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Our National Water Policy… Oh, Wait, We Don’t Have One

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depakid Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jul-23-08 06:16 PM
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Our National Water Policy… Oh, Wait, We Don’t Have One
“Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time. Just like that rainforest scare a few years back. Our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn’t they?” — Homer Simpson
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Insightful musings by Elizabeth de la Vega, a former federal prosecutor better known for her incisive commentary on the prosecution of Plame case.

June 24, 2008: Water on the Brain

In California, of course, it was the lack thereof. Thanks to the driest spring on record in many areas — including in San Jose, where recordkeeping began in 1875 — the whole state was parched. Far worse, large chunks of it were burning. To be precise, on June 24th, there were 842 wildfires blazing, the result of “dry lightning,” which — I’ve now learned — happens when conditions are so dry that the rain never makes it to the plain. It evaporates in mid-air.

In the Midwest, on the other hand, water was everywhere, cascading across the land and through towns; or, it was threatening to do so, as terrified homeowners and volunteers desperately hoisted sandbags onto levees that were failing, due to forces as powerful as the mighty Mississippi and as seemingly innocuous as burrowing muskrats.

The flooding had been ongoing for weeks, killing dozens of people, displacing thousands, and causing billions of dollars of crop, building, and other damage. With California burning and Iowa underwater, the Red Cross national disaster relief fund for 2008 was already entirely depleted, although six months of potential weather devastation of various sorts still lie ahead. The balance, its finance director had announced, was “zero.”

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Weekly News was reporting that the deluge had swept record amounts of storm-water into lakes and rivers, “bringing along pollutants from urban streets, farm fields and construction sites.” To make matters worse, as of late June, Wisconsin communities had already identified 164 “overflow events” — a polite term for the release of untreated sewage into the state’s waters.

Where were all these chemicals and all that muck ultimately headed? Some of it would be spewed into the Great Lakes, already beset by a host of problems. To name a few: slimy Eurasian water milfoil that clogs boat propellers, fish viruses, chemicals that cause glandular disturbances (think: intersex fish), Asian carp that eat everything in sight, zebra mussels by the trillions, and — not to be forgotten — lots and lots of chicken manure. (This is a huge and serious issue, but I can’t resist mentioning that it was the topic of the recent Great Lakes Manure Handling Expo, which you may have missed.)

The quality of water in the Great Lakes was not the only challenge; there are also myriad ongoing conflicts about quantity — about the right to use the 6 quadrillion tons of water the five lakes contain. Ironically, on June 24th, Nestlé Corporation, a party to an infamous Great Lakes water dispute, was also facing a water quality problem. That very day, the Federal Drug Administration notified Northeasterners that Nestle’s Pure Life Purified Drinking Water was not as pure as might be imagined. After filling its bottles with Lake Michigan water, Nestle had managed to contaminate some of that very same bottled water with cleaning compound.

But back to the June floods. Where else will the pollution from them be heading? For one thing, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. When it gets there, the nitrogen and phosphorus swept into the current from upriver farmers’ fields will do what those farmers intended it to do: make things grow. Unfortunately, it will be fertilizing algae, which sucks oxygen out of its surrounding waters as it decomposes, adding to an already existing “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can no longer live.

Even before the relentless late spring rains, scientists had predicted that, in the summer of 2008, this barren area off the Louisiana coast would grow to be a Massachusetts-sized 10,000 square miles. Post-flood, with even more fertilizer and freshwater pouring into the Gulf, that estimate was increased to 12,000 square miles or more, the equivalent of the state of Maryland.

Now, I’m neither a scientist, nor an engineer, nor anything remotely similar to either of the above. Once we got past the planaria in Biology 101, I could never find whatever it was we were supposed to be analyzing on that microscope slide. (I’m not proud of this: it’s simply the stark, unvarnished truth.) But even to a layperson, these Viewmaster shots of the extreme water issues facing the United States in the summer of 2008 — random as they may seem — suggest a panoramic picture of the state of water resources management in this country. In four words, it is sheer chaos.

Much more, including in situ links: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/07/23/10540/
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GreenPartyVoter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Jul-24-08 08:41 AM
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