Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nor any drop to drink

Today's cloudy, rainy weather has me thinking about water. When I was young, I lived near the Atlantic Ocean, specifically Dorchester Bay and Hingham Bay in Boston Harbor, later near Duxbury Bay and Cape Cod Bay. I spent time at, on and around a number of rivers like the Neponset near Dorchester and the Weir in Hingham. Later I boated, fished and clammed on the North and South Rivers in Marshfield. Much of my professional career was spent working on water quality and related land use issues, including the quality of the Charles River in Boston, when it was advisable to get a tetanus shot if you fell into the water. In Minnesota I've been on the Mississippi, the Minnesota and the St. Croix as well as the Lake Superior, Duluth Harbor, St. Louis River complex. I've waded the Snake, the Whitewater, a number of smaller streams in northern Minnesota and a few trout streams in western Wisconsin. Water has been a major part of my life, for both business and pleasure.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

In the Bible, the Book of Genesis speaks about the surface of the earth being covered with water before either light or land were created. Many of the Native American creation stories I've read refer to the earth being covered with water before there was land. Water is one of the world's great commons. We are all responsible for protecting it. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, in the United States some are more responsible than others, like George Orwell's 1984, in which some animal are more equal than others. That's not fair. Agriculture has, for the most part, gotten a free ride when it comes to meeting water quality requirements. Mining has also been exempted from obligations other sectors of our economy, other organizations trying to make a profit, are expected to meet.

Cities and industry have to treat their wastewater and have discharge permits for much of their stormwater. Transportation departments have to cover their salt storage piles. Too many farmers are objecting to doing much of anything until someone can show them exactly how much of the pollution is coming from their fields. States used to play those games with each other. That's one of the reasons the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, more than 40 years ago.

St. Croix River
St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

It isn't, as far as I know, municipal or industrial discharges that are killing large areas of the Gulf of Mexico. It's agricultural pollution. Citizens of Des Moines shouldn't have to pay more for clean drinking water because upstream farmers are maximizing profits and discharging nitrates. The farmers' discharges, whether found to be legal or not, aren't, in my opinion, moral or equitable. I've know enough farmers to have learned that they want visitors to behave responsibly. Leave gates they way you found them I was taught. Farmers need to accept their responsibility to behave responsibly and leave water the way they found it, so others can use it without having to pay to clean up someone else's mess. Isn't that what fair, independent grown ups do, clean up after themselves? If we need to keep some form of a "cheap food" policy, I'd rather directly subsidize some consumers than exempt all producers from environmental responsibility, but then, how much of a subsidy have other industries received to meet clean water requirements?

National Poetry Month

Out of Water

By Marie Ponsot 

A new embroidery of flowers, canary color,
                        dots the grass already dotty
                        with aster-white and clover.

I warn, “They won’t last, out of water.”
The children pick some anyway.

In or out of  water
children don’t last either.

I watch them as they pick.
Still free of  what’s next
            and what was yesterday
they pick today.


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