Living Water, Dead Water
By PETER SCHUTT
Not too many years ago, the Tennessee state government paid about $10,000 an acre for a couple thousand acres of farmland right off I-40 near our farm. It is part of a planned industrial “mega site”, whose intent is to attract large industry in order to create jobs and “grow the economy”. The project needs a water and sewer system, which require a plan to be approved by the USEPA.
The current plan is to burrow a sewer line underneath the Hatchie River so that the future sewage can be treated in Brownsville. And then the treated sewage would be put into the Hatchie River, under which it flowed through its new burrow. The area of the Hatchie is home to parts of the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge. The Hatchie is the only river in West Tennessee that the US Corps of Engineers has not ruined by straightening its channel. It is designated a scenic river by the State.
The USEPA is supposed to take into account the direct and indirect consequences of burrowing under a state scenic river like the Hatchie, as well as, putting treated sewage and industrial waste into the same river. This is proper economics: that is, there are more costs to “growing the economy” than just the cost in dollars of burrowing, paving, wiring, plumbing, drilling, building, etc.
One of the main costs, which bureaucrats have yet to understand how to calculate, is the long term health of the water in the Hatchie River and the fish and other life that depend on the health of the water in the Hatchie River.
One need only to look 40 miles to the west to understand the long term cost of unclean river water. People younger than, say 40, have never seen the day when one could eat fish out of the Mississippi River as it runs through Memphis. So that generation may assume that the river water has always been laced with agricultural and industrial chemicals sufficient to make the flesh of the fish unfit to eat. Imagine that – the second largest river in the world right in our back yard, and it’s so polluted that the fish are poison.
Likewise, if there are any fish in the Memphis portion of the Wolf River, their flesh is tainted – with mercury, PCBs, chlordane, bacteria or other bad stuff. If, that is, there are any fish in those waters.
So, too, for the Loosahatchie River. And Nonconnah Creek. And Cypress Creek. And North Fork Forked Deer. And the Duck. And . . . .
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation samples about half of the 60,000 miles of all the rivers, creeks and sloughs in the state. In 2012 they found that about 10,000 miles of them are polluted to the point that they are severely impaired or do not support aquatic life at all.
Lifeless rivers and streams.
The evolution of how this abominable situation has come to pass follows a familiar pattern – thoughtless, though maybe not intentionally malicious, consequences of measuring profits in farming or industry on immediate, visible expenses and income. When we rush in our actions to make money and fail to think on and contemplate what lingering and unseen costs to nature and neighbors might be, them we fail to properly care for the health of our neighbors and land.
The major religions of the world all teach us to revere water as a most important part of our physical beings. After all, our bodies are 66% water. Americans, however, seem to have taken for granted for too long how fortunate we are to be able to turn on the tap and have clean water. At the rate we are turning living water into dead, our children and theirs may not have such a luxury.