Monday, November 15, 2004

Planetary Management At Its Finest!

This story will delight you, no matter how sick, sad, or suicidal you may have thought yourself. It's a grand medicine for melancholy, and it'll cost you next to nothing. Tell it to your children in place of a bedtime story, and watch their lovely little eyes fairly glow with wholesome wonderment.

A federal facility that pumps salty water 14,000 feet into the Earth's crust probably is associated with a magnitude 3.9 earthquake that struck the Utah-Colorado border this month, an official said. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation facility removes salt from the Dolores River, then pumps 230 gallons of brine per minute into deep wells in Utah's Paradox Valley Area.

The process is intended to decrease the salt content of the Colorado River downstream, but scientists say it also lubricates faults. The facility has caused thousands of earthquakes in the area since 1991, but most have been too small for people to feel. The 3.9 quake, which struck Nov. 6, was felt in Grand Junction, some 60 miles away. No damage was reported.

For those who don't know, the Colorado River is salty because Western soil is salty, and often has poor drainage conditions. Accordingly, we've found ways to drain irrigation run-off back into the river, along with tons of salt. This water is re-used continually as it travels through agricultural land, so salt concentrations increase dramatically as the water travels to Mexico. By the time it gets across the border, it's downright poisonous.

Our solution? Force astonishing amounts of this salty water into the earth's crust, presumably (though I haven't checked) without contaminating aquifers or other sources of fresh groundwater. One result of this solution? Earthquakes.

Spooky, eh? It's almost as though the earth were a complex system, in which certain actions lead to unforeseen results.

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