Don Gale: Appoint task forces to resolve drought issues

Nature doesn’t always put water where we need it. But we are smart enough to deal with that.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County begins draining Sugar House Park pond early due to dry conditions and to prevent wild birds from getting sick as seen on Monday, July 19, 2021.

Where’s the task force? Where are the task forces? The governor should appoint a task force. Mayors should appoint task forces. The Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations should create task forces.

All with the single purpose of finding new water sources and outlining plans to develop those sources, no matter how difficult the task may appear.

Today’s drought is not a typical cyclical drought. It’s a long-term condition, caused by climate changes driven largely by human atmospheric interference. In fact, 2021 could be the wettest and coolest year of the next three or four decades. Drought conditions will be corrected. But it will take decades, not years. In the meantime, those who live in water-deprived areas must help nature make adjustments.

That’s what the task forces should be asked to do — identify new sources of water and develop plans for capturing, storing and redistributing the water. We have done that in western America for 200 years — captured water, stored it, and redistributed it to help nature sustain plant and animal life. Visionaries created reservoirs all over the area — Mountain Dell, Flaming Gorge, Lake Powell, Strawberry, Jordanelle and hundreds of others. Few were easy to plan and complete. Unfortunately, we grew short-sighted and complacent over the past few decades, failing to plan ahead for long-term drought.

These task forces should be small — six or eight individuals — so they have a chance to accomplish something. They should include both thinkers and leaders. Good ideas are useless until they are transformed into action.

Do not appoint conservationists. Conservation is important, but we cannot conserve our way out of long-term drought. Besides, a modern, civilized society requires bathing and boating, gardens and golf courses, sprinklers and swimming pools — all of which could be eliminated by water conservation proposals.

The world has plenty of water. The planet’s water supply is basically static. Nature stores water in oceans, lakes, rivers, ice and snow (nature’s cold storage pond). When nature decides to move water, moisture evaporates into clouds, moves along wind currents and returns to earth in the form of rain or snow.

But natural forces don’t always deposit water where soil, plants and animals can make the best use of it. Natural laws are seldom driven by situational need. Fortunately, nature — however you define it — created animal species with the ability to think ahead, to plan and to compensate for troubling natural phenomena. Humans learned how to mimic nature by capturing, storing and redistributing water and other earthly “gifts.”

Evaporating ocean water into clouds purifies water and eliminates salt. But Great Salt Lake doesn’t need evaporated water. We could import ocean water directly so the lake can continue to play its vital role in climate stability for northern Utah. Importing ocean water for Great Salt Lake would free local fresh water sources to nourish plants and animals, including humans.

Task forces should consider such a possibility. (It’s less expensive than sending billionaires into space for three minutes of meaningless thrill-seeking.) Also, desalinization of ocean water may be expensive, but it’s common practice in many parts of the world and on hundreds of ships sailing the oceans. We found money to destroy the planet’s climate cycles; we can find money to compensate for the disruptions.

Years ago, former Sen. Frank Moss commissioned a study about importing water from northern sources. Task forces should search out that publication to see what we can learn from it. Excess water might also be available from Midwestern rivers and lakes. Those possibilities should be examined by one or more task forces.

Redistributing water is expensive. But allowing areas of the western United States to dry up is infinitely more expensive.

Don Gale.

Don Gale is a long-time Utah journalist who has written about countless successful efforts to solve seemingly intractable problems.