’t Miss Your Water” by Otis Redding
Activating the Keystone Pipeline would provide much needed energy and a boost for our economy through the many high-paying jobs associated with the project.
That said, the “liquid controversy” of 2014 that has the most telling implications for our future economic health involves not oil, but the availability of potable water. A drought in California has that entire state on a water preservation program, and a spill related to the coal industry in Charleston, West Virginia, has contaminated drinking water for an American capital city of 300,000 people.
On Jan. 9, a leak at a chemical storage facility spilled 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River and contaminated that city’s water supply. Over six weeks later, there are still concerns that the water is not safe for drinking. As of this writing, some schools in the Charleston area are still being shut down. Some 30 years ago I heard someone say that eventually water would be more valuable than oil, and I considered the statement hyperbolic.
Now, not so much.
Consider the oyster industry in Appalachicola, 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee, which for decades has relied on plentiful, fresh water flowing southward from the north Georgia mountains and headwaters from Alabama flowing down into the Appalachicola River. Now that water flow is partially dammed in Lake Lanier, which serves as a primary source for Atlanta. The freshwater needs of the Atlanta metro area have grown exponentially, and the Appalachicola River isn’t what it used to be when it reaches the Gulf.
And so the oyster industry isn’t what it used to be. A court battle among these three states that dates back 20 years has yet to resolve this problem of regional water rights.
We are blessed in Florida. A vast majority of our state’s residents enjoy incredibly pure water from the Floridan Aquifer, which stores the golden liquid directly beneath our feet. The Floridan is second in size in the U.S. only to the Ogallala Aquifer, which runs from the northern Midwest to Texas. The same Ogallala Aquifer that provides 30 percent of the nation’s irrigated groundwater; the same Ogallala Aquifer that is in serious trouble, according to Karen Dillon of the Kansas City Star. Just as some believe that fracking in the natural gas industry can jeopardize a local water supply, others believe that potential leaks in the Keystone could further damage the nation’s largest aquifer.
The tug of war between energy production and the jobs it produces and the need for clean air and water is a delicate balancing act that will grow more difficult to adjudicate as we move further into the 21st century.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, chartered financial consultant and accredited investment fiduciary, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” and fiduciary registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.