Season 4 of the Crazy Town podcast launches with episode 48, which explores humanity’s tempestuous relationship with water.

People have a long history of trying to control water, like when the Roman emperor Plumpus Crackus built the Cloaca Maxima (only one of those names is made up) to transfer sewage into the Tiber River. From irrigating fields to building canals to damming waterways to bringing water into our buildings, we’ve engineered more and more complex ways to tame water. And in so doing, we’ve changed the environment, both aquatic and terrestrial, and we’ve changed the course of human history. What we do with water matters even more in the era of global warming. Can we learn to treat this most precious of resources in a way that achieves sustainability? Beware of severe pun overshoot in this episode. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Jason Bradford

I’m Jason Bradford,

Rob Dietz

And I’m Rob Dietz. Welcome to Crazy Town where the heating element on your toilet seat uses enough energy to power a small village in Asia.

Melody Travers

This is producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher, and Rob are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about the taming of water, the flood of problems that have flowed through the centuries from all our damming and plumbing, and the actions we can take to change course. The watershed moment took place 10,000 years ago. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 250 parts per million and the global human population was 5 million.

Jason Bradford

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and the nearest beach town to me was Santa Cruz.

Asher Miller

Was that really the closest?

Asher Miller

That was the closest, yeah.

Rob Dietz

Banana Slugs, baby.

Jason Bradford

I know that UC Santa Cruz Banana Slug – fantastic. Best mascot. The Geoducks (Gooey Ducks) are pretty good. But anyway. . .

Rob Dietz

Geoducks are pretty good. Did those two ever go head to head?

Jason Bradford

I hope so.

Rob Dietz

Who’s got the softest body?

Jason Bradford

I want to see a wrestling match. Anyhow, one of my fondest memories of the beach was this day that we went down to this river that was coming into the ocean. I just remember spending all day getting sunburned.

Asher Miller

Well that’s when there was actually freshwater running in California.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, there was freshwater. Right. Yeah, there were storm events and rivers would . . .

Rob Dietz

Precipitation

Asher Miller

What a concept.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it was great. What a time. It was probably the late 70s or something like that. But anyway, I just remember being enthralled all day, like putting rocks and sticks, and I was diverting the river and creating these new channels on the side of it. I just thought it was the coolest thing.

Rob Dietz

Wow. So you know, anytime you tell a cool California story, I can always give you the hick version from Georgia from my past.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, what is it?

Rob Dietz

So we would have a big storm event in the summer. You’d get these really gnarly thunderstorms come through. And it would fill the gutters in our neighborhood with like – you’d have this miniature stream in the gutter. And so we would take rocks and dirt and leaves and whatever, and then make a big dam of the gutter. And of course, the next thing you do is you each get a stick or a pine straw and put it behind the dam and you’re off to the races. You’ve got to break the dam and then you’re running, chasing your thing down the gutter until it goes down the sewer and . . .

Asher Miller

. . . and then It gets you.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, of course. You know, if it doesn’t end in having your arm ripped off in the sewer, it’s not a very good story.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I mean, I think like probably most kids, I would think, grew up also doing kind of similar things either at the beach or, you know . . .

Jason Bradford

. . . in the gutter like Rob.

Asher Miller

In the gutter.

Rob Dietz

Always in the gutter.

Asher Miller

Down at the crick. I can’t say that — I didn’t grow up like that. I think there’s something innate to it. Don’t you think? It’s not like, you know, if you met my parents, this was not learned behavior. I was never out there with my dad building dams.

Rob Dietz

Oh really? My mom taught me how to race the grass and things down the gutter. Yeah, I was always homeschooled, and it was a class.

Asher Miller

No, I do think it’s innate.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. I think it’s true. We’re clever creatures that like to manipulate our environment and see what happens and very playful.

Rob Dietz

If you had a tail, Jason, like a beaver, think of what you could have done with those dams.

Jason Bradford

Oh my God.

Jason Bradford

Well 10,000 years ago, I want you to harken back in the olden days – times. And we’re talking sort of this juncture between humans living as hunter-gatherers and transforming into farmers. And it wasn’t a single moment in time or, you know, a snap of the fingers.

Rob Dietz

Incredible. But see, none of this happened 10,000 years ago, though. This this happened, what? 40 years ago?

Asher Miller

And it wasn’t all humans, right?

Jason Bradford

It wasn’t all humans everywhere, but there were these certain places. And one of the oldest locations where it’s known that people started doing this was in Jordan. So we’re talking you know, Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East area, and there are these locations and landscapes – these features called wadis. And you probably don’t know what this means, but you might if I said arroyo. You would know what that meant.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. These kind of dry riverbeds.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, most of the time they’re pretty dry. But every once in a while they fill up with water because this is a seasonally inundated environment. But most of the time, there’s no rain. And then when it comes, it comes. Big time, right? So it’s super important if you’re in that situation, you want to grow stuff, that you capture the water when it’s available, and figure out a way then to plant and harvest. So this is how some of the early agriculture functioned was through taking these seasonal high water flows, and diverting it into areas where they could then plant crops because they would saturate the soil. So they’re kind of augmenting the seasonal inundation and creating then wet fields to plant it.

Rob Dietz

So it’s like, you can farm for more than just the 20 minutes when that flood comes through.

Jason Bradford

Right, right. Yeah. And you can spread it out. You’re spreading the water out across the landscape. So this is about 10,000ish years ago, people started doing the kind of things that we were doing as kids, but for like real. And to grow and to grow food. And imagine in the desert how important this is. Desert people before this always had to migrate to find water, you know. And there are all these seasonal patterns and they carried water in animal hides. And they. .

Asher Miller

Again, Bedouins still do this. I mean, it’s a much smaller scale. But they have been doing this for thousands and thousands of years, and from oasis to oasis.

Jason Bradford

Exactly. But getting permanent settlements at scale in these dry environments would be almost impossible. But can you imagine how nice it then would be though, to figure out how to do this, because these are pretty amazing places to live, fantastic climates to grow crops in. But you need to control water somehow in order to be reliable.

Rob Dietz

Well, let’s talk about broadening this a little bit because you’re talking about okay, a desert environment, and the water coming down, and figuring out how to maybe trap and store and use some of it. But there’s a whole bunch of other technologies that had to be coming along at the same time, right?

Asher Miller

Yeah, in that moment, you know, if we’re gonna pick a watershed moment (no pun intended, right?) of thinking about you know, this site in Jordan –

Rob Dietz

Wait, can I interrupt you? Can we just agree not to use the watershed and the puns. It’s too easy this episode. It’s not going to happen.

Asher Miller

Sorry buddy. That ship has sailed.

Rob Dietz

Oh dammit. We’re so screwed. Do something with screws.

Asher Miller

Episode over.

Jason Bradford

Okay, start over. Water under the bridge. Let’s start over.

Asher Miller

Ah, the collective groan from all the listeners.

Rob Dietz

Okay. Yeah, I shouldn’t have brought it up.

Jason Bradford

It’s like having a root canal here.

Rob Dietz

If you don’t stop, I’m gonna stab you- with a water knife.

Jason Bradford

Stop it.

Asher Miller

Yeah, so all I was gonna say was and I was being actually serious for a moment. It’s not like that moment, I won’t use that dreaded w-word. That moment was not the first moment where humans were manipulating water or trying to tame water on some level. You had these communities before, you know, 10,000 years ago, probably longer ago, hat had cisterns. Right? They dug probably shallow wells. And that allowed them to harvest water for kind of daily use. It wasn’t necessarily for planting, but it was a lot better than going down to the river and transporting the water that you needed. So probably humans were doing this in small communities going way, way, way, way back.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. But what’s so significant about what we’re talking about then is they got beyond the sort of household domestic use, and they went into large scale, agriculture. Suddenly, that was a thing. And this also happened, of course, in Nile — the Nile River in Egypt. That was apparently an incredible system, with highly predictable flood regime that you could set your calendar pretty much to. The river is gonna start rising here. And the flood would actually start at, you know, the southern end and work its way to the north. So there was then systems in place for when you would get your water, and how would flow to your neighbors, and when you would like, let your field dry out and start the plant. So incredible how a huge, really large civilization, then, with a scale of the Nile could form.

Asher Miller

And it’s interesting to think about that too because if you study later history even – you know, you look at the Roman Empire. And you hear that Egypt was a breadbasket for the Roman Empire, which is a really hard thing, at least for me to kind of imagine, right? But that was that was how sophisticated they were and how much they were able to grow, you know, based upon the systems that they had set up.

Rob Dietz

Well, and as a farmer Jason, you know that they had really good fertility from all the crocodile poop.

Jason Bradford

That’s right. That’s the best kind. You know, you spend a lot to get –

Asher Miller

Was it rich with phosphorus?

Rob Dietz

Whatever’s needed for those crops.

Asher Miller

So, but in other parts of the world, they’re doing this stuff, too. I mean, I think 2,700 years ago, something like that, you know, there’s documented evidence that in China, we see that they’re manipulating water to create these shipping canals. There was this evidence of what – I guess some people call it the Grand Canal, right? Which was a shipping canal that was actually used as a means of communication throughout the empire?

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Asher Miller

And it made it a lot easier to probably move things and people and to communicate over long distances that way.

Jason Bradford

But yeah, and then transport agricultural goods, of course. So you can get cities because you can now not only grow the food, but you can move it long distances really inexpensively.

Asher Miller

And doing that actually led to the building of these large construction sites. And some historians, I guess, call this the largest civil engineering project prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Asher Miller

Wow.

Asher Miller

Right? And that was 2,700 years ago.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And what was fascinating about China was that they not only moved food into cities, but they moved the human waste out of cities and back to the farm.

Rob Dietz

I got dibs on being one of the early guys that’s hauling food, and you guys can handle the return trip.

Asher Miller

Well, and I think we probably talked about this before when we talked about cities, but how important it is to actually get rid of waste. It’s not just bring things in. It’s taking things out.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, I have a really soft spot for canals that – You know, this season is about history and watershed moments. And unfortunately, I’m an American, so our history only goes back a few 100 years if you’re of European descent. So when you talk really old in the US, you’re talking like the days of George Washington, right? And he had this great idea for a canal that would connect Western Maryland into DC, into the nation’s capital. And the whole idea there was to be able to haul coal and agricultural products into the city. And it wasn’t built in his lifetime, it got built later. But the reason I love this canal is they’ve maintained the towpath for it where the donkeys used to haul the barges on it. And you can use it as a hiker/biker trail. And so like the first bike tour I ever did was on this canal. And it’s so cool. Like you see all the structures, the locks that can raise the water up. And there’s this 2000-foot long tunnel that they dug by hand. I mean, you talk about the industrial, you know, sort of pre-Industrial Revolution building. Like, how the hell did they tunnel through a mountain for half of a mile using people and horses?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it’s hard to fathom how nice and important canals must have been before we had all the highway systems we have now. Just stunning.

Asher Miller

Well, and you think about the power base. I mean, you think about the Erie Canal, and these are huge projects in the history of the United States. And those were centers of large populations and economic activity. They’re kind of forgotten.

Jason Bradford

There are some canals in the Willamette Valley that, you know, were not used very long, honestly.

Rob Dietz

So you know, there’s a waterfall in Oregon City. The Willamette drops down, and it was a real big industrial site, but apparently the lock there is for sale. So if you guys want to, you know, make an investment, get some old school technology. . .  Well, look, if you want to talk about manipulating water and changing flows, then you got to go to dams, right?

Jason Bradford

What did the fish say when it hit the wall?

Asher Miller

Oh, God.

Jason Bradford

Sorry, dad joke. Never mind. Keep going.

Rob Dietz

No, come on. Punch line us.

Asher Miller

I think you just answered it.

Asher Miller

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Keep going.

Rob Dietz

Okay, so I wanted to bring up the first known dam. You guys aware of this? It was the Jawa dam. And it was built a long time ago in a galaxy far far away in a place called Tatooine.

Jason Bradford

Nice.

Asher Miller

How did we find out about that?

Rob Dietz

It was recorded on this little disc and it was stored in a droid. They found the droid.

Asher Miller

Isn’t this one of those top secret things that the government hasn’t acknowledged?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, Area 51. That’s why we can’t go there.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, no, it is called the Jawa dam, but it was 2,600 years ago. Not that long ago. But the way that the dams manipulate water, it just blows me away when –  Sorry to go back to another bike trip, but I was on a trip through Montana and we stopped at this place called Libby Dam. And it’s one of those sort of Western, US hydroelectric dams. It backs up the Kootenai River all the way up into Canada. And the lake is actually called Koocanusa, which is an aggregate of Kutanai, Canada, and USA. Koocanusa. But we got to go inside the dam and do this tour and it’s like a massive structure. And when you’re inside you just feel like you’re in some weird prison building. And they’ve got these huge generators and a museum. That was actually, I think I talked about that in a previous episode, where they had a stationary bike with light bulbs on it. And you could see how hard it was to power light bulbs with with human energy. And we thought we were badass bikers at that point, and like, I could barely keep a lightbulb lit.

Rob Dietz

What was the name of that German dude that we’ve talked about?

Rob Dietz

Oh yeah. Robert . . .

Asher Miller

Robert would have kicked your ass.

Rob Dietz

Well, that’s clear.

Jason Bradford

But you’re getting at an important feature that is now we’re integrating this control of water with the ability now to harness the power, the hydropower.

Asher Miller

Right. Exactly.

Jason Bradford

That’s huge now to step up, sort of, you know, the ability then to mill grain and cut wood. So big deal.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And, you know, you got to think, at least here in the US, our federal agencies never saw a river that they didn’t want to dam. You know, like nobody has probably heard of Libby Dam.

Asher Miller

I know. I was just gonna say that. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

It’s like, it’s just a little dam, you know. But it’s massive, right?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Well, the Columbia River Basin is astonishing. Like how many giant dams are in this one river?

Rob Dietz

Yeah.

Jason Bradford

But you know, we not only are blocking rivers, but we’ve also historically worked to block the sea and creating sea walls. Some of it is just to protect you from the occasional odd storm that where the wave actually gets too far into your town. But others, of course, have been envisioned for rising seas. And of course, the Dutch –

Asher Miller

Yeah, my people have been doing this for centuries and centuries, and it wasn’t in anticipation of sea level rise because of global warming. This was about basically creating land out of nothing. Right? And they’re still in the –

Jason Bradford

Shallow marine environments.

Asher Miller

Yeah, they’re still in the process of creating islands out of nothing, but it’s a pretty remarkable system that the Dutch have created with the deltas that they have. And you know, they still have – They rotate their kids through a lot when there are holes in the sea walls. Yeah, to stick their fingers in.

Rob Dietz

I was wondering where you were going with that.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, if you got in trouble in school. I heard that’s your timeout.

Asher Miller

Yeah, you go to the dike and you stick your finger in.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah, right. Okay. Yeah. But I’ve just seen some amazing videos and write ups of how much amazing technology went into these things. Like taking willows and cutting them down, and wrapping them together and make giant mats – like football fields of mats of like these willow bundles that they put rocks down on and . . . It’s just crazy how much went into all that, that they figured it out. So yeah, humans can do a lot without having these big machines that’s incredibly manipulative to the environment.

Asher Miller

Of course, with big machines, we can do a hell of a lot more.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, I think a next sort of phrase in this essay on water manipulation, you got to turn to water and wastewater treatment. Which I guess among the three of us, maybe I’m the expert because I actually had a class in grad school. I went to school for environmental science and engineering and took water and wastewater treatment. Because most of the Environmental Science programs –

Asher Miller

I’m an expert, I flush the toilet at least once a day.

Rob Dietz

That’s true. I didn’t mean to try to upstage you guys. I mean you you have plenty plenty of experience with shit. But I mean yeah, you think about this sort of descent for – maybe a descent isn’t the right word. If we’re in the progress meme, it’s the ascent from agriculture to industrial to these big urban areas. You’re not doing that without good water and wastewater treatment systems.

Jason Bradford

I mean sure. With the giant cities we have today it’s impressive. But Rome figured out a lot of stuff, you know, back in the day.

Asher Miller

Well that was a pretty big city, too.

Jason Bradford

I mean the Emperor, Plumpus Crackus, and his incredible public works project, the Cloaca Maxima, it’s very hard to surpass these.

Asher Miller

Wait, can we just point out that one of those I’m pretty sure is made up. The other is not, right?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, the other is not.

Asher Miller

Can you explain Cloaca Maximus?

Jason Bradford

The Cloaca Maxima is the name of the major sewer line that dumped the sewage in Rome into the river, the Tiber.

Rob Dietz

Wow. And of course a Cloaca is a part of bird anatomy. You can guess which part.

Jason Bradford

Well, not just birds, but like reptiles and stuff. It’s the multi tool.

Rob Dietz

But you know, what a lot of people are not aware of is that that almost didn’t get passed. The Senate was going to filibuster, but then Gigantas Maximus Buttholius was able to overcome that. He’s one of Rome’s greatest senators.

Asher Miller

Not as well known as our good friend from Life of Brian.

Rob Dietz

Oh, yeah, I knew you were going to take us to Monty Python at some point. But I think you’re in the wrong story, right? I mean, isn’t there one about Rome?

Jason Bradford

Yes, that would be a fun one to play a little clip of.

Monty Python Clip

What have the Romans ever done for us? The aqueduct. What? The aqueduct. Oh, yeah, they did give us. That’s true. And the sanitation. Oh, yeah. The sanitation, Remember what the city used to be like? Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done. And the roads. Obviously not roads. I mean, the roads go without saying don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the road? Irrigation. Medicine. Education. You’re right, fair enough. And the wine.

Jason Bradford

Well, I tell you though, the outhouse was a nice thing to have. But I do appreciate full plumbing systems.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I mean, come on. It’s certainly convenient.

Jason Bradford

So I mean, I appreciate what the Romans did. You know, getting plumbing moving.

Asher Miller

It’s funny though, because that was lost for a long time. Right? It was a big deal. I remember- I don’t know if you guys ever read the The Great Brain series of kids books?

Rob Dietz

No.

Jason Bradford

No, my brain’s little.

Asher Miller

They’re books that I read when I was younger, and then I read them to my boys as well. And one of the stories, they’re set basically in Utah, around the turn of the 1900s period. And one of the stories that’s in there just the big deal of how this family got the first indoor toilet, first water closet inside. It was like a huge friggin’ deal in this town. And everyone thought that it was insane and crazy and it was gonna, you know, create problems in the house, you know? It was revolutionary, right? And this is how many 1000’s of years after the Romans set up this whole . . .

Rob Dietz

This is bizarre because I was – I’m now remembering . . . I was given that book for a birthday.

Asher Miller

The Great Brain, not The Big Brain.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, The Great Brain. I was given that that book to me for a birthday present and I started trying to read it and it was talking about a water closet. And I was like, “I don’t know what that is.” So I just put the book down and gave up on it. What the hell is a water closet?

Jason Bradford

Well, apparently, you know, these things were invented in a series of breakthroughs in plumbing technologies that culminated in the very famous invention by Thomas Crapper.

Asher Miller

And people might think that’s a joke. That’s not a joke, right? Thomas Crapper was a real dude.

Jason Bradford

Yes, he pulled all the previous work together as a breakthrough.

Asher Miller

And that nickname comes from something.

Jason Bradford

Yes.

Rob Dietz

It’s making me think that a good name for a plumbing company would be Cloaca Maxima. You know, you got the butt crack thing, you got the water thing, you got . . . It’s all in there.

Asher Miller

Well, look how far we’ve come just if we think about like sanitation and all that at the home scale. I mean, we went from outhouses to now. We’ve got these fancy toilets, you know that compliment you on on the crap you just took and scans your poop. It’ll tell you, if you’re like too low, you’re iron deficient or something like that.

Jason Bradford

Is there really poop scanners out there?

Asher Miller

Yeah.

Jason Bradford

Oh my god.

Asher Miller

You can get anything you want.

Jason Bradford

I’ve had some really good experiences on some of these Japanese brands, so you know. Warm, dry. . .

Rob Dietz

Heated seats.

Jason Bradford

Yes. Soft as can be. So, yeah.

Rob Dietz

Various sprinkler settings.

Jason Bradford

The sprinklers settings, yeah.

Asher Miller

I mean, I think you can map human progress just by looking at the way that people had to go to the bathroom over millennia, right?

Rob Dietz

I don’t know man. Again, that might be a descent rather than progress.

Asher Miller

It will be circular.

Jason Bradford

Well, let’s think about this. You know, people learn how to control water to grow excess food, and it seems like a pretty minor little shift. They’re just playing in the sand, kind of. And diverting these flows from these wadis or arroyos, whatever you want to call them. But this allows then, all this excess food, more concentrated population centers, and if you don’t want to be a nomad you can start building things that are gonna stay put. This is how cities form.

Rob Dietz

Gosh, also just thinking for a second, in the desert, in these dry places where this was happening. Those structures, they’re gonna last.

Rob Dietz

They’re gonna last.

Rob Dietz

That’s, you know, kind of like why we have so much good archaeology from these places.

Jason Bradford

Right. You’re gonna laugh, but I mean like Vegas.  Well everything else follows you know. When you start doing canals or dams . . . You’re solving all the downstream problems that form when you start getting these population densities and you need to move stuff around and clean stuff up and have power supplies.

Asher Miller

It’s also a testament to – it’s an expression of power itself. Right? We talked a little bit about these enormous undertakings that you have in ancient Egypt or in China. And you know, even more recently, before there was fossil fuel energy to power, and machines to power a lot of this stuff. It was a manifestation of the power of the state to organize that many people to work on these enormous projects. Right? And part of its about you could say, it’s an expression of the cohesion of a society that says this is a priority for us to expend so much human labor to do this, and to have a long term mindset around it. Right? It’s also about the power in the sense of the state to compel people to do this stuff. And, when we think about power, we think about harnessing water for power, literally for energy purposes. But, you know, it’s having power. Having water is an enormously important component of power itself. You know, you think about, not just  the power of the state, but geopolitical, you know, power between states. And you know, that’s been true over history. It’s certainly true now, and I think you could see examples this all over the place. Going back to the Middle East, for example, we’re talking about Jordan, right? And control of the Jordan River is an incredibly important issue right now. And it’s a manifestation of state power.

Jason Bradford

Well, because it connects then to food so tightly, right? And food has long been an incredible political force, right? Do you have enough food? How do you control the food supplies? Because without that these states don’t survive very long.

Asher Miller

If you’re dealing with famine, or people don’t have enough of their essential needs, the state can’t maintain itself?

Jason Bradford

So nowadays, we talk about the trade in the staple grains is actually also sort of a hidden trade in water.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, if you want to talk about water and power, you got to go to the movie “Chinatown,” right. The classic with Jack Nicholson.

Asher Miller

Great film. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Well, I actually think that an area in the US that sort of brings a lot of this together, ties it up is the Colorado River Project. You mentioned Vegas the other day – the other minute. Ha, yeah, a few seconds ago. And you know, it doesn’t exist without exploiting the Colorado River. Phoenix doesn’t exist. It was really interesting when I was living in Albuquerque, it’s in the Rio Grande River watershed. But New Mexico is one of the states that has a legal claim on the water in the Colorado River. And it wasn’t really using it much because it’s not that much of the state that . . . You know, most of the state is in the Rio Grande Watershed. And they decided, since we’re an upstream part of this group of states and Mexico that has some claim on the Colorado, we better get our water out of there. So they built this big project to transfer water from the Colorado Basin into the Rio Grande.

Jason Bradford

Wow.

Rob Dietz

You know, so there you go with like, the kind of political power and making sure you’re getting yours before your downstream neighbors.

Jason Bradford

So we’re not just fighting . . . Now, we’re not just upsetting Mexico because we’re taking all the water. It’s like, “No, no. New Mexico has to upset everybody else.”

Asher Miller

And we didn’t even touch on water rights just even for individual landowners and the use of water for you know, agriculture and the tensions that exist as a result of that. How important water rights are in the west.

Jason Bradford

It’s a type of property right. And then in our nation, and in the West, property rights are so central to the state. It’s what allows, you know, wealth to accumulate and be sold and transferred. It’s inborn.

Asher Miller

You think about the insanity of water policy. You look at the amount of a freshwater that’s being used for fracking. You know –

Rob Dietz

I’m sorry, Asher, you say the insanity of water policy. . . It reminds me, I used to work for the Department of the Interior. And one of the agencies is the Bureau of Reclamation. And I went to the Department of the Interior conference one year, which of course was held in Phoenix, Arizona. And a Bureau of Reclamation guy gives this big talk about, I remember it really well, it was called “Water for the West.” And his whole spiel was, there’s all these uses of water here, from ag to industry, to domestic use, to gardens, to golf courses. And our goal at Bureau of Reclamation, is to provide water for the West with no mention of how much is available? What’s our budget? What makes sense? How should we have our landscape unfold to deal with water scarcity? And I was just sitting there, like, do I do even ask this guy a question after his talk? Or do I just laugh it off and go on my merry way? Because the policy was so absurd.

Asher Miller

And, you know, we think of – water is a renewable resource, right? We think of it that way. But the way that we are depleting water, that we’re using water, that we’re wasting water. Now we’re dipping deeper and deeper into these aquifers. I mean, you hear these stories now from California where wells are dug ever deeper, and then even a couple years later they have to start over again. You know, we’re now in this era, because of climate change, because of the scale of our consumption of water and the growing demand for it, where we’re really going to be faced with depletion, right? And so we’ve seen how water has been a source of struggle and conflict in the past. You look at what’s happening in places like in South America and other places in the world. China, others, where indigenous communities completely literally just disappear because their land is inundated with water because dams are being constructed. But we’re facing a situation where we might have conflict, obviously, between nations over water resources, conflicts between states. I mean, I think that there’s probably some real consternation and hopefully some thought being put into like, what happens with the Great Lakes? And are the Great Lakes states concerned about demand for water from-

Asher Miller

All the climate migration . . .

Asher Miller

Or states wanting them to you know, send water.

Rob Dietz

The first thing that’s happening there is they’re renaming it to the Mediocre Lakes.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, downplay what your resources are. Yeah, Lake Not-so Superior. It’s okay.

Rob Dietz

Lake Decent.

Jason Bradford

But no, this is what’s nuts. We’re continuing to double down on the madness and everyone once in a while you’ll read a story about somebody that has had a proposal around. And they they keep floating it at Congress. Like there was this one guy who –

Rob Dietz

Floating it. Haha. So good.

Jason Bradford

Ah, so good. When I was in California I remember every once in a while it would pop up. The idea was take this barge with this giant bladder, like a giant big bag, and take it up to Alaska and just pull it up next to a river, a fresh river, right? Fill up with fresh water, and then sail it back to California, pump it out, and they just keep doing it again. And there’s proposals to tow icebergs from Antarctica, like the Thwaites Glacier. You know, why not?

Rob Dietz

I got an undergraduate research paper on that topic. Maybe I’ll see if I can dig that up and share it with you guys.

Jason Bradford

But what’s crazy is that we think we’re just going to get bigger and more complex and more outlandish. That this is a way out somehow. All it is is just making it worse.

Rob Dietz

You’re not even talking about the good substitutes for water that we could come up with.

Asher Miller

Yeah, we don’t need water. The economy will figure it out, the market will figure out a substitute.

Jason Bradford

If the price goes up for water, we’ll find something else to use.

Rob Dietz

You can buy dry water where all you gotta do is add water.

Asher Miller

Exactly. But you know, I’m sorry to keep harping on this point. But we’re talking about the privileged being able to assert power. Bring, you know, in this case, financial resources to bear to meet their needs in a totally unsustainable way. And I don’t want to ignore the fact that we see this every day from the standpoint of the privatization of water for drinking, right? I mean, you see these enormous companies who have probably privatized a resource that should be in commons.

Jason Bradford

Excuse me, let me just drink from my Fiji bottle right over here.

Asher Miller

Exactly. You know, you’ve got these enormous companies doing this stuff. Rich fucking Americans getting their Fiji water.

Rob Dietz

Well, you know, the best part is those bottles of water, they actually taste like Nestle Crunch Bars when you drink. from them.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I think it’s really smart to drink water out of plastic. Yeah, that’s really smart.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, of course.

Asher Miller

And you know, shipping water. I mean, it’s not, you know . . . It’s as light as a feather. Not a big deal.

Rob Dietz

Well, you see some of the conflict coming to a head and again, kind of in, at least nearby, our region, the Klamath River Basin. This past year has seen some really rough conflict where you’ve got drought conditions, the river is getting low. There are laws in place for keeping water in the system for salmon. But then people want to irrigate these fields that are essentially in near desert condition. And you got like the Bundy clan up there.

Jason Bradford

Is that Ted Bundy?

Rob Dietz

Well, no, but it is weird. Anybody named Bundy. . .  It’s the Ammon Bundy group. Ted Bundy, you got that Bundy guy from married with children. If there are any Bundy listeners out there, consider a name change.

Jason Bradford

Just walk away, sorry.

Asher Miller

They probably already have.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, but no, they were threatening to just go and open the floodgates, literally. You know, the little check dams.

Asher Miller

That was pun number seven.

Rob Dietz

That wasn’t even a pun. That was a real thing. And you know, just this confrontation. Meanwhile, you got a tribe there that has declared that the Klamath River should have the rights of a person. Which I think is really cool. We’ve talked about the rights of nature in the past. But I don’t know how much rain they’re getting this season where maybe that conflict sort of cools off. But any time the water gets scarce you’re just ready for battle.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, you brought up a very sensitive issue. If this show goes viral this this episode, we’re gonna be deluged with comments.

Rob Dietz

About?

Asher Miller

Stop it.

Jason Bradford

Sorry. I just, I really, I forced that one.

Asher Miller

You really did.

Jason Bradford

I really forced that one.

Rob Dietz

I feel dumb. I was actually listening to you like, “What comments are we gonna get?” All you wanted to say was “deluge.”

Asher Miller

You just ensured the comments we’re gonna get it . . . I said stop it with the fucking puns.

Jason Bradford

I spent two minutes waiting to get that in and it was awkward.

Rob Dietz

That was awkward. All right, moving on.

Rob Dietz

Hey, guys, I want to read a review that one of our listeners wrote for us. This is from someone named Jared Del Barco, who says, “it’s not easy to talk about climate change in a way that’s entertaining, without diminishing the seriousness of the subject. These guys don’t sugarcoat the situation we’re facing. But somehow this podcast leaves you feeling well informed, and resolute instead of doomed and hopeless.”

Asher Miller

Just because we send everyone drugs before they listen.

Jason Bradford

He had me at sugar coating.

Rob Dietz

I thought he missed the point, actually, because we were trying to leave people doomed and hopeless. Unfortunately, that’s just not working out for us.

Asher Miller

We’ll keep trying.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, no, seriously, Jared, thank you so much for that. We always appreciate words of encouragement, or even if you’ve got critiques, let us know about that too. But please get out there and drop us a five star review if you like what you hear.

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Rob Dietz

So I love our, “Do the Opposite” segment because it forces us to get away from ranting a little bit and maybe get some actual useful ideas out there.

Asher Miller

So the first one we have to bring up is: no puns.

Jason Bradford

I’m done with puns.

Rob Dietz

Good, good. I’m very happy for that.

Jason Bradford

Okay, everyone can relax. Take a deep breath, everybody. Drink it in.

Rob Dietz

One of the first things we can do with what we’ve done poorly in manipulating waters is, you know, we’ve tried to get rid of wetlands and then put up sea walls and all that. So can we just focus on restoring wetlands and keeping these?

Asher Miller

Where’s the profit in that, dude?

Rob Dietz

Well, you know, sometimes it’s not about the profit.

Jason Bradford

You know, I actually did some research on this related to agricultural lands and it’s so much more better.

Rob Dietz

Really, more better?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, more better.

Rob Dietz

Is it the most bestest?

Jason Bradford

It’s humongous fantastic. But it’s, in other words, if an individual can make some money farming wetlands, it’s way less than the benefits provided to society in general for the ecosystem services wetlands provide. So it’s interesting. We would do well to buy wetlands as privately owned and really convert them or restore them. It would make a huge difference in all kinds of ways. We’d save a lot of money on water treatment and things like that.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, no, it makes perfect sense.

Jason Bradford

I think also, this is a highly controversial thing. But I know my report, “The Future is Rural” for Post Carbon Institute –

Rob Dietz

That was a good report.

Jason Bradford

Thank you very much. He was a incredible editor. He helped me out a lot, Rob did. But relocating to places with water instead of doubling down and trying to get ever bigger water projects. I think that’s important. Hence, we mentioned the Not-so Great Lakes region.

Rob Dietz

If you want to build a dam, do it like Jason. Go down to the beach, put some pebbles in the stream bed.

Asher Miller

Yeah. So I think we’re going to see that, right? People moving towards where water is, hopefully. Rather than these enormous infrastructure projects that go to greater and greater lengths to move water long distances, right?

Jason Bradford

And, you know, there’s little things though. We’re talking about gigantic changes, but there’s little things you can do. I remember when I spent I spent a summer in Europe one time, and one of the first things I did was I bought this thing called a Bota bag. Which is this leather pouch that I could carry around and have water me.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s a wineskin, right?

Jason Bradford

I, okay. Don’t. But you can put water in it, too. No one knows what’s in there.

Asher Miller

I’d rather have the wine.

Jason Bradford

It’s drinkable.

Asher Miller

So you’re saying, stop using plastic bottles.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. I mean, we have a nice renewable way to do it. It’s 1000’s of years old. Why not just go back to this? It’s a good business idea.

Asher Miller

I want to bring it back to big projects for a second. We’re talking about moving water, you know, for people to consume. There’s also trying to keep water at bay. In this case, we’re talking about seawater, right?

Rob Dietz

Keep water at bay. He did it again.

Jason Bradford

He did it too.

Asher Miller

I actually didn’t even mean that.

Rob Dietz

But in a literal sense, you do want to keep the water in the bay.

Asher Miller

It is interesting to note how many friggin phrases we have, you know.

Rob Dietz

Do you think it says something about how important water is to life that our language is just –

Asher Miller

It is interesting, yeah. Well, I was thinking about, you know, again, back to my people who have a long tradition of trying to keep the sea out, right? And in fact, there are a lot of Dutch consultants who are making a good living consulting other cities, like New York, trying to figure out how to build sea walls. And here’s my opinion on this matter. This is a fool’s exercise to try to do this. It’s a massive amount of resources to try to fight forces that are probably out of our control. Especially if we’re not going to do all the other things that are required to keep us from certainly tipping things in the Arctic regions in a really bad way. You could end up getting a real increase in sea level rise.

Jason Bradford

I agree.

Rob Dietz

Well, bringing this from this really large scale, which I do also want to mention with dams, there’s a lot of projects to breach dams and try to restore some river systems. So anytime you can support something like that, and get back to some more natural river flows, I think that’s worth doing. But at the individual scale, or the household scale, and you could even take this up to the community scale, I think there’s something to be said for embracing your ecosystem in the way that it is. The best examples that I have are when I lived in the desert southwest of the US. Some people are growing these lush green lawns. And it’s like, why would you do that? There’s beautiful desert plants that you could have.

Asher Miller

Some homeowner associations actually mandate that people do that.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, right. Right.

Jason Bradford

That’s changing now luckily, but yeah.

Rob Dietz

But it’s weird because you can have the native, beautiful character of the place you are, and just basically understand the water regime where you live and go with the flow.

Asher Miller

And speaking of working with nature, how about bringing some beavers back?

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Asher Miller

You know, I mean, they are incredible compatriots in our ecosystem.

Rob Dietz

This “Do the Opposite” moment brought to you by Oregon State University and the Beavers.

Jason Bradford

It is a good mascot. I really do appreciate it.

Asher Miller

Yeah, of all the mascots it’s –

Jason Bradford

It’s pretty nice. It’s not a banana slug, but eh, it’s pretty good.

Rob Dietz

It’s pretty good.

Asher Miller

But beavers are incredible, and there’s amazing stories of how beavers have transformed relatively dry environments. But can we just end on this one note, which I think is probably the most important. And if there’s any one single thing I think that our listeners need to keep in mind as a takeaway. It’s, if it’s yellow, let it mellow.

Rob Dietz

We want to give a special thanks to Elana Zuber, our star researcher of the watershed moments through history. Without her work there’s no way we could have covered such sweeping topics this season.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we also want to thank our other outstanding volunteers. Anya Steuer provides original artwork for us, and Taylor Antal prepares the transcripts for each episode.

Jason Bradford

And a big, big thank you to our producer Melody Travers who helps us bozos stay professional.

Rob Dietz

And finally, thanks to you, our listeners. If you want to help others find their way to Crazy Town, please drop us a five star rating and hit that share button when you hear an episode you like.

Jason Bradford

Wow, folks, lots of great innovations are coming at us so fast right now. As Paul Simon once sang, “These are the days of miracle and wonder.” Aren’t we all now just so excited about the metaverse, which is the next big way the rich are going to get richer. But in turning our lives over to Mark Zuckerberg, we truly do have a chance to live more sustainably. How, you ask? Because instead of going snorkeling in Palau for real, we will just leap into the sensory field of the metaverse. And not only enjoy the sparkling waters of Indochina by day, but we can party in Venice that same night. Lots of dopamine, few carbon emissions. There is a problem, however. Current technology makes most people pretty sick. You see, right now, the systems available are visual field interactive only. And the body is like, “Whoa, I can see that I just jumped out of an airplane above a lavender field in Provence, but I can’t feel any wind.” And this induces nausea. Vomit in it too many times, and your Oculus Gear smells pretty bad. Not like lavender. But yeah, we’ve got new technology on the way that fixes it right up. And it’s called, “The Real Feel Haptic Chamber.” It is just loaded with accelerometers, wind machines, water baths, and fragrance makers to induce a full sensory experience no matter where you are and what you are doing. Integration is the name of the game baby. So get with me, repeat “Game Changer” three times and laugh like a manic monkey. Real Feel Haptic Chamber! Go!