Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What Price Clarity?/or, What about the ‘common good' in regard to water?

Back in the dark ages when I went to school, classes in Civics and American History were required even into the college years. In these classes, we learned that sometimes the members of a society would choose to have laws that—while they might be burdensome for individuals—were important enough for the common good that people would agree to abide by them.

Lately I wonder if this idea of “the common good” hasn’t been lost in space. I’m thinking, in particular, about the renewed debates about recent actions that have been taken to protect the quality of our water supply.

Because the State of Florida has, to a large extent, refused to do its job with regard to water protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has stepped in to mandate water quality standards. And of course, people are protesting this—based, in many cases, on debatable financial analyses of what meeting the new standards might cost them.

One thing the State did right was to enact a law to ensure that septic tanks are maintained in good working condition. Now, after the latest elections, there are loud cries for that law to be repealed because it will cost homeowners to have their tanks pumped out every so often, or repair or replace them if they start to leak.

At the core of the debates about these issues, it seems to me, are issues that are bigger, even, than economics or government control.

The core issues—from where I sit in my home near the Santa Fe River—are, How important is it to us to have a clean, clear water supply? Are we, collectively, going to go on fouling our waters without considering what effects our actions will have not only on us, but on the kind of world we leave to our children and our grandchildren? Is the idea of “common good” still viable in today’s society? What kind of a society do we really want to be?

We know what the problems are with regard to our rivers and springs and the Floridan Aquifer that nurtures us: too many nitrates from leaky septic tanks and agribusiness, a population that is almost certain to grow in the coming years, and the voracious appetites of water bottling companies and other industries whose use of our water resources threatens the amount of water that is available to all the rest of us.

So if we are all a part of the water problem, doesn’t it stand to reason that we all need to be part of the solution?

Thinking back to those old Civics and American History classes, here is what I wish some political leader who loves Florida would stand up and say to us now.

The decision to maintain and protect our water supply is one that should not be based solely on economics. Because all of us need clean water to survive and remain healthy, each of us has a part to play in maintaining the health of our waters. The decisions we make today will determine the amount and quality of water we have tomorrow, and the water that is available for our descendents. If we decide, collectively, that clean water really is a priority for us, then each one of us is going to have to make sacrifices and changes in the ways we live and the ways we do business.

Which, in the long run, leads us back some economic questions: How can we afford to live here if our water supply gets so bad that we cannot use it? What price are we willing to pay, now, for clarity?

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