Thursday, June 11, 2009

Olympic Pipe Line -Versus- Lake Whatcom Reservoir

"When the well runs dry, we know the worth of water." – Benjamin Franklin

The legendary major league baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige, who never disclosed his real age, was once asked 'what is the secret to your longevity?
To which he answered; 'just don't look back, because something might be gaining on you!'
What a great answer, or non-answer, or whatever.

For some reason that little recollection came to mind yesterday, right after the 10-year commemoration of the Olympic Pipe Line disaster here in Bellingham.
As spectacular and tragic as that horrendous explosion and its after effects was, our drinking water reservoir carries a similar potential for undesirable results over a longer, and therefore much less noticeable, period of time.

Does that statement sound plausible?
It ought to, even though the instant and unmistakeable results won't likely be linked in the same dramatic way - at least in the memories of those living here today.

What is the difference?
It's hard to say with certainty of future effects and their timing, isn't it?
Kinda like the difference between a frog being gigged or slowly being brought to a boil in a large pot of water.
The ultimate result is the same, but instantaneous drama is missing.

Anyway, this is the point I'm trying to make; things that surprise us with misfortune, but seem correctable, attract our attention and action.
Things that are merely scientifically and observably trending in a bad direction, don't exhibit the urgency needed for really effective corrective action.
Unfortunately, less urgency translates into doing little or nothing until the situation has grown so bad that emergency action is often required, which in too many cases is simply too little, too late.

Just imagine, for example, if Whatcom Creek had been the inlet to Lake Whatcom, not the outlet.
How might that have impacted Bellingham on JUne 10, 1999, the date of the Olympic Pipe Line explosion?
Think that might have made a difference in how we care for our drinking water supply?
I think something like that would have made a huge difference, not that anyone would ever wish for such a thing.

I'm really glad that so much good of lasting value has come out of our community's response to the Olympic Pipe Line disaster.
Even with that drama and the tragic deaths, destruction and indelible fear of future such events, we pressed on with such determination that other communities, our legislators at all levels, and eventually our regulators and even the petroleum industry itself became part of the solution!
That is as truly remarkable as it is commendable.
It makes one wonder, how did we miss such obvious safety precautions?

One reason we couldn't miss the lessons from the Olympic travesty, was the universally resonating drama it created, among virtually everyone -in the community, state, region, nation and the world.
We do not have that kind of gut-wrenching attention when dealing with preserving our reservoir for future generations, and that is very good!
But, without the publicity to galvanize necessary action, we are left with far less than adequate response.
It's just too easy to 'kick the can down the road' to the next City, County, State or Federal administration to take care of, isn't it?
Yet, the situation never seems to actually get handled.
That's the problem.

Since the Washington State Dept of Ecology issued its so-called TMDL [Total Maximum Daily Load] Study last year, our local governments have been charged with drafting and implementing remedial action plans.
They got about a year to comply, but if that deadline passes, what's the penalty? A slap on the wrist?
After all, it took Ecology 10 years to get the TMDL Report written, reviewed and issued.
Meantime, the clock is ticking!
Not a fancy atomic clock, or even a digital Mickey Mouse watch, but an hour glass, with a too narrow neck and damp sand!

I know there are other 'priorities'.
I know there is a major budget crunch.
I know, I know, oh how I know!
What I don't know is when the publicity of a very serious problem will get so dramatic and urgent that the required difficult and growing actions will actually start making an observable difference!
So far, despite all the rhetoric, business and actions taken, only a slight decrease in the RATE OF DEGRADATION has been seen to have occurred.
That means the situation with our only source of drinking water supply is still getting worse, not better.
Hello, can you hear me now?

Here's a hint; RESULTS COUNT, not talk and minimally effective 'actions'.
We're talking about REAL actions, like those taken in the last 10 years following the Olympic Pipe Line 'incident', as it euphemistically called at one point.
That must have been a time when someone was trying to gently soft-pedal what was truly a disaster!
Please, let's don't let it happen again, masked as a frog is a pot of slowly heating water.

"Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over." - attributed to Mark Twain