Folks might be interested in my 'Political Commentary' published in the July 2007 Issue of NW Business Monthly:
Straight Talk About Lake Whatcom
Gerald Baron's 'Political Commentary' in the June issue invited a response. I'll try to state the case for preserving our Water Supply Reservoir clearly and in plain language, so folks can understand this controversial issue a little better.
Ben Franklin expressed the 'Precautionary Principle' in simple terms -'a stitch in time saves nine'. Essentially, that is the approach both the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County adopted as their official policy regarding Lake Whatcom and its surrounding watershed.
All best thinking is welcome in determining how to implement this policy, but the main goal should be clear and not under debate - the long-term preservation of our Municipal Water Supply. To make any headway on this challenge means we -individually and collectively- need to change some habits we've developed over the past several decades. Talking about this is good, but actions are better. That's why both City and County have agreed on a program containing multiple actions that start us in the right direction. Unfortunately, the actions taken so far have not been sufficient to even slow down the rate of documented water quality degradation in the lake, much less stop it or reverse it. This warrants serious concern - and additional action, including doing no more harm!
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."
- Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan
In many respects the lake situation mirrors our human experience. For example, if we are diagnosed with a serious ailment or disease, most of us listen to our Doctor's expert advice and try hard to follow it. Sometimes, a second opinion is sought, but eventually we get the message and actively strive to extend our normal lives as pain-free as possible. If one medicine or therapy doesn't work, we try others, with surgery used only as a last resort. Rarely, do we humans consciously give up on our own health! Most of us don't depend on the advice of quacks or rely on placebos, although sometimes, alternative techniques do work pretty well. The point is we really try hard to stay alive and healthy, don't we? That just seems to be part of our nature!
Why not extend the same kinds of health awareness -and positive actions- to taking care of our exceptionally pure - and essential - water supply? Do you know that nearly 97% of the world's water is salty or otherwise undrinkable; that another 2% is locked in ice caps and glaciers; that only 1% can be used for all agricultural, residential, manufacturing, community and personal needs?
"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over." - Mark Twain
Worldwide scarcity of potable water is already a problem, which is projected to get progressively worse as population grows and polluting practices continue. Future water wars may occur to rival or surpass wars over other scarce resources, like energy from petroleum. Knowing the scarcity of clean water sources will get worse over time, why don't we value water more than we do? Three reasons come to mind - the oldest ones in recorded history: ignorance; greed and attachment to old habits; anger or fear over the need to change old habits.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.”
- Albert Einstein
So, why exactly should we even try to keep Lake Whatcom as clean as possible? Not necessarily pristine, mind you, because we're already past that point, and without time travel we don't get to go back in history again. I'm talking about holding the line on the water quality we have right now, then seeing if we can improve on that slightly. There are two very good reasons to set that as a serious goal - our health and our pocket books.
First, we know our health can be harmed by contact with dirty water, whether from raw sewage spills, excessive algae growth, or poisonous runoff. Swimmers, boaters and fishermen don't consider dirty water much fun either.
"We never know the worth of water 'til the well runs dry." - Benjamin Franklin
Also, we know costs are always increased by having to treat dirtier water for drinking and bathing purposes, although this is possible to do. The US Navy makes its shipboard potable water from seawater by desalination and various advanced filtration methods. Our Astronauts use super high tech systems to recycle their own body fluids! Care to guess how much these types of water treatment systems would cost the citizens of Bellingham and Whatcom County? The answer is millions of dollars to buy and install the equipment and more millions to operate and maintain it annually. It might even become cheaper for us just to buy bottled water to drink, which of course, comes from somewhere else, but the people living 'somewhere else' also need to keep their water clean, too!
“You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” - Midas Muffler Ad
Buying water to drink is one thing, but buying enough to also cook with, bathe in, wash clothes, fill hot tubs and pools, wash cars and water lawns, tends to get a little expensive, don't you think? Yet, water degradation is slowly happening in our lake, right now, as you are reading this! Every new home that is built and occupied by new people, every lot that is cleared and graded, every vehicle that leaves its poisonous residue, and every clear-cut that is done carelessly, all add incrementally to our lake becoming dirtier. If that continues, at some premature time, these cumulative impacts will face our children, their children and all future generations. These people will not be happy with our legacy to them - a problem beyond fixing without rationing, big bucks and Space Age high tech equipment. Let’s don't let that happen! .
"If we are to solve the problems that plague us, our thinking must evolve beyond the level we were using when we created those problems in the first place."
- Albert Einstein