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Water for thought

This report gets me thinking. Maybe it can do the same for you.

In a nutshell, fresh water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity, and global warming is only going to make it worse. Those with access to fresh water could be sitting pretty as the century unfolds.

Close your eyes and image the Great Lakes as a future Saudi Arabia -- in more ways than one. I mean, we sit at the door step of something like a quarter of the world's entire supply of fresh water.

Lake erie off buffaloH2O can be an engine for industry, agriculture and energy production, as the aforementioned report notes in its executive summary.

And water can make a place a whole lot more livable for people. Yeah, it might be cold and snowy today, but we'll be able to water our lawns and wash our cars in July, unlike, say, much of the Sunbelt when the periodic droughts kick in and water is effectively rationed. 

Bob Shibley of the University at Buffalo lays it out in this story a while back in the Toronto Star.

Shibley told The Star:

"You're going to have 150 million people living in at least seven of the major regions that don't have water, don't have carrying capacity, can't feed themselves. 

"It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen. So there's a good reason to think that people should come back to the Northeast, where we have the carrying capacity, and have the water."

Some have already taken notice. Last year (2006), The Economist ranked Cleveland as the most livable city in America (26th in the world) based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

The Brookings Institute did an in-depth study of the economic potential of the Great Lakes region. This one-page summary provides a good overview.

Said Brookings:

In this new economic and security environment, both countries can-and should-once again turn to
the Great Lakes region for leadership and new opportunities:

• As a leading center for research and innovation, the Great Lakes can invigorate the U.S. and Canadian economies through new discovery in fields of health, science, materials, and communications.

• As the primogeniture of the world's carbon economy, the region has a special economic opportunity-and responsibility-to be a leader in developing the technologies that can improve the global climate (through energy, automotive, and transport) and be good stewards of natural resources (through freshwater, agriculture, and bio-science).

• As a center for human capital development and talent generation, the region can help educate the skilled professionals needed to keep both countries' economies at the top of the economic food chain in the 21st century, providing new generations with economic opportunity while allowing space for workers across the country and around the globe to learn, grow, and earn a decent standard of living.

• As the home of the largest grouping of interior lakes in the world, the region can uncover its “freshwater coast” from underneath the obsolete mills, factories, and brownfields of the industrial era, and create a new model of sustainable, amenity-rich development.

• As a tightly integrated economic area, the Great Lakes region can serve as a model for building a thriving, globally-engaged, bi-national economy across international borders, while maintaining homeland security.

In other words, we have a future to make here, if we could take time out from feeling sorry for ourselves and get on with it.

The region's biggest polluters

A little while back I came across a nifty environmental site called Scorecard. It's got a motherlode of searchable data by county, state, company, etc. Here's how the site bills itself:

"Scorecard is the web's most popular resource for information about pollution problems and toxic chemicals. Find out about the pollution problems in your community and learn who is responsible. See which geographic areas and companies have the worst pollution records. Identify which racial/ethnic and income groups bear more than their share of environmental burdens.

Scorecard's Data Sources Scorecard integrates over 400 scientific and governmental databases to generate its customized profiles of local environmental quality and toxic chemicals."

I've tooled around the site, and came up with the following list of the 30 biggest polluters in the two-county area in pounds of pollutants released. The only shortcoming in the data that it dates to 2002. But if that's the lastest comprehensive data available, I guess it's the best we've got.

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Facility City Pounds
CWM CHEMICAL SERVICES L.L.C. MODEL CITY 3,664,041
HUNTLEY GENERATING STATION TONAWANDA 2,642,883
AES SOMERSET L.L.C. BARKER 1,365,372
3M CO. TONAWANDA TONAWANDA 684,005
BUFFALO COLOR CORP. BUFFALO 339,734
QUEBECOR WORLD BUFFALO INC. DEPEW 328,374
DELPHI HARRISON THERMAL SYS. LOCKPORT LOCKPORT 203,440
IIMAK AMHERST 114,300
DU PONT YERKES PLANT TONAWANDA 107,870
ISG LACKAWANA INC. BLASDELL 90,011
SOVEREIGN PACKAGING GROUP INC. BUFFALO 68,900
GOODYEAR TIRE & RUBBER CO. NIAGARA FALLS 51,799
UNICELL BODY CO. INC. BUFFALO 34,992
PVS CHEMICAL SOLUTIONS BUFFALO 34,163
SUGAR KAKE COOKIE INC. TONAWANDA 31,460
GIBRALTAR STEEL CORP. BUFFALO 29,211
CANDLELIGHT CABINETRY LOCKPORT 25,300
OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL CORP. NIAGARA PLANT NIAGARA FALLS 24,238
IVACO STEEL PROCESSING (NEW YORK) L.L.C. TONAWANDA 20,987
FMC CORP. TONAWANDA PLANT TONAWANDA 19,103
DUREZ CORP. NIAGARA FALLS 17,286
DU PONT NIAGARA FALLS PLANT NIAGARA FALLS 16,819
ADM MILLING CO. BUFFALO 16,800
WHITING DOOR MFG. CORP. AKRON 16,338
NIACET CORP. NIAGARA FALLS 16,113
WPS NIAGARA FALLS GENERATING STATION NIAGARA FALLS 15,755
AKZO NOBEL POLYMER CHEMICALS L.L.C. BURT 15,501
GENERAL MILLS OPS. INC. BUFFALO 15,424
DINAIRE L.L.C. CHEEKTOWAGA 14,491
ETHOX CORP. BUFFALO 14,182

This is a site worth noodling around.