• Little things to save water

    There’s an old saying along the lines of: "that to see where this country is heading, look to California". If that’s true now, then the future is a little terrifying.

    The Golden State is in the midst of a dangerous drought. Lakes are visibly receding and wells are running dry. According to some experts, the entire state could very well run out of water by the end of the year. Aside from the potential economic hit from the resultant decreased farming output, imagine not even having enough water to drink and you’ll get an idea of what the state is facing.

    California’s getting the worst of it but it’s not the only state reeling from drought conditions. The whole country has experienced dry spells the last several years.

    In the Region, the effects have mostly been limited to hot days and brown lawns. It’s easy to think we won’t see anything worse than that, since Lake Michigan is right in our backyard, but that’s not the case. Last year, the Great Lakes sank to the lowest level on record. While it’s still a long way off from a water shortage, it still affects the local economy, from lakeshore tourism, to local farming, to shipping over the Lakes (particularly the auto industry).

    The fact is that water will only become scarcer. How do we fix this problem? Well, we could support undertakings such as desalination or recycling wastewater. We could also take the environmentally conscious route and transition to alternative energy that pollutes our water less than coal or gasoline. However, these are long-term solutions that will take time to take effect.

    What can we the people do right now? Well, we can cut down on our water usage through small, individual tasks. For example, only bathe as long as you need to get clean. Combine loads of laundry so as to run washers less. Don’t buy foods or products that require excess water. Don’t use the hose for outdoor chores if the job can be done without it, even if it takes a little longer.

    It's not in human nature to change habits or conserve unless an absolute need arises. But that absolute need has arisen in California. The time to change our approach to water for the short and long-term is right now, before more of the country also runs dry.

  • On infrastructure, mere repair is a low bar

    The issue of fixing the nation’s infrastructure (roads, highways, and bridges in need of repair) has steadily gained traction within in the past decade or so. If you haven’t heard much about it, well, the need to do so has hit home in our state in the form of the current problems with I-65.

    This problem isn’t going to go away, so sooner or later, something will have to be done about it. While we’re having this debate, however, we should consider another factor going forward.

    A recent study named Chicago and Northwest Indiana one of the ten worst regions for traffic congestion in the country. The list is made up of other major metropolitan centers nationwide. The study also concludes that congestion has only gotten worse over time.

    Just fixing our transportation infrastructure wouldn’t eliminate these traffic issues, which not only make for more time spent in the car for drivers, but also compound the amount of car exhaust spewing into the atmosphere due to vehicles running for longer. So instead of merely fixing it and keeping it the way it is, this is a prime opportunity to drastically remake our transportation infrastructure.

    How so? Well, turning public transit systems from mostly a city thing into a suburban thing would be a good start. High-speed rail lines between major metro centers is a good idea, too.

    But, this all won’t happen. Undertakings like these would take time, effort, and, most importantly, money, and when was the last time people were supportive of a tax, even if the thing it was paying for would arguably benefit them? Heck, the reason even necessary infrastructure repair has moved so slowly is because it would require raising the gas tax, which pays for it.

    My guess is that at some point, we’ll see a major infrastructure repair plan, when the problem is too big to ignore anymore.  Hopefully, that will happen before another tragedy like the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, which seemingly jumpstarted this debate in 2007.

    But wouldn’t it be nice if people were more willing to work together toward long-term and ambitious but beneficial projects, instead of only going for what’s most convenient for them in the short run?

  • Why wait on road and bridge repair? Answer could be simple.

    All it took to loosen the state’s purse strings was a crippling closure on a major Interstate!

    I’m sure by now everyone’s heard about the I-65 closure downstate, which has turned a relatively quick drive into a long and winding full-day trip through scenic Indiana. It’s a bad situation that affects residents from here to Indianapolis, both in business and their commutes.

    Fortunately for drivers and the people who depend on them, Governor Mike Pence has responded the right way. After resisting using the state’s reserve funds for much of his tenure, he has announced support for using some of the over $2 billion in the state's coffers to fix faltering roads and bridges.

    In 2016. Also, it's dependent on the state legislature approving such an infrastructure plan when they convene in January.

    This kind of urgent situation is what reserve funds are there for, so this is the right thing to do. The only question is, why wait until next year when roads need to be repaired now, and there’s over four months left in 2015?

    This is pure speculation, but I have a theory: 2016 is gubernatorial election year, and Pence is looking very vulnerable right now. If the state legislature approves a major infrastructure repair, it might be a good issue on which a candidate can run. Moreover, using reserve funds to pay for it would preclude raising taxes, and in 2016 it would be pretty recent, whereas by then the RFRA and its fallout will be a year in the past, practically forever ago in our constant news cycle.

    Maybe there are other reasons why the Governor is waiting to act. In his defense, given how brutal our last two winters were, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to wait until after winter to start such an undertaking.

    But if it’s just about politics and public perception, I must say that a leader who does the right thing when it needs to be done looks much better than a leader who waits until it would be the most politically opportune.