Thursday, April 18, 2013

Calling For Direct Democracy

President Obama, Democratic leaders, Gabby Giffords, Newton parents, and thousands dozens of bloggers are calling for an end run around the design of our governance and engaging in an exercise in direct democracy. It may or may not happen, and if it does it will probably backfire. Pandering to public emotion usually does, which is why the founders gave us a representative form of government.

When I lived in Tucson we had a water shortage, so Arizona built a canal to bring water from the Colorado River to our fair city. Having traveled across 400 miles of desert and concentrating minerals by evaporation, not to mention the addition of God knows how many drowned animals, it was pretty bad quality water. Not that it started out all that great, since a whole bunch of cities dump their sewage into the Colorado.

We weren’t sure we wanted that stuff, and the original idea was to give it to the cotton farmers and for us to take what farmers had been using. That didn’t work out because the canal water was too salty and the farmers could not use it, so we were stuck with it. Evidently it never occurred to anyone that if it killed plants maybe we should not be drinking it.

So the question arose as to whether we should add it directly to our water system or if we should “recharge” it. The latter would mean that we would dump it into the ground and let it make its way down into the existing ground water pool, where we could pump it out as needed. Experts said that making its way down through the ground would purify it enormously, so treating it would be less expensive when we pumped it out and used it.

Then some nutcase suggested that we could not be sure that our water would stay where we put it, and that once it was in the ground it might drift away. Experts said that, no, that would not happen; that groundwater is not some sort of river and that it would stay until we needed it, but fewer and fewer people believed these experts, especially once the specter was raised that it might go south to where Mexico could get it. Of course, if it had stayed in the Colorado River, Mexico would have gotten it, but…

The city government decided to recharge to water and the result was much the same as the Senate refusing to pass gun background checks yesterday; outrage and calls for a popular vote, which in this case was forthcoming. So many people were freaked out by the prospect of Mexico getting our water that recharge lost by a landslide.

So the canal water was added to our water system and the result was very similar to throwing a handful of fresh horse poop into a high speed fan. It was awesome. No one would drink the water and some would not even bathe in it. Bottled water sales skyrocketed and shortages developed. I never actually documented anyone bathing in bottled water, but I will all but guarantee that some people were doing so. Between the water itself and people not bathing, Tucson smelled like a gymnasium full of dead fish.

Further, the water rapidly degraded our water distribution system. It eroded pipes very quickly, causing them to leak badly and eventually burst, and it chewed up pumps as if they were pumping abrasive sand. After six months the city government said, vote or no vote, this water is going into the ground because we cannot afford the destruction it is wreaking on our water system. Residents were thrilled.

The moral is that sometimes, having elected legislators to represent us, we need to just, well, let them represent us.

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