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(HOST) Fresh water is abundant in Vermont – especially this year, after the soaking rains of late spring and early summer. But commentator Ruth Page says that’s not so in many parts of the world, and she’s concerned that the problem is growing.

(PAGE) Water is not only essential for all life, it’s beautiful. Flowing water in the environment attracts like a magnet. People like the idea of living near water; it’s downright entertaining. Maps of the world showing population distribution always show the heaviest masses of human residential development along seashores; yes, along rivers and lakes also, but by far the greatest concentration is on the seacoasts (which are going to be consumed as the vast icefields at the poles continue to melt into saltwater).

The other attraction, at least in the United States, seems to be – contrary to logic – deserts. Look at our vast Southwest: most of it is drought-dry with very limited rainfall, the trees sparse except along the occasional waterways.

Why do so many people move to the Southwest? Sure, it’s warm, but the way things are going, more and more of the country is turning warm. Yet folks swarm to New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and other states panting for moisture. We determinedly populate the deserts even when not driven to by sheer population pressure elsewhere. Look at Las Vegas, which is now growing astronomically. Apparently it’s been made to seem exciting and inviting because of the gambling, the gaudy hotels and casinos and its exploitation by the film industry.

Meanwhile, the city is so desperate for water it is sinking slowly, having reduced its aquifer to serve the huge hotels and increasing numbers of residences. The sinking of the city turned out to be a good warning; the administration of Vegas realized that they were in trouble. So they did what so many Western towns and cities did: demanded water from the once wild, tumbling, exuberant Colorado River. They failed. Unfortunately, so many demands have been made on the Colorado, it has no more to give.

Yet Vegas continues growing. Why did anyone think it smart to build a water-hungry resort city in an area that gets an average four inches of rainfall a year? Nature can’t make any more water for the planet; we’re using the same water that has been recycled over all the millennia since water got here, billions of years ago, possibly because our little spinning ball was being pummeled by ice-and-rock meteors from space.

The most shocking latest news indicates that parts of the vast, vast Amazon River basin are experiencing drought. The unthinkable is happening.

Meanwhile, water that is far more precious than gold or diamonds is being wasted in most of the industrial areas of the world, and even some of the others. Travelers mention the broken water-lines in Egypt, unmended, the water sometimes pouring into the streets. Many of us wash our cars and water our lawns with clean drinking water; we use far more to flush toilets than is usually necessary for cleanliness. We act as if the water supply were infinite.

Ruth Page has been following environmental issues for twenty years. She’s a long time Vermont resident and currently lives in Shelburne.

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