Saturday, July 28, 2007

Straight Talk About Lake Whatcom

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

Mea Culpa and Apologies

George Burns once said ‘The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible’. That is also good advice for an apology.

So, ‘mea culpa’ to anyone who felt harmed by my –undelivered- promise of a blog on the subject of a certain established rumor. It was an unwise thing for me to have even mentioned that particular subject as I did. It was also unnecessary, because anyone could Google it to find, among other search results, a WIndy article in the March 30 2007 issue.

Because apologies really are better –and briefer- than explanations or excuses, I offer these to all who felt poorly served by what I wrote at the end of my second blog posting. The actual size of that readership is unknown and but really makes no difference, because if only one person was harmed, that’s one too many.

I have exchanged communications with two persons who called me to say my blog statement did not make them happy. That's more than enough for me, and I sincerely hope my apology was enough for both of them.

One was my friend, Don Keenan, who e-mailed me the following: [used with his permission]
Subject: Positive Campaigning
From: Don Keenan
Date: Fri, 27 July 2007 12:42:15 -0700

Dear John,

Someone just pointed out to me John Servais’ comments today on NwCitizen.US regarding a blog you recently started. I just tried and your blog appears unavailable for me to read at this time on the Internet, but John Servais’ comments indicate his belief that you were acting on behalf of my campaign, which is clearly not the case. What you do or say is certainly a matter of your own choice, but I’d like to reaffirm for the record my opposition to negative campaigning as stated on July 4th.

Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail I sent July 4th to you and over 100 others who are supporting my candidacy for whom I had e-mail addresses:

“Unfortunately we have seen the beginning of negative campaigning. Don’t be troubled. It’s likely to continue, but I hope you will join in my commitment to a positive campaign. I’ve worked on many campaigns and I’ve never seen personal attacks win. Voters want candidates to stick to issues and that’s what I plan to do. Believe me, it takes discipline not to respond, but in the end nobody benefits from participating in negative exchanges. I have a long record of public service and a positive vision for the future of Bellingham. I am proud of that service and desire to continue to be of service to the people of our community.”

I know anyone who serves in a high profile leadership position winds up being a ready target for criticism, but Bellingham has too much at stake to have this or any other campaign sidetracked by negativity.

Today’s Bellingham Herald has a positive letter to the editor from City Council member Gene Knutson supporting my candidacy for mayor. You also wrote a positive letter about me a couple of months ago. I appreciate support from city council members and others in the community who know my work as Deputy Administrator and I continue to ask that the focus remains positive throughout the campaign.


My next blog will be on an entirely different subject, to be determined. Until then, I’ve got other things to do.

Note: The ‘promised’ controversial blog was not posted, and it won’t be.