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Water, water everywhere ... but here


Saturn's moon Enceladus

NASA's rendition of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Look at all that yummy water!

It’s no secret that we’re living in Droughtville. With grim regularity, it seems like a few months don’t eke by before there’s a new study that startles researchers into a new level of shock at, yikes, how arid things are in the West. Last year, NASA scientists were agog after studying groundwater loss in the the region, about 13 trillion gallons since 2004: 

"Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water-allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico, Jay Famiglietti, senior author on the study and senior water-cycle specialist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

And who can forget that February study that predicted a megadrought looming for the Southwest?:

The chances of a 35-year or longer "megadrought" striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists from NASA, Columbia University, and Cornell University report in a study published Thursday in the new open-access journal Science Advances.

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Zoiks! Okay, that’s an unduly flippant way to react. But it has a function. It’s a way of masking a personal instance of what I sometimes suspect is a collective mental tic among us Southern Nevadans who are nervously attuned to the state of the Southwest water supply. Not mere water awareness, not mere drought consciousness. But, rather, water preoccupation — even drought obsession. Usually, I’ll read water stories and drought stories with a sort of grave, nodding, cautionary attention: Yes, I nod, water is a scarce, precious resource, and we need to safeguard it. (I tsk-tsk along with an invisible global audience of water-concern trolls.)

But wait. Now I’m starting to sense the broad contours of a cosmic joke. After reading this recent story in the New York Times about the apparent abundance of water in the solar system, water-worry has turned into whyyyy?

This week in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists reported evidence for hydrothermal vents on the Saturnian moon Enceladus, with temperatures of its rocky core surpassing 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius) in spots. The discovery, if confirmed, would make Enceladus the only place other than Earth where such chemical reactions between rock and heated water are known to be occurring today — and for many scientists, it would make Enceladus a most promising place to look for life.

Whaaaat? Oh, and then there’s this:

Meanwhile, in a paper published Thursday in The Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, another team reported signs of another under-ice ocean, on Ganymede, the largest of Jupiter’s moons. Scientists are already convinced that there is a large ocean, also covered by ice, on another Jovian moon, Europa. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft had also found hints of hidden water on Ganymede and on another of Jupiter’s moons, Callisto.

I swear when I read that story, my hand involuntarily clawed outward in a vain, grabby motion, as though to instinctively claim those far-flung, frozen oceans in hopes of curing our backyard water woes. (There’s a Pat Mulroy living inside us all, I suppose.) Then I retracted it, momentarily amused, but not satisfied, by the irony of living in a very dry spot in what’s shaping up to be a very watery neighborhood