The morning television news announced a temporary reprieve from flooding dangers now forming on many of the nation’s major and minor rivers – resulting from the return of the Polar Vortex to the Midwestern and southeastern United States. Then the news pivoted to the above normal winter temperatures gripping the southwestern and western United States – and the threat of drought – even as rain is predicted from Seattle to San Diego for the next week.
Neither of these threats can be averted. Both are going to have a direct or indirect impact of every American. Climatologists are predicting major flooding in the central and eastern United States. Continued drought in California will result in as many as 500,000 acres of farmland lying fallow this summer, fewer cattle, and the potential for large-scale farm bankruptcies and the loss of whole farming communities.
In one place there’s too much water, in another place not enough. What if government tried an “ounce of prevention” instead of just waiting to declare the inevitable state-of-emergency? There’s no doubt about what is coming. What if federal and state governments, cooperating with private sector, made an effort to redistribute some of the water before disaster occurs.
I’m not a railroad expert or an engineer but I do understand how to meet demand with supply. How about placing some of that excess (soon-to-be) floodwater on a train? That’s right. Imagine loading frozen flood waters onto rail cars and shipping this precious cargo to all points west – California, Arizona, West Texas, and Colorado. These giant ice cubes could be unloaded and trucked to farmers with dry reservoirs and/or wells where it could melt into some water to sustain the farm – if not farming – through the summer?
Snow levels not seen along the Mississippi River tributaries since the 1930s are going to melt. Along with spring rains, the flooding is predictable. What if rail tankers were positioned near major pumping stations from Minnesota to Ohio, filled at pumping stations and shipped west to replenish water supplies for rural western communities predicted to run dry over the spring and summer months resulting in less flooding and fewer western ghost towns?
The principle is the same as railroads carrying Canadian crude oil to Louisiana refineries and safer. A derailment will only cause a big mud puddle – no risk of explosion and atmospheric pollution.
In the midst of the 5th worst unemployment period in history, redistributing water would create thousands of temporary skilled and unskilled jobs. It would reduce, by some small percentage, the number of farm workers who will find themselves on bread lines throughout the southwest this summer.
Moving ice and snow would temporarily reduce excess rail rolling stock capacity. It would re-emphasize the importance of rail commerce in our national economy.
Preposterous, You Say
I know this a preposterous idea. Clearly, there isn’t time from a standing start on March 1 to avert natural disaster. The logistics involved herculean and the cost of this plan outrageous. But doing nothing will save nothing and help no one.
The United States of America has a track record of getting the preposterous done:
- In 1863 Americans built a 1907-mile long railway across both the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains in less than 6 years, linking the Pacific Ocean to the Union.
- In 1940 Franklin Roosevelt told the American public the country would go from building 0 new merchant marine ships in 1940 to 200 in 1941 and doubling this rate of production each year in World War II. But American workers did it.
- John Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth within a decade was labeled preposterous. But Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and returned to tell the tale in only 8 years.
We’re a people who have a capacity to do big things. Meeting the challenges of a changing climate is just the latest in a long list of insurmountable challenges American ingenuity overcame. Our elected leaders have an obligation not just to rail against climate change but, also, to develop plans that mitigate predictable natural disasters.
Necessity has always been the mother-of-invention in this country. The wild swings in weather of every sort over the last decade makes its own emphatic argument for the development of a broader water re-distribution system to insure the nation’s (food and drinking water) security. We know that doing this will be hard – but doesn’t reduce the urgency to start! A network of pipes, pumps, and channels will be difficult and expensive to build – but it’s still a fact that without such a network we face an uncertain national water future – a future of scarcity punctuated by excess.
If you agree please forward this blog with your comments to your representatives in Congress, your Governor, the President and Warren Buffett (Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR) – marked Extremely Urgent.
Photo Credit: Andrew Beckett/XvsY