Sunday, July 05, 2009

Good Well Water

Everyone has the right to clean, potable water. Even people in the United States using well water. This is not a fact, or ideology, or belief, or some mental quirk or disposition of mine. No reasonable person can argue this point reasonably.

However, “There are no statewide or county laws that require testing of wells in Monroe County, and no enforceable water-quality standards that apply to private supplies.” (6/03/ 09 Democrat and Chronicle) So, the issue about getting clean, potable drinking well water from a well is somehow different from drinking municipal waters, which do have an enforceable standard. There, as it seems, is the rub.

Several assumptions apparently provide the basis for the state of New York allowing one set of residents to be under the regulatory umbrella for clean drinking water and another who are on their own. Caveat emptor: or rather, let the drinkers beware if they aren’t hooked up to public waters.

Assumption One: “Water gotten from the ground is more pure, tastes better, and toxin free.” But, that view is outdated. “More than 51,000 private wells in New Jersey have been tested since this first-in-the-nation law went into effect in 2002, and 12 percent of them were found to be contaminated with at least one pollutant, according to state officials.” (6/08/09 Democrat and Chronicle) There’s no reason to think that New York State wells would not produce figures just as grisly. Let’s test all our wells and find out.

Assumption Two: “There are already plenty of recommendations and guidelines for well users, so there’s no need for another litigious intervention into our lives.” That’s true; there is no lack of information provided by state officials on guideless for safe, potable, drinking water from New York State wells. Find out about New York State guidelines on Drinking Water Protection Program and especially Appendix 5-B: Standards for Water Wells and Supplemental Information and also, from the DEC Water Well Program - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. But, there were guidelines for lead poisoning in homes and they were largely ignored until laws for lead abatement came about. Millions of children grew up poisoned by lead.

Assumption Three: “If your well water is not potable, simply buy bottled water.” The bottled water industry, which grows exponentially as our wells fail, loves that. They are reaping the benefits of this assumption by taking your water (from our lakes and streams) and selling it back to you at a far higher price that you are paying for gasoline. Related is the issue that most bottled water comes in plastic containers that get land filled and leach into our ground water because the bottled water people spend millions lobbying against recycling laws that would include these plastic containers.

Assumption Four: “If you pass a law that every well must be regulated by the state, then there will be a great confusion as to who pays for cleaning up the bad wells.” Of course, in our country the burden of proof is put on the victim, therefore it seems obvious that well users should just put up with the risk. However, in a world of manmade pollution (pesticides, agricultural overflows, landfills, brownfields we aren’t cleaning up, gasoline additives, old dumps, old orchards that were heavily sprayed with chemicals) and natural contaminants (heavy metals and arsenic) it’s an unrealistic and unfair burden to place on well users. We have for too long allowed the practice of using our planet as a dump. We stopped the practice of throwing our garbage out the windows into our streets as we did until recent times, and we can stop allowing dangerous waste into the very ground we get our water.

Assumption Five: “It’s too expensive.” That’s not an argument, that’s a detail for economists. Bankers since all those deregulations figured out how to make billions from nothing: they can use their big brains to figure out how to get all our wells tested. Besides, think of the wonderful database that would be available about the true picture of our ground pollution if we regulated wells as we do our municipal drinking water.

There are probably a lot of other assumptions as to why we don’t regulate well water. But, at the end of the day, they’re bad assumptions. By not regulating our wells and mandating that they we tested thoroughly and often we blind ourselves to the extent of our pollution. That may please our present polluters; but it only ratchets up the amount of toxins in our water. Like with many other environmental issues, we are confusing our past ideas of individual rights and the specter of Big Government lording over our lives with what we are learning about the wholesale effects of our way of living on our environment. Pollution eventually goes somewhere—into our air, our ground, water, our children, and our future—it does not just magically disappear. If we don’t start understanding that a sustainable environment is not only a right, but the foundation of our existence, we are going to go the way of the dodo bird.

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