Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Water ethics: what will it take? #CleanWaterWednesday

In 1949, Congress adopted a national housing objective of "the realization as soon as feasible of the  goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family,..." What with one unfunded war or another, we, as a nation, haven't yet found it feasible to attain that goal.

We're not doing any better, and some would claim we're failing horribly, at attaining either of these primary goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act:
"(1) it is the national goal that the discharge of pollutants
into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985;

"(2) it is the national goal that wherever attainable, an in-
terim goal of water quality which provides for the protection
and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for
recreation in and on the water be achieved by July 1, 1983;"
sunlight on sediment-laden stream
sunlight on sediment-laden stream
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota fails to attain even the 1983 goal in 40% or more of its surface waters. Governor Dayton has proposed that each Minnesotan needs to adopt a water ethic:
"Ultimately, clean water is not going to come from laws and rules and regulations, although they're necessary and more may be necessary," he told reporters. "It's going to come from an ethic, an ethic that's established all over this state that each of us has our own responsibility for making water quality better and conserving it and using it wisely."
Well before Congress adopted the 1972 Clean Water Act goals, even before adoption of the 1949 housing objective, Aldo Leopold was developing what he describes as a "land ethic," which includes water and land and community and more. It's the last essay in A Sand County Almanac, which was published in 1949 but largely written during the preceding decade.

Some keystone thoughts very much on topic and worth sharing from Leopold's A Land Ethic:

"The Community Concept

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for). The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. ...
"This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage."
fence-row to fence-row corn
fence-row to fence-row corn
Photo by J. Harrington

We are approaching three-quarters of a century (three generations) since A Land Ethic was published and the housing objective of a "decent home for all" was adopted into law. We are comparably nearing fifty years (two generations) since enactment of 1972's Clean Water Act. Where are the models of the communities and farms that have come closest to setting the examples we can follow if we ever hope to have the country we need and want to be proud of? I once thought that Minnesota would be such a leader. Minnesota's 2016 bonding bill for clean water (and other) projects failed because of political disagreements on transportation projects. Minnesota has, however, succeeded in adding more than 300 bodies of water to its "nonattainment list" of 4,000 or so state waters unsuitable for fishing or swimming.

Leopold once again has anticipated in A Land Ethic many of our still current issues, except he should also have specifically included under-performing politicians, when he wrote:
"To sum up: we asked the farmer to do what he conveniently could to save his soil, and he has done just that, and only that. The farmer who clears the woods off a 75 percent slope, turns his cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall, rocks, and soil into the community creek, is still (if otherwise decent) a respected member of society. If he puts lime on his fields and plants his crops on contour, he is still entitled to all the privileges and emoluments of his Soil Conservation District. The District is a beautiful piece of social machinery, but it is coughing along on two cylinders because we have been too timid, and too anxious for quick success, to tell the farmer the true magnitude of his obligations. Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and -the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land.

"No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial."
Feel free to suggest farms, farmers and communities that should be promoted as having the kind of water ethics Minnesota needs. We be more than happy to publicize it or them.

Going for Water


Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

The well was dry beside the door,  
  And so we went with pail and can  
Across the fields behind the house  
  To seek the brook if still it ran;  
  
Not loth to have excuse to go,
  Because the autumn eve was fair  
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,  
  And by the brook our woods were there.  
  
We ran as if to meet the moon  
  That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,  
  Without the birds, without the breeze.  
  
But once within the wood, we paused  
  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,  
Ready to run to hiding new
  With laughter when she found us soon.  
  
Each laid on other a staying hand  
  To listen ere we dared to look,  
And in the hush we joined to make  
  We heard, we knew we heard the brook. 
  
A note as from a single place,  
  A slender tinkling fall that made  
Now drops that floated on the pool  
  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.


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