Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink

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As we here at the homestead move through the summer being very careful to ration our water usage due to the cracked cistern, it’s not hard to see how it’s not just our bad farming practices that waste and pollute the earth’s water supplies, it’s also ourselves. Why doesn’t everyone have low-flow toilets and showers by now? Why doesn’t everyone use a flow meter to track how much water they are consuming? Why do we still fill big bathtubs high for lengthy soaks when a few inches of water would do the job of washing away the grime just fine? Why do we insist on those ridiculous manicured lawns that serve no purpose at all, when a nice veggie or flower garden would be much more inviting, and local, well-acclimated wild plants would make for a much more interesting landscape?

Serious shortages of fresh potable water across entire regions of the Middle East, Africa, central and south Asia have long been in the news as conditions grow worse with the advent of global warming. Extended droughts have caused increasingly destructive wildfires in Australia, Russia and here in the United States, where fires so far this year in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have charred millions of acres of land.

To get a picture of how bad the situation is getting – and how agricultural policies, municipal waste and unsustainable consumption levels affect the clean water we Americans tend to take for granted, consider the fact that the mighty Colorado River no longer flows to the sea because every drop is diverted along the way. Running 1,450 miles through seven U.S. states and two Mexican states, the river and its tributaries have been impounded by 20 dams along its length to provide water to cities in the parched southwest and water for irrigation, golf courses, desert green-spaces and such. Some researchers are saying that Lake Mead, the source of water for 22 million people, may be dry by 2012.

Watercrisis

With the human population growing at an increasingly unsustainable rate, irrigation for growing crops around the world has also increased by millions of hectares, more than doubling from less than 150 million to 300+ million hectares since 1960. As the climate changes more rain will fall in some places while other places turn to desert, and no one seems to be paying enough attention to our bad agricultural practices and lousy dietary choices that pretend clean water is something we can all take for granted forever. It’s not just the fabled Colorado that is running dry – China’s Yellow River, which used to flood so severely every year that my childhood never saw a year when hundreds of thousands of people weren’t drowned, no longer reaches the sea and has been known to go completely dry. One of the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea is now completely dry for part of every year, even as the Aral itself shrinks alarmingly.

Lake Chad in central Africa has shrunk by 95% in the last 40 years, and the Punjab region of India is facing a vastly diminished water table, as is our own Great Plains breadbasket region as the vast Ogallala Aquifer is drained steadily to irrigate genetically engineered crops used to feed livestock raised in unhealthy CAFOs for meat rather than human beings.

As we here at the homestead move through the summer being very careful to ration our water usage due to the cracked cistern, it’s not hard to see how it’s not just our bad farming practices that waste and pollute the earth’s water supplies, it’s also ourselves. Why doesn’t everyone have low-flow toilets and showers by now? Why do we still fill big bathtubs high for lengthy soaks when a few inches of water would do the job of washing away the grime just fine? Why do we insist on those ridiculous manicured lawns that serve no purpose at all, when a nice veggie or flower garden would be much more inviting, and local, well-acclimated wild plants would make for a much more interesting landscape?

UK’s Independent published an article citing details of the World Water Development Report released this week, and the outlook isn’t good. Right now 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water, and nearly 2 and a half billion lack proper sanitation. Inertia among the world’s political leaders means that necessary efforts for conservation aren’t even starting despite the ever worsening situation. The projection is that by the middle of this century at least 7 billion people in 60 countries will face water scarcity. This adds up to hunger, disease and death.

What little fresh water the planet does have is being polluted unmercifully. Much pollution comes from chemically dependent agriculture, but in our haste to exploit energy sources the practice of fracking for natural gas is shocking in its gross disregard for environmental preservation. In some places water coming out of taps actually burns, and the chemical stews used in the process don’t even have to be reported for toxicity. The pollution is so shocking that the state of New Jersey this month passed a statewide ban on franking in order to protect their water supplies. Pennsylvania is considering its own ban, and more states are sure to follow.

At present more than 1,100 U.S. counties face water scarcity issues. That’s a third of all counties in the contiguous 48 – this is a very, very serious situation we should all be paying attention to. For homesteaders out here working hard to become as self-sufficient as possible, we might well begin to consider our own water supplies to be the most valuable natural resource of all in our efforts to protect and defend the land and our chosen way of life.

I know that our current water troubles here on my own homestead have certainly made me more aware of just how precious this resource really is, even though I do not irrigate my crops at all because there is no shortage of rainfall in these Great Smoky Mountains. I have been following the various models for projecting what is to occur as the climate changes, and have been somewhat gratified to see that while we can expect up to 4 degrees overall rise in annual temperature means, we are slated to also get about 4 inches more rain every year. I can always plant peaches, figs and pecans in the orchard if it gets too warm for good apples and pears, grow more watermelons and pumpkins for market. But ensuring the purity and continued flow of water through my land must become a passion that I’m as willing to pursue as my lobbying against GMOs to neighboring farmers in order to protect the value of my organic crops.

They attempted a couple of years ago to carve out sections of the National Forest we abut, so developers could create fancy log McMansion gated communities for wealthy people’s vacation comfort. These developments had carte blanche to divert the natural mountain streams that drain the eastern side of the divide for their own lakes and golf courses and such, which would discharge chemicals along with their sewage back into the streams uphill of us that then flow through my property. Every conservation group in the region got together, and with help from us landowners lobbied hard to the federal agencies who thought they could sell portions of our collective natural heritage to rich people just because there was lots of money involved. The very best thing to come out of the nationwide financial collapse – and real estate bust – was that this plan got shelved when nobody was buying. Though we are watchful, because once things pick up again they’ll be right back to buying up tracts of National Forest for their own amusement and dumping their waste on us.

This can happen anywhere there are state and federal lands, way too close to our beloved little plots of land we cherish so much. Even during times of economic distress like the current Great Recession bureaucrats may be moved to sell the water and mineral rights to irresponsible corporate interests for exploitation, and our water woes will get steadily worse. Look around closely at what’s happening in your state and area, and get involved with the conservation groups that are fighting this rape of the land and water. Don’t feel safe just because you no longer live in a city, or because your land abuts set-aside tracts of wilderness. We homesteaders must get active to protect it all, or one of these days we’ll wake up and it will all be gone.

“Protect America’s Pollinators Act”

H.R. 2692; 2013

Honey bees: About those neonics
Honey bees: About those neonics
The extermination of our priceless honeybees is proceeding apace, with devastating ramifications. Back when CCD – [Colony Collapse Disorder] first hit the news in 2006/7, it was reported that we were losing a third of our honey bee colonies every year [33%]. Today that figure it up to 45.1%, nearly half.

Many causes have been proposed over the years, and scientists with the USDA have been looking into four general categories to try and discern the most prevalent cause. Those are listed as:

1. Pathogens – Scientists are looking at Nosema (a pathogenic gut fungi) and Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, amog other likely culprits. So far it does not appear that there is any one pathogen responsible for the majority of losses, although there does seem to be a higher viral and bacterial load in affected colonies.

2. Parasites – Varroa mites are often found in honey bee colonies affected by CCD. It is not known if the mites are directly involved or if the viruses that Varroa mites transmit are a significant factor in causing CCD.

3. Management Stressors – Among the management stressors that may contribute to CCD are poor nutrition due to apiary overcrowding and increased migratory stress brought on through transporting the colonies to multiple locations during the pollination season.

4. Environmental Stressors – These include the impact of pollen/nector scarcity, lack of diversity in nector/pollen, availability of only pollen/nectar with low nutritional value, and accidental or intentional exposure to pesticides at lethal or sub-lethal levels.

USDA colony surveys have revealed no consistent pattern in pesticide levels between healthy and CCD-affected colonies, and the most common pesticide found was coumaphos, which is used to treat Varroa mites.

A very good article by Tom Philpott for Mother Jones last month explains what, exactly, the scientists are looking at, and why they feel it’s a combination of environmental and bacterial, viral and fungal infections as well as the pesticides used to control them that are at fault in the CCD disaster.

Unwilling to wait for the government scientists to come up with definitive causes for CCD before acting to protect the bees, the U.S. House of Representatives is now considering an action bill, H.R. 2692: Protect America’s Pollenators Act of 2013. The bill is sponsored by Democratic congressman John Conyers of Michigan, and boasts 17 co-sponsors. It directs the administrator of the EPA (not the USDA) to take certain actions related to pesticides. Including neonicotinoid insecticides, a relatively new class of pesticides powerful enough to kill a songbird with just the amount coating a single kernel of corn.

Earlier in the year the European Food Safety Authority determined that the most widely used “neonic” pesticides pose unacceptable hazards to bees, so the European Union has suspected their use entirely on open-grown agricultural crops. But as hinted above in the ability to kill birds, neonics present clear and present dangers to other pollinating insects and beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. I have been unable to find information on neonic toxicity to hummingbirds and various species of butterfly, but if they can kill songbirds and ladybugs, neonicotinoids certainly seem like a strong suspect.

CCD should concern us all as homesteaders, happy rural dwellers, and as regular citizens. A full third of our food supply relies upon bees for pollination. Please call or write to your Congresscritter today and let him/her know that this is important to you and all your neighbors, urge them to vote for the bill.

EPA Halts MTR Permits for Review

The ‘Breaking News’ headline at the anti-mountaintop removal website I Love Mountains brings tears to the grateful eyes of we lovers of these ancient, beautiful and abundant mountains…

EPA

Hope renewed across the Appalachian coalfields – Obama Administration suspends mountaintop removal permits for further review…

Obama’s new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson announced this past Tuesday that the agency would be delaying somewhere between 150 and 250 permits issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers to coal companies to flatten mountains and destroy watersheds in their desperate quest to extract the last of the sequestered coal with as few paid miners as possible.

What the EPA will be reviewing are blatant violations of clean water regulations former President G.W. Bush waived in his 2002 “fill rule” and a last days repeal of the stream buffer zone rule that would allow coal companies to ignore any and all impacts of the water supplies of rural residents, towns and cities dependent upon these mountain streams for drinking water supplies.

The map above (h/t Appalachian Voices) shows graphically how open strip mines and MTR directly affects the very poorest regions of Appalachia. One might suspect that these areas are happy to have the good jobs these operations offer, but the reality is that this kind of mining is equipment-reliant, done with machines and not men. For instance, King Coal once provided 120,000 decent paying jobs in West Virginia, but now fewer than 20,000 citizens call themselves coal miners. The people whose environment is being raped are getting nothing of value out of the deal. And may indeed be harmed significantly as their water supplies are systematically polluted, sickening their crops, livestock and families.

As reported on this blog in several posts linked below, some of the people in these poor counties have better ideas about what to do with their mountains, things that will improve everyone’s life, make them leaders in clean, renewable energy supplies, and create green jobs for local residents. Especially check out projects like Coal River Wind, which proposes to harvest the wind instead of the mountain itself.

Another great article with good links and pictures is Hope is Alive in Appalachia!!! by Kossack ‘faithfull’. So get off your duff – call some legislators, sign some petitions, and spread some love of mountains in your circle today!

Links:

Old King Coal vs. Reality
Hope is Alive in Appalachia!!!
Old King Coal, a Filthy Old Soul
Coal River Wind
I Love Mountains