Out here in the inland arid western United States, water management is complicated by the convoluted question of what happens to the water after we “use” it.
Sometimes it’s used up. Sometimes we put it back, in a way that allows others to use it.
Regular Inkstain readers, all three of you, will recognize this theme from a riff a few weeks back on my visit to Albuquerque’s sewage treatment plant. With some thematic tweaks, I turned it into a newspaper column (sub/ad req):
A groundbreaking last week at the sewage treatment plant illustrates the issue. Dignitaries did the traditional shovel-in-dirt ritual to ceremonially launch construction of a treatment plant that will add an extra level of cleaning to about 5 percent of the wastewater now going into the Rio Grande. Instead of sending it to the river, it will be pumped into a newly built network of pipes to irrigate parks on Albuquerque’s south side.
In other words, instead of returning it to the system, it will be consumptively used. We’ll be able to reduce our groundwater pumping or river diversions by a like amount, but it’s not like we’re getting free water here. In terms of the overall amount of water in the system, the net effect is essentially zero.