This drought is starting to feel like 1988

Opinion

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KEN TRAINOR

I've been trying to save the honey locust tree outside my apartment. That means carrying buckets of water down two flights of stairs, but I'm nothing if not quixotic.

It makes me appreciate the value of water. As this drought drags on (with a couple of promising breaks this past week), you start to wonder how many trees we're going to lose.

I don't know how it was here in 1988, but that was our first summer in central Michigan, and we suffered through one hell of a drought. It lasted, as I recall, through all of June, all of July and half of August.

Here's what I wrote in the local paper on June 27, 1988:

It's plague and pestilence time in Michigan. A drought is about the last thing I expected to run into when we moved to Michigan. We chose the most arid summer in 50 years to try our hand at gardening.

Everywhere, it seems, water conservation measures are going into effect?#34;some voluntary, some not. In one suburb of Chicago [Oak Park, presumably, though I can't recall], authorities have threatened to shut off all water to homeowners who violate watering restrictions. I guess the green-ness of a well irrigated lawn is a dead giveaway these days.

Water use is something that we, in the Great Lakes region have always taken for granted. An exhibit at the Midland Hall of Ideas, puts all this in perspective.

Did you know it takes five gallons of water just to flush your toilet? That's the same quantity as a one-minute shower. Those of you who, like me, take 15-minute showers are using up 75 gallons of water. If you prefer washing up at a more leisurely pace, you might consider a bath, which requires a mere 40 gallons.

In addition to our daily ablutions, a load of laundry requires 30 gallons and a dishwasher 10. This isn't to suggest that we all start beating our designer jeans on the rocks by the river (what's left of it), but you might wait to run the dishwasher until it's full.

My 4-year-old son is a natural conservationist. He has volunteered to give up washing his hands and flushing the toilet unless we're there to make him.

According to the exhibit, in the rural sections of developing countries, water use averages five gallons per day per person. In many parts of the world, water is just as scarce a commodity as food. They waste not, but still want. In urban centers of the Third World, by contrast, average daily use rises dramatically?#34;to 40 gallons per person.

In the U.S., where we use water like there's no tomorrow, daily domestic use totals a whopping 80 gallons. I assume that lawn watering during severe precipitation shortages is not included in that 80 gallons. According to a recent article in this paper, the city wells have been pumping 4.5 million gallons a day, which is a lot of flush.

I've never experienced a drought before, but my heart really goes out to the farmers?#34;as if their jobs weren't tough enough already.

If the heat and desiccation continue another two months, everyone will be hurting. It could be one of those years we'll be telling the grandchildren about. Save some memorabilia. Start printing those T-shirts and bumper stickers: "I Survived the Summer of '88." This is beginning to look like one for the books.

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It would be nice to think that in 17 years, the figures quoted above have improved, but my guess is they haven't. If you take the 8-million-gallon-per-day figure quoted to us by the village a few weeks ago (low figure) and divide it by the population of 52,000, that comes out to 153 gallons per person per day.

I think I'll take shorter showers.

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