Saturday, August 1, 2009

August: Getting Started on the Right Foot

With respect to water, Canadians and Americans suffer from the same disease:
We say that it is priceless, but act as if it were absurdly cheap.
Most North Americans pay far less for their water than even just the cost of supplying it, cleaning it up and returning it to the environment.
Yet subsidizing water use is economically and ecologically disastrous.
In fact, heavy subsidization of water in the US is the cause of any water "shortages" that may exist there.
-Editorial, The Toronto Globe and Mail, 23 May 1998


Today is an exciting day for me since I expect my son, Tom, will arrive later this evening.
He is driving from North Carolina and enjoying seeing parts of the Country for the first time, including the State of Washington.
Right now, he's somewhere in Montana with a few miles yet to travel.
It will be fun showing Tom around this area, but that activity may slow down my blog production for a while, but who knows?
Maybe just the opposite will happen, with more short blurbs and photos.

I had another thought about yesterday's topic, which was preserving Lake Whatcom and our growing water treatment problem.
The idea of linking value to cost, or worth to price, ought to come into play more than it does.

Water rates, for example, only reflect the costs of treatment and distribution, by law.
Of course these costs also include the diversion system, monitoring water quality, acquiring & preserving critical watershed properties, public education, enforcement and the like, all of which are important aspects of reservoir preservation that we need to recognize aswe pay for them.
The raw reservoir [Lake] water itself is assigned no intrinsic value; thus, it's cost is ZERO!
That is because the waters of this state belongs to its citizens, not private corporations, which is as it should be.
But, that also means we, the citizens, are free to use these waters pretty much any way we choose, and that isn't always a good thing when it comes to saving good quality water for the future.

Part of the problem is that Washington State -unlike Oregon- long ago allowed mostly private ownership of its shorelines.
How does that fit with citizens being able to access and preserve their water?
I think it is a problem, and a big one that will be difficult to fix.
That is why the Shoreline Management Program now being reviewed for approval by the City Council needs to be as strict as possible, including for Lake Whatcom.
Because the City's portion of the Lake is mostly already developed, or platted and vested, the shoreline buffers are almost entirely less wide than is necessary.

But, that isn't a reason the lots, property and homes that encroach upon good sense should not be deemed 'non-conforming'.
If we aren't able to communicate clearly to ALL STAKEHOLDERS that there are good reasons for having effective shoreline buffers, doesn't that represent a major lost opportunity for education?

I know some people will complain and say such an act is unwise and unenforceable -now or later- but there are others who will willingly accept the idea and learn from it.
So, I hope the Council decides to increase the buffer width for Lake Whatcom, Silver Creek and other tributaries to at least 100 feet.
I don't know what Whatcom County has settled upon, but at least match their effort.
The Shoreline Management Program has not been updated substantially for close to 20 years, and now is considered as an essential adjunct to our Growth Management Act; some say it acts as a 14th GMA goal.

So, I hope the City Council decision reflects very thoughtful care for what the SMP can do for us over time, and not simple expediency, even though that may seem simpler.

I have always been a big advocate of tap water—not because I think it harmless but because the idea of purchasing water extracted from some remote watershed and then hauled halfway round the world bothers me. Drinking bottled water relieves people of their concern about ecological threats to the river they live by or to the basins of groundwater they live over. It's the same kind of thinking that leads some to the complacent conclusion that if things on earth get bad enough, well, we'll just blast off to a space station somewhere else. - Sandra Steingraber, Having Faith, 2001

I strongly agree with the above quote, because the idea of associating the water I drink with its source, care, custody and control, appeals to me.
For example, if you are out in the wilderness, what do you do for water?
Find a source of clean water and a relatively safe location to access it.
Fill a container and treat the water, either by filtering, dissolving chlorine/iodine or boiling.
Drink only this carefully treated water, except in extreme emergencies.

Why not think about using similar steps with our tap water?

A quick true story:
Years ago, a friend made his first business trip to Mexico City, being aware that 'Montezuma's Revenge' could be a problem if he weren't careful.
He checked into a modern hotel, but decided to not use the tap water for drinking or even brushing his teeth.
Instead, he purchased expensive bottled water to drink; little did he know how expensive!
He got a very bad case of 'M-R' and had to be treated medically.
Later, he found out the source was the bottled water he'd purchased; where it had come from nobody knew!
The tap water he'd avoided in the hotel was not only OK but of very good quality.

Think there may be a lesson here?
Lake Whatcom is our RESERVOIR, first and foremost!