I’ve asked myself this question for years, and I know that there must be some perfectly sound engineering reason beyond my comprehension for why it cannot have an encouraging answer… but why, well into the twenty-first century, can we do nothing whatever with flood waters except clean up after they trickle out of our streets and houses?
The first and greatest crisis in the aftermath of a catastrophe like Harvey is the absence of potable water. The power that pumps water through our taps from treatment plants is down, the water in wells is polluted with chemicals swept out from city streets, and stores that sell bottled water are of course closed for the duration. Air-conditioning doesn’t work, so unevacuated citizens are naturally parched; and even in the best of circumstances, no person can survive without water for more than six or seven days.
Yet the rainwater that created this nightmare was essentially clean as it fell, and the least bit of filtering would likely remove whatever noxious urban chemicals it might have picked up in the clouds. Before it was threatening death on the ground, it held the promise of life in the air.
Floods or not, in 2017, why do we not filter potable rainwater as it reaches our suburban rooftops? Hacking into the computer of a water treatment plant and readjusting infusions of chemicals like fluoride to create vastly toxic consequences seems like one of the more obvious terrorist scenarios. (And some of us, besides, don’t completely trust the competence of our public servants.) I collect rainwater to grow my garden; how sophisticated could the technology be that would allow every homeowner—and even apartment-dweller—to produce a cheap, reliable stock of drinking water from the bounty of the heavens? Or are we already so helpless that we can’t bear the thought of accepting anything that hasn’t passed through Big Brother’s expert hands?
There must be a dozen (or more) situations like this one: cases where lives might be saved with minimal integration of rather simple technology into our routine… but where nothing happens because nobody gets the idea to take the first step.
And why, finally (for this is a facet of the same conundrum), do we keep fretting about how to reduce our carbon emissions by substituting absurdly inefficient technologies (e.g., wind turbines) or covertly but fiercely toxic ones (e.g., solar panels) when the immediate and obvious strategy should be to reduce energy consumption? Home-grown water treatment would be a step in this direction. So would promotion of backyard gardens—the ultimate in effectively applying the sun’s energy to life. Why don’t we create more commercial venues and destinations within our residential areas, allowing citizens to drive less or even walk if they wish to eat out or need a gallon of milk? Our towns were all like this before World War II. Why have we grown so insane?
Of course, Big Brother doesn’t want us to solve any problems on our own. We might mess up!