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By Climatologist Cliff Harris

According to scientists at the recent Goldman Sachs, "Top Five Risks," economic conference in New York City, "WATER will soon become the ‘PETROLEUM’ of this next century around the world." Prices will SKYROCKET!

Usable water for drinking and irrigation purposes is "running out fast." Fresh rainfall is not enough to refill dwindling underground water tables.

Contrary to popular opinion, "water is not a renewable resource." People have been ‘mining’ this precious commodity without restraint, mainly due to its unacceptably low price to consumers, business and residents alike.

As far as the water shortage problems in this country are concerned, both the southeastern and southwestern quadrants of the nation have continued to suffer from the drastic consequences of 400-YEAR DROUGHTS.

This past week’s drenching rains in Dixie from the dying remnants of Tropical Storm ‘Fay’ barely made a ‘dent’ in the overall water shortage situation in the Southeast. Only north-central Florida, where they received upwards of 30 inches of rain from Fay, saw a noticeable improvement in recharged underground water levels and filled-up lakes.

In the southwestern U.S., parts of bone-dry California are experiencing their worst drought conditions in living memory. This year’s forest and wildfire season started earlier than ever. Triple-digit temperatures next week will likely produce additional wildfires, especially if strong hot and dry winds develop, including the dreaded ‘Santa Ana Winds.’

Residents of the Golden State are hoping that the new moist El Nino in the waters of the Pacific Ocean will continue to strengthen in the next several months. This sea-surface temperature event often brings above normal amounts of precipitation to the moisture-starved Southwest. Only time will tell.

The Grand Canyon floods of mid-August briefly raised the water levels of the Colorado River, but the levels of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest manmade lake, and Lake Powell, the country’s second largest manmade body of water, barely budged.

Lake Mead, on the Arizona-Nevada state line, has seen more than 200 miles of shoreline disappear in the past decade of severe drought conditions. There are large white ‘buthtub rings’ on the surrounding rock walls bordering Lake Mead, signs of just how devastating the water losses have been since the late 1990s.

Elsewhere around the U.S., the Midwest Corn and Soybean Belt saw its second so-called ‘500-YEAR-FLOOD’ in 15 years, since 1993, develop across the heartland this fickle spring and early summer of 2008.

But, by extreme contrast, things turned extremely DRY in the same regions of the country by late July and August. Those muddy, late-planted fields became as hard as ‘Egyptian bricks.’ Grain barges this past week were stuck in the Mississippi River due to the combination of lower than normal water levels and millions of tons of silt deposited earlier by the record spring floods.

Farmers can’t turn to shipping more grain and soybeans by either truck or the railways, as we have a major shortage of rail cars in this country and high diesel costs have kept many trucks off the road.

As AP Business Writers, Christopher Leonard and Catherine Tsai reported in late August:

"Towering mounds of grain, wheat and soybeans are currently piled on the ground, sometimes for a month or more, waiting for a rail car to haul them to market. These harvested crops are exposed to wind, drought conditions, rain, hail, rats and bugs of all kinds."

It’s no wonder that food costs are SOARING on a global scale. Transportation has become "a huge headache" around the world. The lack of sufficient supplies of WATER compounds the miseries, and things are becoming more critical by the day.