Aug 30, 2002

The Ghost of Tom Joad


Conjuring up images of the Dust Bowl, this year has been
extremely dry in the United States. According to the National Drought
Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, 26 states are in drought
conditions. Droughts are ranked exceptional (the highest ranking) in Colorado,
Wyoming, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

In a typical year, drought hits 10 to 12 percent of the
country. This year, crops are withering in heat-baked fields and ranchers have
sold off herds rather than let them starve for lack of pasture.

A key factor in the water shortage is the lack of adequate
snowpack in the mountains. Melting snow from higher elevations usually feeds
rivers and streams, but this year snowpacks from the Rocky Mountains were only
one-quarter of their normal levels. Of course, lack of rain is another factor.
In Dodge City, Kansas, rainfall over the 14 months ending in July amounted to
the driest period since 1952-1953.

In Colorado, Denver's water resources, serving 1.1
million customers, reached an all-time low in July. Its reservoirs registered
63 percent full compared to 80 percent during the same period a year ago. In
Aurora, Colorado, reservoirs are at 48 percent of normal compared with 81
percent of last July.

Cities all over the United States are taking various
approaches to the drought and resulting water crisis. Denver suburbs have
implemented tough new water restrictions. These restrictions are the first in
21 years.

The City of Denver also has put together humorous water
conservation ads. These ads have told residents to "Only Wash the Stinky
Parts" and "Instead of Washing Clothes, Don't Wear

However, for those not complying, it is no laughing matter.
Known as the "Sod Squad" in Denver, water police have given out
1,254 violation notices in July, the first month of mandatory water
restrictions. The fines are $100 after the first warning and $500 if you still
don't take heed.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has
started a multi-faceted campaign to encourage outdoor water conservation and
promote the use of native and drought-tolerant plants in gardens, with the help
of actress Rene Russo. The district's new campaign will include print
advertisements, public service announcements, cable television commercials as
well as movie theater slides throughout the district's six-county service
area. The campaign shifts the focus from conservation inside the home to
outside, where 30 to 70 percent of water is used.

Metropolitan does not see this campaign as a quick fix. They
are hoping to take water conservation to the next level - into people's
homes and lifestyles.

However, it does seem as if some water programs are working.
Denver's water consumption is down to 350 million gallons on a hot summer
day from 450 million gallons before the restrictions began. The hope now is for
a wet winter to recharge the water supply.

About the author

Bill Swichtenberg is Editorial Director; he can be reached at [email protected].