Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The question of the day

Salem River SunsetApparently all that food growing around Salem is not appropriate for a "natural place." Image by Renee_W via Flickr

A regular, local LOVESalem reader writes:
The announcement of compounding problems (algae bloom, very high temperatures and stuck dam gates) facing the City's water supply shows our failing ecosystems, climate and infrastructure are catching up with us. What will it be like in the near future, let along a couple of decades from now?
Almost simultaneously, a friend in Bellingham, Washington, was writing:
The local water treatment plant, which takes water from the huge Lake Whatcom (which in turn stays full by diverting part of a branch of the Nooksack river into the lake), recently had to reduce capacity because of algae buildup (!). Nobody seems to want to inquire about the algae source - the lake is largely surrounded by homes with septic systems and grassy lawns owned by the wealthier folks (at least some of whom must put all kinds of chemicals on their lawn to maintain that perfect look). Duh! Then pile on a bit warmer weather (due to hit around 100 over the next few days - we've not seen that since we moved here in 1995), and payback begins in the form of algae. We won't necessarily be hauling water for miles, but we will be drinking algae.

Bottom line: in one of the wettest civilized places in the u.s. plus a ~~20 square mile deep glacial-dug lake, there is now a water shortage with pleas to limit lawn watering and car washing.
As this was going on, the City Council was apparently embracing a proposal to permanently bar agriculture from 200 acres of Minto-Brown Island Park -- with absolutely no thought to what our future food needs will be, no thought about alternatives to "restoration," only thought on the federal dollars.

The worst part is that one citizen who testified said that "I always thought of the park as a natural space," and the mayor agreed with her.

What volumes those few words speak: Apparently agriculture -- the means by which humans feed themselves -- is unnatural and detracts from "natural space." That's like saying that breast feeding detracts from the natural bottle feeding that God intended. There's clearly a belief among some that agriculture -- the activity that preserved the park in the first place so that its land could be deeded to the city -- is out of place in a "natural space." This mindset doesn't mind tract homes and acre after acre of McMansions, but suggest that we grow some of the food that we depend on nearby or -- gasp! -- keep a few hens in the yards of those homes and suddenly you're detracting from the natural beauty.

Just like US policy has been to encourage all grain farming to be done in the square states and all fruit and vegetable farming in California's Central Valley, we just lopped hundreds of good farmland out of a park in the name of keeping it natural. Because there's nothing more natural than factory-farmed food delivered by jet airplane or diesel tractor-trailer, an average of 1500 miles to Salem.

UPDATE: People don't seem to get that Salem is already suffering from a food security crisis, with the Marion Polk Food Share dealing with an overwhelming surge in demand. Here's a look at a food bank in California. How will Salem residents in the future regard our thoughtlessness about acres where we successfully grew local food for decades?

UPDATE 2: Statesman-Journal notices that we've got a water problem.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Anonymous said...

Sounds as if they equate "natural" with "devoid of humans and human activity," a fitting priority for a wilderness area, but not appropriate for a city park in a community the size of Salem.

And hey, if nature wants to put algae in our drinking water, I guess that's a good thing, right?

Anonymous said...

In addition, moving recently from Bellingham myself, Lake Whatcom is not only the community water source, but also a popular motor-boating lake. Many of us thought it strange that our drinking water came from a lake where motorized boating was allowed.


Walker said...

My B'ham friend sends:

True. They just banned 2-cycle motors, but jetskis and motorboats roar all the damn time. Back east, drinking water lakes generally don't even allow swimmers in them, or houses/septics/chemicals along the shoreline. This lake is the drinking source for around 100,000 people. Probably us too, since we use bottles that we fill at the food coop in town for drinking (well for the rest). Only the fact that it's a large volume lake with at least some flow through/mixing (from S. Fork of Nooksack) has saved their ass so far. If they lose access to that river water for any reason, they are gefooked.

Anonymous said...

It's really yukky, isn't it? Detroit Lake is a wakeboard/jet ski paradise and it's always grossed us out to think of our drinking water flowing off Mt. Jefferson only to sit there in that horrible polluted reservoir. Add the agricultural runoff that gets mixed in farther downstream and it's no wonder we need such a complicated filtration and chemical treatment process for our tap water. YUK.

Walker said...

LOVESalem's B'ham correspondent sent this news this morning:
And so it begins ('begins' is the key word here) - the first serious water restrictions in the Lake Whatcom drinking water area - and it's not quite even August yet. I guess there's still a little un-seriousity left to remove, however, if commercial car washes continue to operate. But equally remarkable is the lack of restrictions (that I know of) in use of lawn fertilizer. Also notable - the article does not mention indoor water uses, including industrial use. I wonder what fraction that is? U.S. humans will rue the day when we decided to treat all water that gets used, instead of the much smaller fraction that we drink. It would have been soooo easy to install parallel water lines, one small (drinking) and the other normal sized one. Doing that now, given the amount of wealth recently sucked out of our system, is likely impossible.

Mandatory watering restrictions in place for lawns and landscaping

Posted: July 30, 2009 11:45:45 PST

Bellingham Public Works Director, Ted Carlson, has signed a Declaration of Emergency Water Shortage and Order Imposing Mandatory Outdoor Water Restrictions. Residential, commercial, and multi-family water customers are to discontinue all watering of lawns and landscaping until further notice.

High levels of algae in the raw water coming from Lake Whatcom is impacting the city’s ability to provide water to residents, businesses and critical facilities, while still maintaining water reserves required for fire flow and emergency services. The quality of the drinking water has not been comprised and continues to meet all state and federal regulations.

“Providing safe, clean drinking water is one of the city’s highest priorities. We applaud the community’s efforts to reduce outdoor water consumption through the Voluntary Watering Schedule and other conservation measures, but unfortunately it has not been enough to remedy the situation,” said Mayor Dan Pike. “The Public Works Director has correctly determined that mandatory outdoor watering restrictions are needed until we can ensure an ample water supply.”

Watering lawns and landscaping (e.g. shrubs, trees, flower beds) is prohibited until further notice. Minimal watering of vegetable gardens is allowed, as well as hand watering potted plants. Violators are subject to fines and water service shut off for continued violations per Bellingham Municipal Code 15.04.040 and .050. You can help by calling 778-7707 to leave an anonymous voice mail to report violators.

Outdoor watering places the heaviest burden on our water supply from May to September, with consumption regularly doubling during this time. Watering lawns and landscaping accounts for 80-90% of outdoor water use. With the weather forecast calling for continued warm temperatures, the city is urging residents to comply with the watering restrictions and implement additional water conservation measures such as taking shorter showers, washing full loads of laundry, checking for leaks and washing cars at commercial car washes.

For updates and more information about this mandatory lawn and landscape watering ban and tips on how you can conserve water, visit the city's website atwww.cob.org. ###

Media Contacts:

Ted Carlson, Director
Public Works

Joy Monjure, Communications Coordinator
Public Works