Saturday, June 10, 2017

Water Visions: Wrapping Up a Year of Columns With a Vision

It’s been fun to write these columns for a year, but it’s time to pass the baton so that someone else may contribute their thoughts to The Observer. I hope that my columns have helped you learn more about our aquifer, springs, rivers and the problems that plague them. Most of all, I hope the columns have inspired you to get involved with finding solutions to those problems.
The take-aways. Here’s a summary of what I hope are your take-aways from the past year.
We live in the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth, surrounded by more freshwater springs than anywhere else on the globe.
Our springs are economic, ecological and spiritual treasures—but the decisions we’re making and that our state agencies are making are damaging them.
Long-term trends show that groundwater levels and spring flows are declining and water pollution is increasing.
Every drop of water that we use is one less drop for our springs and rivers.
In our area, the porous limestone under our feet allows anything that reaches the ground to enter the aquifer that feeds our springs and provides our drinking water.
By not limiting the pollutants we’re allowing on the ground, we are using our aquifer, springs and rivers as sewers for waste that comes from septic tanks, agricultural and urban fertilizers, animal manure, wastewater spray fields, biosolids spreading areas, stormwater runoff, and pesticides.
We humans are interconnected with our springs, rivers and each other through the Floridan aquifer that provides our drinking water.
Our water problems are not scientific problems but people problems. Each of us is part of those problems, so each of us must be part of the solutions. (Remember that when we point one finger, several other fingers point back at us!)
Our water problems are also political problems. The governor of Florida appoints the people who make decisions about water use (the directors of the water management districts) and decisions about how Florida’s water laws are enforced (the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection). Elections matter.
The vision. How can we begin to reverse the damage? What is our vision for the future? Here’s my version.
We understand that a mindset of “us vs. them” will not solve our problems.
We collectively agree that the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth is worth saving. We are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do so.
We recognize that saving our springs—thereby saving the aquifer that provides our drinking water—requires profound changes in our behavior and in the culture that enables us to pollute and to use water faster than rainfall can replace it.
We realize that in the absence of visionary leaders, we are “it”—those behavioral and cultural changes are up to us. We accept personal responsibility for how we use water. We remember that silence means agreement with the status quo.
We know that since our water problems are multi-pronged, solutions must also be multi-pronged.
We encourage brainstorming, new questions, and bringing everyone to the table to identify creative solutions.
We adopt the guidelines for a Florida water ethic proposed by the Gainesville writer Cynthia Barnett:
  • Floridians value water, from appreciating local streams to being willing to pay an appropriate price for water.
  • We work together to pollute less and use less.
  • We try to keep water local in order to avoid the financial, environmental and energy costs of long-distance transfers.
  • We avoid the two big mistakes of our history:  over-tapping our natural supplies and over-relying on the costliest fixes that bring unintended consequences to future generations.
  • We leave water in nature—in aquifers, wetlands and rivers—so that our children and grandchildren, with benefit of time and evolving knowledge, can make their own decisions about water. 

We convince our water managers to adopt the Precautionary Principle:  In the absence of scientific agreement about the causes of or solutions to environmental problems, we choose the most conservative action—the action least likely to cause environmental harm. We remember that “conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root word.
We question whether we need changes to our laws. Should private property rights for a few trump long-term water security for all? Should we manage our water as a public trust, the same way we manage financial trust funds? Should our natural systems have legal rights to exist?
We remain conscious of the legacy we are leaving for our children. Taking a cue from the Native Americans, we consider the next seven generations when we make decisions about our water.
We educate ourselves about water issues and we vote wisely.
We agree that Water Is Life.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

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