Episode 331 S11-7
Future Infrastructure Mega-Fails
Changing Earth Audio Drama Ep 7
There are some major infrastructure breaking points in the United States that our government will have to address, or the devastation to the United States will cripple the country. Survival similar to the existence of the characters in the Changing Earth audio adventure is not a fictional story if these issues are not addressed.
The east coast is not immune to seismic activity, but most infrastructure is not built to withstand the shaking. Threats to the coastline like rising ocean levels and the degradation of the barrier islands loom in the near future. Oddities like the La Palma volcanic eruption in Spain could send a tsunami toward the coast. The population density of the east coast makes evacuation difficult, amplifying the effects of the disaster. The severity of hurricanes seems to increase each year, and new threats like the supervolcano under Vermont, western New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts get discovered.
Although seemly more secure than coastal areas, the central United States has some extreme threats. The New Madrid Quakes that happened in 1811-1812 provide a historical precursor to the possibility of seismic activity there. The tornado intensity and frequency are increasing. Also, the seasonality of these events is starting to fluctuate erratically.
The biggest threat to the central United States is the Ft. Peck Dam on the Missouri River. This dam was built in 1940, and engineers did not design it to handle the current intensities of rain events. The dam is 250 ft tall and 21,026 feet long. Its five turbines produce 185000 kW of power. Beyond the loss of a significant power source, a dam failure would cause a cascade of failures down the Missouri River and into the Mississippi River, destroying five additional dams and flooding St. Louis and the entire Mississippi Valley. The whole breadbasket of the United States would be inundated with water, and it would destroy thousands of homes. The dam was built using hydraulic fill, which makes the dam susceptible to sudden, catastrophic collapse. California has removed all of these dams due to the threat, but the Ft. Peck dam still stands. The increase of fracking and oil activities is causing an increase in seismic activity, further increasing the chances of collapse.
One of the significant threats to the western plains area is extreme weather in the form of flooding, snow events, drought, and wildfires, impacting the infrastructure of local regions. The southwest is facing significant water shortages in Lake Mead, threatening production at the hydroelectric facility in the Hoover. The western central plains depend on the Ogallala Reservoir to provide water for households and farms. The Ogallala is depleting, and if anyone were to tamper with the water, it would destroy the ability to produce vast amounts of food and cripple the US. The population density in states like Colorado makes evacuation near impossible to do in an orderly pattern. And unpredictable activity in and around the Yellowstone Super Volcano always looms as an imminent danger.
The west’s infrastructure is under constant seismic threat from the ring of fire, and the long forecasted “megaquake” haunts residents’ minds. However, earthquakes are not all that threaten the west coast. Summer skies are often choked out with the smoke of wildfires raging across the land. There are also volcanos littering the coastline. The lesser know volcanoes, like the Long Valley Super Volcano, pose a much more significant threat than most of the nearby inhabitants realize. Plus, the west coast of the United States is not the only country with volcanic hazards. A powerful eruption in one of these countries that causes large amounts of land to fall into the ocean could send a tsunami at the west coast. Plus, it is well understood within the scientific community that the ocean level is on the rise. However, nothing is done to move critical infrastructure off the coast to safer ground.
Certain events are worldwide game changers that we have never seen. Events like the ongoing polar shift may cause an uptick in global glacial activity or an oceanic slosh that affects coastlines worldwide. We know that the increase in volcanic activity and wildfires will put more Sulfur Dioxide into the air causing the sun’s effect to weaken, crops to falter, and the planet to cool. A Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun could happen at any time. The effect varies widely based on the event’s intensity ranging from no impact to a worldwide power outage to a total atmospheric burn-off. Events like a meteor impact have the same level of variability depending on the size and place of impact. The meteor could cause large-scale destruction on a local scale or a global one. It could cloud the atmosphere for years and uptick volcanic activity or be negligible. Events like these are hard to equip the infrastructure to handle.
Unfortunately, as our planet continues to ramp up its weather patterns, the American infrastructure is drastically unprepared. Power plants in the United States are aging, with Natural Gas being the most popular fuel for a plant in the last ten years. Most of the nuclear plants in the US are 21-30 years old, with the oldest dating back to 1969. The coal plants average in age from 31 – 50 years old, with some dating back to sixty years ago. Petroleum plants also have an average age in the 30 – 40 year range, with the oldest ones going back over 60 years. However, America’s hydroelectric dams are in a severe state of disrepair. Most are older than 30 years old, and many of them are over sixty years old.
By 2025 seven out of ten dams in the US will be over fifty years old. Currently, the average age of a dam is 56 years old. These dams were designed with a fifty-year lifespan. Some have a one-hundred-year span depending on construction and maintenance regiments. The Grand Cooley Dam in Washington State on the Columbia River is the oldest in the US, built in 1933 and finished in 1942.
The bridges in the US were built in the same period. Most are forty-three years old and designed with a fifty-year lifespan.
The water treatment facilities in the US also are becoming dated. Most have a forty-year lifespan and because of laws put in place, those built in the 70s are coming to the end of their lives and will need replacement.
The electrical grid in the US is also aging. It is forty years old on average, with more than a quarter of the system fifty years old.
With the imminent threats to the systems mounting and the fragility of the aging infrastructure, how will the US afford to keep rebuilding and replacing? This needs to be a focus as we step forward into the future.
The Changing Earth Series
Chin Gibson is the mystery prepper. Friend to all and known to none. His real identity hidden from the public, Chin is well known to the online prepper community as the go to resource for finding a community member to solve your problem. He is an awesome people connector and does his best to unite the voices educating the masses about being ready for a unforeseen life challenge. Chin will be joining Sara to co-host The Changing Earth Podcast.