Water, water everywhere? Call me a taxi

A century ago today, world history hit a fulcrum point when the French Sixth Army attacked the right flank of the German First Army in the decisive First Battle of the Marne.

It was early in World War I. Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops were closing in on Paris. Hundreds of taxis there were requisitioned to take French troops to help hit the German flank, which tipped the balance and eventually bogged both sides down in trench warfare until the United States entered the fray years later. U.S. entry meant Germany eventually capitulated.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is an aphorism that straddles truth and falsehood. It’s 100 years later, and yet the world still relies on motor transport — even taxis. But it’s dangerous to assume that because it’s been this way, it always will remain so. Just a generation or so before 1914, the main modes of transport were steam locomotives, beasts of burden, bicycles or walking.

While the recent announcement that Tesla, the electric car company, is building a “gigafactory” battery plant in nearby Storey County is being heralded as a coup, no one knows what will happen a generation or so hence. Carson City Supervisor Brad Bonkowski, a supporter of development and what it will do for the regional economy, is mindful of that even though he supports bringing in Tesla. He says incentives notwithstanding, it’s a plus.

On the eve of the day Tesla’s Elon Musk and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval announced their near-merger, Bonkowski was overheard speculating about longer term technology that might embed solar panels in vehicles to power them. That doesn’t mean Musk and Nevada won’t succeed with Tesla’s Lithium battery technology. It just means the future is murky and putting eggs in baskets requires many various baskets, not just one.

So I’m as interested in news, the same day as Tesla’s announcement, that 40 percent of a $266 million investment in a Storey County biofuels production plant will be underpinned by a federal loan guarantee. More to the point, however, I remain worried about a much bigger matter for this region than either motor car batteries or biofuels — water.

Some expect water will keep coming like manna from heaven and fixate on other things. Playing economic development offense may be important, but playing defense on water supplies is more crucial. As Bertrand Russell, philosopher and mathematician, said:

“If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance with his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.”

Scrutinize everything closely. A taxi won’t take you to your battlefield if there’s no water in your high desert region. You’ll already have moved by then, along with Tesla, to a place where there’s an oasis.


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