Sunday, September 2, 2007

Water in Maine

I live beside the Little Androscoggin River in West Paris. The small river is relatively clean. Old-timers tell me it wasn't always that way.

I grew up in the Rumford/Mexico area in the 50's and 60's when the large Androscoggin River was at its worst. As a child, I would join my friends, walking barefoot through the slimy residue of the paper mills upriver to reach an island my grandfather owned in the middle of the river. We knew the feel and the smell but had no idea what it might contain . . . nor did we ever even stop to think about it. It was just the way it was. Rachel Carson's ideas had not reached public consciousness. I recall the summer of '65 when the oxygen level in the river became so low that fish would rush up the smaller tributary streams, only to die from over-population. The stench of rotting fish could be smelled for miles along the highway.

Fortunately, native son, Ed Muskie, came to the rescue with the 1972 Clean Water Act. Now the Androscoggin Rivers isn't by any means perfect, but has improved considerably due to that legislation.

Essential Question:
How can we continue the job of cleaning up our rivers and watersheds?

Watershed Resources

1 comment:

Ed Latham said...

Jim, as a semi-tree-hugger, I am very happy to hear that the river's health is improving. I support efforts to help our earth heal from all of the destruction our lives invariably cause to every living organizm(even ourselves). The idea of clean water seems to be a social problem.

Everyone can quote me now... here in print. I fear that within the next 20 years, countries will be at war (or at least extreem political poles) over fresh water access. It has been building up for the last 5 years at least between the US and Canada. Canada is the worlds largest source of fresh water now and of course the US wants a piece of the pie. We have used up almost every natural body of drinking water, so as the voracous consumers we are, we wish to "trade" for resources Canada chooses to conserve.

Ten years ago you could not buy water in the stores. Nothing! Right now water costs us $4-5 a gallon (if you buy those cute little liters of water everyone is always toting around). Can you believe that? Gas is around $3 and everyone is complaining about that all the time but we will gladly go out and buy water for $5??? This is a social issue that needs much more attention than we currently have available.

So where did all of our water go and how do we deal with that? It is useless to come across to people in a threatening way or in a way that puts people on the defensive without proposing the why and how we can improve so I offer my thoughts on that. Throughout history our septic practices have gone largely unchanged, uninvested, and mostly unnoticed. Once we hit the plunger on the toilet we don't care where it goes or what happens to it or how it happens. We have also developed cool tools that help us clean up our dishes in the kitchen that use incredible amounts of water to clean our plates. All of the water used for these purposes is of drinking quality in many parts of the us (I don't think NY City water even qualifies chemically as water any more). In many towns, you even have to pay for water comming into your house that you then flush down the toilet. What is up with that? Despite how crazy this is, many people are having to put up with this and it will get much much worse in the next few years. You think electric rates are going nuts (here in maine there are some huge hikes going on) wait until you see what happens to the cost of our water soon. So, I must offer a solution to counter all this gloom and doom stuff right?

The solution comes from the third world. It is a solution born of necessity, poverty, and despiration so naturally most of us in America have no clue what it might be. In most of North America we get tons of rain fall a year. That water may be contaminated because of our polution practices (did someone say Kyoto Protocol?), but the water falling to us is often better off than the stuff that hits the ground. So how do we collect this cleaner water? One thing that we are good at is building great big houses to live in and store all our neat stuff. These big houses have millions of acres of collection surfaces we call a roof. Very often gutters are attached to these surfaces to channel this important resource ... into the ground. I propose that by using less than $300 in supplies, a family can collect that water, sterilize it and store it with only a minimal (maybe $100) annual cost to maintain. All that is needed is a 55 gallon drum, some pvc pipes, a storage tank that fits in your basement,and maybe a small pump. Your level of sterilization does not have to be of drinking quality. The water comes out of the basic system clean enough for washing things. If that water only went into your toilet, laundry, washing machine, and shower you would save tons of water a year and would save money annually in your water, electric, and septic services. I have the plans and specifics if you are interested.

So Jim, back to your question. We have a few forward thinking politicians out there that help us establish laws and regulations that help our rivers. Lets keep supporting those individuals. I would suggest we also start socially looking at how we consume water and look to different conservation efforts that exist in other parts of the world. If even a few of us adopted some of these conservation efforts...well... I want to say it will make a difference. The skeptic in me says that some consumer will just feel better enabled to use the resources I just managed to save. Sigh. Still, I believe enough in conservation that I live in in my lifestyle probably to an extreem most people find borders on fantasy. So maybe the issue becomes how much we believe in the worth of our water and rivers?

At any rate, I offer only some food for thought on water. I need to go now. All this typing has made me thirsty and I need to go find some water I can drink.