Of the essential resources whose increasing scarcity threatens our quality of life, energy has probably received the most attention. But there are others less widely recognized, but just as vital—like potable water.
The operative word here is potable, which means water that can be drunk without making us sick or killing us. Theres plenty of water in the oceans. But ocean water cant be drunk without being desalinated, and distribution would involve shipping or pumping it over long distances. Both of those require energy, lots of it—which leaves us back at the energy shortage.
That means that for the indefinite future the water most of us drink will probably be water that falls as rain and is either absorbed directly into the water table or runs off via streams into reservoirs. The only problem is that we are now running into potability problems with that type of water, too. In this case, the problem is the contaminants created by human activities.
Some of those activities are obvious, like mountaintop removal or natural gas drilling procedures (see page 1). Others are more subtle, like the pharmaceuticals that have entered our water supply through the excretions of humans and our domestic animals (see page 4). The source considered to be the single biggest problem is also invisible to most people: so-called non-point source pollution, in which stormwater runoff picks up toxins like oil and gas spills on paved surfaces, lawn chemicals, pesticides and the like before entering bodies of water used for human consumption.
What all these sources of contamination have in common is that they cannot be controlled individually. A small group of individuals—or corporations—can pollute the water supply for an entire community, state or national region. Keeping water clean is something we need to do together.
And theres the hitch. The federal government is the only entity that has the power to coordinate the type of effort needed to keep our water safe, but the trend in Washington recently has been to give up the power it needs to make this effort successful. The special exemption from the Clean Water Act given for gas-drilling techniques in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 is only one example. Enforcement is poor: an October report by USPIRG showed that in 2005, 57 percent of industrial and municipal facilities across America discharged more pollution than permitted under the Clean Water Act, with New York and Pennsylvania among the top 10 offenders. And the law itself has been weakened. Recently, two Supreme Court decisions strictly limited the definition of the waters over which the federal government, via the Army Corps of Engineers, is deemed to have control. Now, if the government cant prove that tributaries or wetlands empty directly into navigable waters, those waters are unprotected.
Senator Russ Feingold has introduced a bill in the Senate, the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007, that would again broaden the scope of waters covered by the act to something closer to its original intent. Several Congressmen have introduced similar legislation in the House.
Some groups are mobilizing to defeat the act, fearing that it would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers control over property for as little as a mud puddle. We agree that protecting property rights is important—and given its performance in New Orleans, its hard to put full trust in the Army Corps of Engineers. But it is impossible to preserve the quality of our water supply, with all its widespread and subtle interactions, within the Supreme Courts narrow construal of language of the current law. If the new legislation has gone too far in broadening the definition, we should find a compromise, not toss out the idea of a Clean Water Restoration Act altogether.
The House and Senate committees will be considering the matter of clean water this year, and emails and Internet chatter are already heating up on the matter of the bill. We recommend you read the text at govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-2421 (its quite short), and let your representatives in Washington know what you think about it.
In the meantime, remember that the chemicals you apply to your property, spill on the roadways or flush down the drain are going into the water supply that we all have to share. Whatever they do in Washington, we can do all we can as individuals to make sure that we have a water supply that is fit to drink.
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There's No Point To It!
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Your report on Monticellos election was incomplete. I can tell you, from close observation, that Carmen Rue did not win on the coat tails of the mayor, as reporter Fritz Mayer suggests. If anything, the reverse was true. The mayor sailed to an easy victory largely a result of Carmens work.
Carmen actively campaigned door-to-door since last June, covering the entire village. He did not. She personally collected well over 100 absentee ballots in this election, campaigning loyally for her erstwhile running mate as hard as she did for herself. He did not. She saw to it that many more than that came to the polls and voted the bottom line—for her ticket.
A close look at the numbers proves that without Carmens campaigning, the former incumbents would have been re-elected hands down.