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  • May 14th, 2015

Drink up if you dare

By Joel M Vance
The old swimming hole is as American as mom, apple pie, and baseball. Cannonball dives off a high bank, bare butts glistening in the hot summer sun. I had such a swimming hole as a teenager a blue hole blowout adjacent to the murky, muddy Dalton Cutoff. We all swam there, enjoying the cool water in the heat of summer. The blue water was a sharp contrast to the murky Cutoff only yards away, separated by a natural levee. The last time I saw Sasse’s Hole the levee had eroded and our swimming hole was suited best for turtles bullfrogs and water snakes.
I’m sure I swallowed plenty of Sasse’s Hole water as I floundered along with an awkward dog paddle but I’m still around so I suppose whatever microbes were in that water were relatively harmless. Can say the same about much of today’s water, contaminated contaminated as it is by chemicals, fertilizers and other noxious byproducts of civilization. Historically we took nonpoisonous water for granted until modern times. The old time farmstead’s drinking water often came out of the ground in the form of a spring. You drank the water and it kept your butter cool. The butter was good and the water didn’t kill you Then folks began to wonder just how safe their drinking water was. In one alarming experiment, water gushing from an apparently beautiful clear spring proved, through dye traces, to have originated in a distant town’s septic system.
The 1972 amended Clean Water Act was a political wakeup call for the country to the dangers of the kind of water that killed our forefathers. Historically, whole towns vanished, their residents killed off by dirty water. The town of old Franklin alongside the Missouri River was decimated in the aftermath of a Missouri River flood in the early 1800s. There were other outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and other diseases caused by contaminated water. That was long before the Clean Water Act but more recently the town of Times Beach near St. Louis became a ghost town because toxic oil was used on the streets to keep dust down. Obviously quite a bit of the contamination washed into the Meramec River. It brought an end to an annual canoe poling competition and I suspect many canoeists opted to move upstream from Times Beach to enjoy the Meramec.
The Environmental Protection Agency, created as a policing force for clean water and air, vacated the town which still stands as a monument to Man’s environmental inhumanity to himself. Nowadays oil spills into waterways are so common they barely make the news. They all violate the spirit as well as the letter of the Clean Water Act but that doesn’t stop politicians from sharpshooting the Act itself in an attempt to emasculate it.
The vigilant paranoids who are ever alert for black government helicopters on the horizon are quick to perpetuate myths, rumors, and downright lies about the role of the EPA in enforcing clean water regulations. According to them the sole purpose of the act is not to protect us from contaminated water but for the government somehow to confiscate our lives for nefarious purposes. To reinforce this myth they believe and spread falsehoods about the content and intent of the Act. Some really believe the nonsense while others do it out of self interest, or because of political pressure.
It is not true for example that the EPA can seize control of Missouri’s thousands of farm ponds. And it can’t force farmers to keep their cattle from decorating the bed of small streams with their patties as they wade across, although as a small stream fishing devotee I wish they could. And they won’t regulate ditch water, ground water, puddles in your driveway, or take over your farm. What proposed EPA regulations will do is make it easier for farmers to farm. Rather than list all the misconceptions about what the EPA intends, take time to go to the EPA’s own web site http://www2.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule/ditch-myth where you’ll see a listing of both the misconceptions and the truth.
It’s far easier to believe the crap put out by right wing talk radio and associated nut cases than to take time to find out the facts, but it isn’t good citizenship. Few people trust government fully, often with good reason, but those elected people are there to make life better for everyone even if it involves regulation that infringes on the wishes of the minority. We all live with regulation whether we like it or not. Proposed EPA streamlining is a case where there is an honest attempt to simplify and tailor the Act to protect clean water but without burdening people by over regulation. But legislators need to hear from their constituents.
Special interests and their pet politicians have been nipping at the Clean Water Act for the past 40 years pruning pieces of it like demonic gardeners mowing down the Garden of Eden. Missouri’s two senators are a mixed blessing. Roy Blunt has been a creature of the tobacco, oil and gas Industries for years. Claire McCaskill usually is on the side of commonsense but conversely still adamantly endorses the Keystone pipeline project which would rip an ugly wound across the nation’s midsection like a caesarean section gone wrong. Still, if they don’t hear from their constituents, meaning you, they won’t know how you feel. Send emails, phone their offices, write a letter. Contact information is readily available on the Internet.
In 1993 the ever petulant Missouri River mounted what they called a once in 500 year flood. A week later the river went even higher taking care of 1,000 years in less than a month. It swept away man’s puny attempts to force it into a narrow channel, suitable for subsidized shipping, but useless and dreadful for the environment and the riverine ecology. Levees melted under the relentless flow and whole towns were swept away. It was an epic example of the Harvard law of animal behavior: “under carefully controlled conditions organisms do what they damn well please.”
We helped in a cleanup at Mokane, a riverside community almost destroyed by the flood. We shoveled and swept noxious mud from the ruins of what had been an old folks home. Optimistically the elderly residents had piled their meager possessions on tabletops but the river rose higher than the tables, turning the souvenirs of their long lives to ruined garbage–photos, souvenirs, family artifacts– all that was the essence of them was gone. There was no tomorrow for those old folks and now there was no yesterday either.
In the yard as we left a frail little lady asked a Mennonite youngster who had come from Western Missouri to help out, “when will we be able to move back in?”
I had tears in my eyes knowing there was no “when” for her. I think of it still every time some bought and paid for politician tries to shoot down clean water regulations. If there was true justice, those callous politicos would be forced to drink the contaminated water of their folly and suffer the consequences

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  1. Paul F. Vang

    May 14th, 2015 at 2:25 pm


    Actually, I’d question your statement that until modern times we took non-poisonous water for granted. Perhaps that applied to rural people, but for people in cities, potable water was almost non-existent, as rivers were almost universally treated as sewers. A couple years ago I was in Nuremberg, Germany and visited a mircro-brewery. On a wall was a chalkboard with a quote from Martin Luther, saying, “He who has no beer has nothing to drink.” That was literally true. Once a child was weaned from the mother’s breast, he drank beer – a low in alcohol brew, to be sure, but everybody drank beer, because the water wasn’t safe to drink.

  2. Bill McCully

    July 3rd, 2015 at 4:24 am


    Good job on the clean water writeup. The Wall Street Journal even had an article this week saying that things are much improved because less than 1000 kids per day under the age of 5 die from contaminated water around the world. Its unbelievable really as less than a lifetime ago, clean water was pretty easy to find. I recall the taste of good water, (no fluoride taste) from my grandmothers well.
    Not know though. I wouldn’t touch well water unless I had too. When you think of all the chemicals we spray on everything it is reason for pause. It doesn’t make sense really.
    But then, we live in a time where liberals are opposed to liberty and conservatives are opposed to conservation. That doesn’t make sense either.

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