Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dead Water

Dead river running.
There's a stream by the house that is one of three local gems that provides good angling year-round. It's a protected wild trout stream that used to have lots of brook trout in it. Over the past decade, they've been displaced by lots of browns. I suppose there are worse things. On a Monday afternoon last July all the fish for hundreds of yards downstream of a storm drain outlet just up and died. No one knows why.

The state came down and confirmed that there were no fish in the water. Upstream of the outlet they found many trout up to fourteen inches in length. Water sample testing failed to determine what exactly went into the water. The likely culprits are some pesticide or herbicide used to maintain town and state property served by that storm drain system though I wouldn't rule out some private individual pouring something into a catch basin.

These sorts of events get precious little publicity. It's a small stream. Resources are dear and greater priorities loom. And it's only trout for god's sake. Who really gives a shit about trout? Folks move on quickly.

Clean water is taken for granted. We turn the faucet and expect that what comes out will be healthy for us to consume. I don't think too many people make a connection between what they're seeing come from the faucet and it's source. To trace water back to it's ultimate source, all you have to do is stand outside on a rainy day. In order for that water to make it's way to the faucet it will go on an amazing journey, a journey that may include a storm drain, a small creek or even that marsh down the street that a developer wants to fill in for housing.

Thirteen tanks, forty feet from the water.
Required inspections to make sure
sufficient controls are in place:
Actual sufficient controls in place: Zero
People with poisoned water:  300,000
Now that's Freedom!
Eighty-six percent of people in the U.S. get their water from public water supplies. About a third of that supply comes from groundwater via public wells. The other two thirds is from surface water - rivers and impoundments on rivers.* And those rivers get their water from smaller rivers and smaller streams and so on until it's just water falling from the sky. And some of that water washes by facilities like those owned by Freedom Industries.

With the debate about fracking, there's been a whole lot of focus on the quality of water in wells lately but those impacts are generally localized and invisible on a national level. To some I suppose the fracking hubbub sounds like a bunch of shrill, whining brats. Some would say that America's freedom is at stake and if energy independence comes at the price of some bad water and dead streams, so be it. It worked for the mining industry, why not the drilling industry?

But those shrill voices seem to resonate a whole lot more when events are not localized and dozens of inconvenienced people becomes thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. Clean water becomes a whole lot more important because it is a whole lot more important.

It's very popular in certain political circles to say that the EPA isn't needed, that smaller government is the answer for everything. I agree that we're spending more than we take in and I'd like my tax situation to be different. But there are places that I'm not willing to compromise; Clean Water is one of those places.

Events like the one in Charleston, West Virginia are not accidents. They are the logical conclusion of a series of events put in place by us. We elect folks to office and demand that they do certain things, like create a climate where doing business is easy. Further, we demand that we not be constrained by onerous regulations. We demand freedom and liberty and all the other things that make for amusing Facebook memes and witty political repartee. And we get exactly what we ask for. We deserve better.

We need to continue to strengthen the regulation and enforcement of laws that pertain to clean water on the local, state and federal levels. And we each need to take personal responsibility for doing so. It is easy to blame such conditions on politicians and political bodies. But at the end of the day it is the personal responsibility of each of us to make our voices heard in the discussion.

If you haven't written your local, state and federal political leaders on this topic, you should. And you shouldn't let them get away with savaging agencies like the EPA to score political points. It's the EPA which is solely charged with keeping water clean. If you kill the EPA, you turn the responsibility for clean water over to companies like Freedom Industries. And then it'll be no mystery who's poisoning the water and killing the fish. It'll be the person in the mirror.

Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2005; By Joan F. Kenny, Nancy L. Barber, Susan S. Hutson, Kristin S. Linsey, John K. Lovelace, and Molly A. Maupin


  1. This a huge issue and it's too bad people don't take it more seriously. Boone, NC had a similar fish kill to the one you described. It was found later that a asphalt company did not follow proper practices and a chemical they used to seal the asphalt washed into a storm drain after a rain. This caused a severe fish kill. The sad part is the penalty was just a slap on the wrist when the loss of animal life went on for miles. Who knows how long it will take for the stream to rebuild itself.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Kevin. Yeah it's stunning how easy it is for someone to kill a stream and then essentially walk away (or do it again). This stream had two oil spills in it during a twelve month period a decade ago. It can back pretty quick but that's what exterminated the brook trout.

  2. I agree, no compromise on clean water or in defense of threatened habitats. Here in NY we're trying to fend off the fracking industry along the PA border, and don't need to look far to see how the wild and the people who love the rural life are being sacrificed for greed. It's important, also, to stand up not only to the politicians but to the industries that yank their chains, as well.

    1. Agree that industry is behind many of these ploys. They don't build in the full cost of their work and then claim they're being penalized when they're asked to. NY needs to hold the line!

  3. Well written, Steve.

    I grew up in Ohio in the 70's back when the Cuyahoga River burned and the Clean Water Act was born http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuyahoga_River. Today that fishery is thriving with stocked Steelhead. It's only been 40 years, but we are already forgetting, as a country, the importance of the environment and the effect we can have on it with careless decisions.

    For my own selfishness, our sole water supply is from a well in the back yard. We are fortunate to have a clean water literally in our back yard, but I constantly fear the day that the groundwater is contaminated by some industrial source.

    Continue to beat the drum of environmental awareness. Bad environmental policies know no political boundaries. As with the Cuyahoga, rivers can be healed with time and care, but we need to give them the room to breath.

    1. I suppose if the river was on fire at least I'd have a place to light my cigar. :)

  4. Some would say that America's freedom is at stake. Can we send them somewhere else?

  5. I think Scotland has a vacancy though I wouldn't wish it on them.