Let’s try not to use up all the water, OK?

I can do without another Dust Bowl.

I can do without another Dust Bowl.

Look, I know the few folks who still work at The State — or perhaps I should say work for The State, since it’s no longer so much a place to be at — don’t spend a bunch of time thinking about the print version.

I don’t even subscribe to it myself, preferring my iPad. But I do interact through the e-edition, which as you may know presents the content through electronic versions of the actual pages of the print version. I do this because I’m an old front-page editor going back more than 40 years, so whether a story is played on the front, and how it’s played on the front, still means something to me. Even when it doesn’t mean much to the editors putting it there. (Yes, I know that’s illogical, but there it is.)

Anyway, this morning, it really struck me that in that print edition, this story by my old friend Sammy Fretwell — headlined “Water-gulping farms face tighter controls as groundwater levels drop in central SC” — was badly underplayed. An excerpt:

South Carolina’s environmental protection board voted Thursday to place controls on huge farms and industries east of Columbia that withdraw large amounts of groundwater, a measure taken in response to dwindling water levels in parts of the state.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board’s unanimous vote will require major groundwater users in six counties, including Richland and Sumter, to tell the public about their plans to siphon water and to get permits from the agency before making withdrawals. The rules apply to anyone withdrawing 3 million gallons or more per month….

“Dwindling water levels in parts of the state” sort of grabbed me. So did “3 million gallons or more per month.” Later, Sammy uses the word “billions” in describing the overall problem. As a guy who hesitates to turn on sprinklers in the yard (I mean, won’t that make the grass grow even more?), that’s an impressive number.

But I guess, on an emotional level, what grabbed me most was this:

At least nine organizations and local governments recently urged DHEC to impose the rules to protect groundwater needed by smaller farms, industries and public water systems in the six-county area, in addition to large farms…

Hang on. I mean, this or that farmer saying to another, “I need the water more than you do” is one thing, and a thing regarding which different sides might be taken. But public water systems? As in, someone goes to turn on the tap in kitchen and nothing comes out? Whoa…

You know, if that’s what it means. I guess I should ask Sammy.

Here’s the thing: As a guy who is far, far less concerned (if at all) about our planet’s growing population than our friend Bud, I rely — as do we all — on a certain amount of large-scale modern farming.

But maybe we should, as a society, go about growing that food — and fiber, and whatever — somewhat more intelligently.

Anyway, I thought it deserved to be brought to people’s attention a bit more prominently. It’s something we should talk about. I don’t want to live in a Dust Bowl…

I don't think packing up the truck and moving West will work if the East runs out of water.

I don’t think packing up the truck and moving West will work if the East runs out of water.

8 thoughts on “Let’s try not to use up all the water, OK?

  1. Doug T

    When I first read about this issue a few months ago i thought of 2 things:

    I still worry a lot about the diminished state of our news organizations. Local TV news I gave up on a long time ago. If it bleeds it leads. Not to rehash past posts, but if newspaper investigations don’t bring issues such as this to the forefront, a lot of bad actors will get away with murder…no, not the lady who shot her husband which made The State front page, but murder in the hyperbolic sense.

    I exchanged several emails with the publisher of The Charlotte Observer recently. While I received no assurances the print edition would contain more fresh news instead of articles that appeared online 2-3 days earlier, she did tell me that they are beefing up their investigative office. That action kept me from cancelling my subscription. I can afford to help pay someone’s salary if they contribute to the better good.

    The second thing I worried about is the condition of our aquifers. We cannot treat our water supply as an unending supply. There’s several good articles on line, but if we drain our aquifers (such as our Middendorf aquifer) we will suffer much economic harm. We need to keep an eye on these things while every one else is fixated on supposedly stolen elections or the Kardashians whatever.


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      The Observer has a publisher? I guess it does. I don’t think The State does, in the sense in which the title once meant something. I could be wrong.

      The Observer publisher I knew was my old boss and friend Ann Caulkins. She left while back, like most people…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      By the way, Doug, if it’s investigative reporting you value, consider this: I hired the Observer’s star investigator, John Monk, away from them in 1997. He is still at The State, so…

      Of course, he doesn’t get to do much of that sort of thing — taking time to dig deep into something — any more. There’s too much plain old news reporting to do, and The State relies on him to do that.

      You have the same problem in Charlotte, of course. If they are “beefing up their investigative office,” whatever that means, they’re doing it at the expense of everyday, bread-and-butter reporting. Because like all McClatchy papers, and most newspapers in America, they simply don’t have the resources to do the basic, everyday, matter-of-fact coverage of news anymore.

      They can take what little they have and spend it on letting some people dig into something detailed, and then make a big deal about it and do everything but emblazon it with the Dave Barry warning: “Caution! Journalism Prize Entry! Do Not Read!”

      Read it if you like, and enjoy if you can. But know that there’s important news going on around you that you’re missing.

      Of course, I was kind of a curmudgeon on this way before newspaper resources disappeared. Before I made the move to editorial in 1994, I spent most of my career supervising reporters in newsrooms. And I got really tired of the ones who kept coming to me wanting to pull away and do big investigations, telling me they wanted to “hit a home run.” I would tell them I’d like to see them get some base hits first, and do it right, and do it on a regular basis. Then we could talk about swinging for the fence.

      Mind you, if they came to me with a serious, real story that needed digging, I was all for it, and I’d do what I could to make it happen. But too often the ideas were more about flash than substance. Which is what made Dave’s joke so funny…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        One reason I had that attitude was that far too often, the people who wanted to swing for the fence were the ones who had trouble just getting on base.

        There were people who could do both, but they were rare. Consider Brigid Shulte, one of my best hires ever. She was extremely good at something I, for one, am terrible at — time management. She carried at least a couple of notebooks all the time. And while she was running about covering the hell out of the news with one notebook, she would jot down things she ran across in another, which was for her longer-term stories. She made it all work out, and produced it all with skill and efficiency.

        We couldn’t keep her long. First the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau stole her away, then she went to The Washington Post for a bunch of years. Along the way, she wrote a best-selling (at least, I think it was a best-seller, but I’m having trouble confirming that on Google) book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love & Play when No One has the Time.” Which she probably wrote while doing 10 other things…

  2. bud

    If the earths population continues to grow it is a mathematical certainty that water shortages will only get worse. Funny how Brad can describe the problem so well then simply ignore the solution. Birth control for everyone until all these population boom problems are solved.


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