Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Post-Election Musings & Questions, Mostly About Water

For everyone here in Florida who is disappointed with most of the November 2014 election results:  Our work on behalf of our waters is now more important than ever. I wouldn't be surprised if there aren't attempts to weaken or even nullify Amendment 1. We need to stay strong, remain vigilant, and work together to ensure that doesn't happen. It might seem tempting to give up, but our waters and Mother Earth need more than that from us right now; they need our strongest efforts and our highest talents. If you haven't already done so, please find a way to get involved with the issues that most closely touch your heart. You can and will make a difference! Thanks for considering this.

As a counterpoint to the previous pep talk, I acknowledge that this is the question that's going to keep me awake at night:  When the middle class is gone, the environment is in ruins and the economy collapses for good, will we band together to help each other out or will it be every man for himself?

And of course, there is the water to consider--our sacred springs and the rivers they feed.

NASA just came out with a study that identifies a global groundwater crisis that threatens our food supplies and our security; see:

Florida is not immune to aquifer damage. The Floridan Aquifer that supplies the drinking water for most of North Florida has been falling since the 1930s. One estimate I’ve heard is that the aquifer is dropping about one foot every decade, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that for every foot the aquifer declines, the layer of saltwater underneath it rises 40 feet. A falling aquifer eventually leads to dry wells, dry springs and rivers, and saltwater intrusion—and our springs and we humans suffer as a result.

One message I’ve gotten from the 2014 mid-term elections is that we cannot be effective water advocates unless we acknowledge and work with the ideas that our water problems are political problems and have broad economic implications.

I think we need to be having some conversations that we’re not having, at least not widely.

Here’s one conversation starter:  How do we create growth and jobs in a way that's sustainable and doesn't wreck our water and our land—the environment that we need to sustain us? That seems to me to be a key question.

Annie Pais and Stewart Thomas developed an interesting model of a creative economy when I worked with them at Florida's Eden. Their idea was to make North Florida a center of ecotourism and creativity as opposed to a sacrifice zone for agriculture and industry. Here's a graphic that puts some of those ideas in tangible form:

Something else to consider is that the people who are requesting and receiving large water use permits believe wholeheartedly that they are entitled to those permits and entitled to do whatever they want with their private property, even if their actions may cause negative consequences (dry wells, dry springs) for their neighbors and our area's natural systems.

Given the almost-godlike reverence with which the concepts of "private property" and "individual rights" are held in our society, is there any hope of balancing those ideas with "responsible land stewardship" and/or "responsible water stewardship" that acknowledges—in the same way we all agree to follow traffic laws—that there are some things we must NOT do in order to avoid catastrophic damage?

And if there is hope of such a balance, how do we inject the idea of "responsible stewardship" into a culture that is initially resistant to that concept?

So often, water conversations end when the idea of "private property" is invoked. It is important to remember, however, that water is not owned—it is not "property." It is permitted. Is the fact that someone owns land an appropriate rationale for allowing water use that may have negative impacts on our natural systems or others' wells? Could Florida's water managers do a better job of making this distinction by invoking the idea of "responsible stewardship"? (Of course, this idea would have to be clearly defined to avoid its being co-opted.)

Could the idea of “responsible stewardship” then become a precursor for recognizing that we should be managing our waters as a public trust, the same way we would manage a financial trust fund for our children?

I encourage you to think about these ideas and, if possible, to create ways to begin a conversation about them with agriculturalists, public utility representatives, industrialists, business people, and elected leaders—because unless we can make those people our allies in the search for solutions to our water problems, we will not find solutions that are acceptable to us or effective for our natural systems.

The photo at the top of this post shows a dry Spirit Pond in Cassadaga, Florida, on Halloween 2014. Here's how the pond looked four years ago, on October 30, 2010: