You can't turn on the computer, TV or radio lately without hearing some candidate or another - from any band of the political spectrum - promise to "take our country back." Frankly, I'd like to see them take our country forward.
There's one issue that will take our country forward - on all fronts, from our energy policy to our job-creation strategy - and crosses every political line. Water.
It doesn't matter whether you're a Tea Party loyalist or a Green Party die-hard. We all need water. It's vital for life. It's central to our health. Abundant water supplies - from the Rouge River that flows by Ford's historic ore-to-automobile complex to the mighty Columbia that powered and cooled the aircraft factories that helped us win World War II - made us an industrial superpower. And water is vital for the extraction and processing of our fossil fuels, as well as the process of turning their energy into power.
If we expect to head toward energy independence, we will create an unprecedented draw on our water supply - especially if we depend on tapping into harder-to-handle supplies like the Marcellus shale project or other tight formations holding gas or oil. If we maintain our taste for air conditioning and other power-hungry appliances, we will have to engineer our way past today's inefficient once-through cooling systems at our power plants. If we are going to get serious about climate change, we will need to recognize that our irrigation, homeowner and industrial demands will have to be reckoned, balanced and satisfied with much more efficiently managed and handled water.
In short, water will have to rise to the list of subjects our politicians are conversant in and willing to discuss.
Of course, water has limited voter appeal. And it has even less candidate appeal. In fact, water issues tend to get bottled up and locked in endless litigation - take a look at the raging debates over the Colorado River, the Republican River or the Sacramento Delta - or just buried out of sight, as Circle of Blue journalists reported has happened to the Department of Energy's AWOL road map for water policy.
Radical or reactionary or anyplace in between, our political candidates should direct their outrage toward our nation's downward spiral in our water management policies and practices. This is the opportunity for candidates to turn the ship around and rebuild our nation's water system. Water issues work on every level of government - this is the candidates' chance to make their cities, towns or states healthier and more sustainable. It's their chance to craft policy that can make our industries stronger and better prepared for a future in which water is not a sure bet. It's their chance to chart a course of diplomacy. It's their chance to strengthen our energy and food security by shoring up the vital resource that connects the two.
And, recognizing that politics is a game played for immediate returns, it's their chance to create jobs, putting people back to work repairing and improving the crumbling infrastructure that has underpinned the success of the flag they all wrap themselves in. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that water infrastructure projects would generate several times more jobs than all the hot new alternative energy projects boosted by federal stimulus money.
So here's your chance, candidates. If you want to look back, take a look at how important water has been in forging our nation and economy. But then look forward, and focus on ways to take us to the next step.