Dan Barkin

Water still piques our interest

Staff WriterMay 24, 2008 

I never get tired of playing with the WaterWise interactive graphic on our Web site. You can find it at newsobserver.com/news.

It was the work of graphics editor Judson Drennan and multimedia producer Rob Roberts. It's a timeline with lake levels and a drought map, and if you go to it, you will see a visual representation of the panic that gripped the region at Christmas, when Falls Lake nearly emptied.

And you will see a visual representation of why the panic subsided, as the heavens opened up and refilled our reservoirs.

It's easy to have the attention span of a 5-year-old when it comes to water management. When Falls Lake became a mud flat, we were all about 20-second showers and rain barrels. When the lake filled up, we moved on.

Well, not all of us.

Van Denton, the Q editor, kept thinking about the drought. Several weeks ago, he came up with the idea of asking folks how we can manage our water resources better. He just put it out there: What are your ideas?

On Sunday, we will publish the results.

Van's notion, which I share, is that we live in a very smart area, and there are people all over who have good ideas, such as Martin Doyle. He's a hydrologist and professor at UNC.

Doyle responded with an essay that will run on the front of tomorrow's citizenQ. He told me that he was motivated to write it by a debate among gubernatorial candidates he watched in March.

"None of the candidates really talked about water or infrastructure or anything. So, I wanted to do anything to keep it on the radar screen if at all possible and hope against all hopes that they might actually talk about it seriously."

Another essay was written by by Nancy Corson Carter, a retired humanities professor who works on environmental issues with the Presbyterian Church and the N.C. Council of Churches. She saw Van's solicitation in the paper and decided to participate. "I guess I have a long-standing sense of obligation," she wrote via e-mail, "to speak out when things seem askew, a deep conviction that a 'private citizen' is an oxymoron."

Van enlisted staff writers Matthew Eisley and David Bracken for two of the most innovative parts of the citizenQ. In one part, Matthew and David researched drought-related questions that were submitted by the public.

In another part, which I call the "Could This Work?" section, Van printed some of the ideas we received, and Matthew and David looked into their feasibility.

We're still learning how to bring citizens more into the journalism that we do, and tomorrow's citizenQ is a good example of some of what we're trying.

Gas savings

A few weeks ago, I launched my new energy policy, to wit, driving more rationally.

I averaged about 27 miles per gallon on the tank of gas that I bought. Now, 27 miles per gallon may not sound like much, but it's actually an increase of more than 10 percent.

Next step: Check my tires to make sure they are properly inflated. I have seen various estimates that say that many of us are driving on under-inflated tires, which, in addition to wasting gas, are dangerous.

I'll let the guy at the oil-change place check them, because I'm not competent around cars. One forum poster on share.triangle.com says he improved his mileage by changing to synthetic oil, so I might try that while I'm there.

When I unveiled my new policy, oil was hovering at $125 a barrel. Now it's more than $130. My only hope -- aside from a drop in demand -- is that the oil market is the 2008 version of the dot-com bubble, and a sudden collapse in price is coming. One can dream.

dan.barkin@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4562

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service