Something in the Water

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If you’ve been following the toxic water scare in Toledo, then you were probably as relieved as we were to know that it has finally ended. The crisis has us all thinking about just how important water is and what we can do to protect it.

First, to get a comprehensive understanding of the situation in Toledo, check out Audrey Quinn and Jackie Roche’s fantastic comic (don’t be fooled, it’s no Family Circus) in which they explain how “a perfect storm of climate change paired with new farming practices ” brought about the same toxic blue-green algae to Lake Erie in 2011.

Tom Philpott of Mother Jones is quick to remind us that though the current crisis in Toledo is over, the city (and others like it) are not completely in the clear. As Philpott explains, our current farming system is fraught with inefficiencies that lead to high levels of fertilizer runoff into our our waterways:

The ties between ‘Big Ag’ and Toledo's rough weekend are easy to tease out. "The Maumee River drains more than four million acres of agricultural land and dumps it into Lake Erie at the Port of Toledo," the Wall Street Journal reports. More than 80 percent of the Maumeee River watershed is devoted to agriculture, mainly the corn-soy duopoly that carpets the Midwest. Fertilizer and manure runoff from the region's farms feed blue-green algae blooms in the southwest corner of Lake Erie, from which Toledo draws its water."

It seems that without some big overhauls to agricultural practices, Lake Erie (and plenty of other U.S. drinking water sources) are just one fertilizer application away from turning green all over again.

And, unfortunately, another aspect of industrial farming reared its head this week: pesticides. John Upton recently reported for the Pacific Standard that a new study found a large frequency of neonicotinoid pesticides (the same ones that are killing off butterflies and bees) in waterways of agricultural areas in the the Midwest. The concentrations found were very high, but their effects are widely unknown according to government officials. Upton sums up the frustrating reality of the pesticide industry:

Given the EPA’s lackadaisical disregard for the precautionary principle in pesticide permitting, and explosive growth in the use of these chemicals on American farms, it seems the answers to these questions will be found in the environment—not just inside laboratories."

Clean water is vital for our survival, and it seems like we are not being as conscious of that fact as we could be. But there is still hope and still time to make changes! In an op-ed for the New York Times, David S. Beckman, former director of NRDC’s water program, and current executive director of the Pisces Foundation, wrote about the problems of our waterways, the progress that we have made in the past, and solutions to our currently mounting problems.

It’s up to all of us to do what we can to protect our waterways, Warriors!

PHOTO: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Sources:

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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