Water: under attack again

Barbara Clowdus

We seem to have learned little about the need to care for our most vital resource: water. Why is that?

We know that humans can survive only a few days without water, yet we continue to pollute with near-abandon, to live as if we have spare water stashed somewhere safe, as if we have a “water bank” from which we can make withdrawals whenever our account gets low. Decades ago we transformed this swamp land into thriving groves that fed multitudes of people. We dug those canals over environmentalists’ warnings–those predictors of the most dire–in the name of progress. More canals were built to create roads, and indeed both sides of the Florida coast became connected, a boon to area economies, as we also funneled our fresh water to the oceans.

Worldwide, only three percent of all the water on the planet is potable. Why don’t we understand that taking dirty water and cleaning it is far more expensive than keeping it clean in the first place? This winter’s dry season should have reminded us again how vulnerable we are to the elements without water, and how precious little water there is to spare. Drive out to Lake Okeechobee one day, and you’ll be reminded anew. Or drive through the Everglades, which we’ve watch slowly die as we starved it of water, as we refused to slow fertilizer runoff. If we’re successful at killing the Everglades–and it looks as if we may very well be–we’re effectively destroying the source of drinking water for six million people. Did you mention a water bank somewhere? We finally decided in 2003 that we would insist that the water entering the Everglades be cleaned, yet the Legislature gave businesses 10 years to adjust to and prepare for new pollution guidelines.

Apparently, 10 years is insufficient, considering that Rep. Tom Rooney and Sen. Mark Rubio have teamed up to block implementation of the new pollution standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency–which was sued in 2008 to get them to enforce the Clean Water Act here–and by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Rooney’s and Rubio’s primary argument, it seems, is that the cost is too high for businesses to undertake now, due to the strain of rebounding from a collapsed economy. Wait a second, here. They had 10 years to get ready and it’s likely that the estimated costs apply only if the most-expensive available equipment on the market is used.

They also claim that since discrepancies exist between Florida’s agency and the US EPA standards that they cannot be enforced. On both those claims, our good government officials should visit some old-time coal operators, who in 1978 screamed and hollered because the new pollution (and safety) standards would put them out of business, that dealing with conflicting federal and state standards would be counter-productive, and that the cost to clean effluent would drive up the cost of electricity to end-users.

That was their most accurate statement, but the end-users also got cleaner water in their wells and streams and did not complain. One millionaire coal operator was often quoted that he had been wrong. He didn’t go out of business. The regulatory differences were minor, but most of all, he was wrong to fight against what was simply the right thing to do to protect our water and people. Maybe we should invite him to visit.