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As an elementary school kid in the early '50s, I was obsessed with the impending nuclear annihilation of Colorado Springs.

The then-Gazette-Telegraph gleefully trumpeted "strategic assessments" from unidentified military sources that purportedly identified the Springs as one of Russia's top targets. Yep, because of our concentration of military bases, the Soviets had us right in their crosshairs -- we'd soon be toast, and radioactive toast at that.

The G-T helpfully published diagrams showing the blast radius of a multi-megaton hydrogen bomb (which had just replaced the piddling little Hiroshima-style atomic bomb). No surprise, our family's house on North Tejon Street would be obliterated, especially since the newspaper writers presumed that the bomb would explode at the intersection of Tejon and Pikes Peak Avenue.

It was a grim prospect. I felt helpless and impotent. I wanted my father to figure out a way to lower our house into an underground cavern, sealed with a steel door, which would protect our family, and especially our dogs, from nuclear attack.

Dad demurred -- it'd be too expensive. But he promised to do everything he could to keep us safe. I was not comforted -- nightmares haunted my sleep for years, until the emotional storms of adolescence drove them away. And today it is, as a famous American once said, dj vu all over again.

According to the media, we're right up there in Al Qaeda's crosshairs. Yep, because of our concentration of military bases, we're a likely target for a devastating terrorist attack, maybe with a suitcase nuke.

It's the same story. We have an implacable, largely invisible, fanatical and irrational foe. In the '50s, school kids took shelter under their desks during nuclear attack drills. And today, we're supposed to pay serious attention to Tom Ridge and his ridiculous color-coded citizen alerts.

Locally, regionally and nationally, rivers of money are being poured into efforts to combat Osama's (remember him?) invisible brigades.

I personally suspect that 9/11 was an aberration, the first and last shot, not the opening salvo in a long war, but what do I know? If there are no further terrorist strikes, the Bushies will claim credit for preventing them; if there are, the administration will note that there would have been many more without Ridge and his color-coded vigilance.

In any case, the president will do what he thinks is right, and good luck to him. But maybe by spending time and money upon what is, after all, a very remote threat, we're ignoring real dangers.

In politics, in business, in life itself, danger doesn't come gift-wrapped, complete with warning labels. Danger is ordinary and obscure, the nondescript van in front of you on the interstate, which suddenly blows a tire, swerves and rolls.

So are there any storm clouds on our municipal horizon? What can threaten this city, which is, by any historical standard, extraordinarily prosperous and happy, justly and honestly governed, peopled by hardworking, God-fearing people, whose cheerful tolerance of dissent creates plenty of room for the lazy, the cynical, the irreligious, and the scofflaw?

One word: water. We live in a desert. Colorado Springs has no locally available water supply. We import most of what we use from Colorado's Western Slope. Thanks to an extraordinary network of reservoirs, pipelines, pump stations and treatment plants, when we turn on the faucet, water comes out.

And that network is in place because, in the '50s, municipal officials, confronted with an inadequate supply, which had forced the city to ration water in the summer months, moved boldly and decisively to secure water rights and build the necessary delivery infrastructure.

Now, half a century later, we can see a future where we may find it to be difficult, even impossible, to deliver new water supplies. And that's just for the city itself. What about the rapidly developing areas outside the city limits, all of those new rural subdivisions?

Most of them rely on well fields, tapping into ancient aquifers. And although county government's policy theoretically requires that every new development have adequate future reserves, the facts on the ground may be very different. It's possible, even likely, that certain developments will find themselves without water in a couple of decades.

The future? Not much water, and a lot of folks fighting over it. Over the next few weeks, we'll talk about some of these issues in detail. Until then, have a nice green, blue or red day. Oh, and kids, you can come out from under your desks now.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

  • John Hazlehurst on dangers, past and present

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