Earth

Every mountain, every valley, every creek on this Earth is home to creatures, organisms and spirits that have roamed the Earth a good deal longer than we have.

And yet it is we who have been gifted with the power to preserve, destroy, or restore. We are the ones who must choose. What will we create, as our legacy to the future?

 

Ten Ways to Keep Pollutants Out of the Water

First published in Corporate Knights, September 2005.

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”
Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

1. Keep Your Household Pollutants Out of the Water
It’s so easy to be thoughtless. The paint-thinner you pour down the drain; the fertilizer that leaches into the storm drain. It doesn’t go “away”. It all ends up in someone else’s home: a river, lake or ocean where fish and other marine creatures have lived for aeons. Some of our chemicals twist their hormonal systems, and turn male fish into females. How would you like it if they poured their wastes down your chimney? Practice green housekeeping: it’ll give you cleaner water, and healthier fish. See www.protectingwater.com/storm-drains.html

2. Keep Your Business Pollutants Out of the Water
“ Can you hose that spilt antifreeze down the drain, Joe?” For millions of years, our waste was organic, and nature disposed of it easily (with help from the bears). Today, we use chemicals everywhere, and when we’re careless, they end up in the water. Lead, cadmium, zinc, perchloroethylene, oil, grease. If your business doesn’t have a pollution prevention program, and use closed loop systems, it’s part of the problem. Smart cities such as Halifax and Victoria have introduced source control programs to help you clean up your act. But why wait for them? See www.protectingwater.com/business.html

3. Protect Your Creeks, Streams, Wetlands and Marshes
When pollution gets into a river or stream, the vegetation along the bank works to filter it out: if there is any vegetation, that is. So do wetlands, swamps and marshes. Nature tries its hardest to clean up our pollution, but when we drain the wetlands, farm right to up to the river’s edge, and clear the shoreline vegetation to make way for homes and boats, we make it impossible for nature to do her job. We should always leave good-sized buffer strips, so that she can carry on doing what comes naturally. See www.livingbywater.ca

4. Farm the Land Sustainably
Remember, before it was a farm, it was probably a forest, or a prairie. In both instances, deep roots held the soil together, and slowed the flow of the rain, keeping soil and sediment out of the rivers. When farmers embrace sustainable farming, with ponds and wetlands, cover crops, contour farming, and conservation tillage, ideally with organic methods, they prevent agricultural runoff and herbicides from entering the creeks, rivers, and groundwater. Remember Walkerton? See www.protectingwater.com/agriculture.html

5. Practice Watershed Stewardship
There’s nothing more eye-opening than for a class of students to create a model of their local watershed, fill in the forests, farms and factories, and see where the water flows. Then to go out and paint fish by the storm drains, because they have understood what’s happening. Community watershed stewardship groups can educate the public, train their members how to test the water for contaminants, monitor for endocrine disrupters, and generally act as the eyes, heart and brain of the watershed.
See www.watershedstewardship.ca and www.stewardshipcentre.bc.ca

6. Phase Out Coal-Burning Power Plants
Coal? What’s that got to do with water? When coal burns, it releases mercury that’s been locked up for millions of years. The mercury falls into lakes and rivers, where it can turn into methyl mercury, and be swallowed by fish, birds, and humans. It takes only one gram of mercury to contaminate a 20 acre lake to levels where fish are unsafe for consumption. The coal has to go; also because of global climate change, and smog. See www.pollutionprobe.org/Happening/june11-03.htm

7. Keep the Drugs out of the Water
You’d be astonished at what’s getting into the water, that’s not being caught by sewage treatment. Birth control hormones, tranquillizers, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, Prozac, chemotherapy agents; probably Viagra, too. The entire North Sea contains measurable quantities of clofibric acid, used to control cholesterol. Hospitals are a major source of the problem. Whatever you do, don’t flush unwanted drugs down the toilet. This is a new problem that we’ve hardly begun to address. Membrane bioreactors and charcoal filters are called for. See www.rachel.org/bulletin/bulletin.cfm?Issue_ID=501

8. Crack Down on Illegal Discharges
Over 360 chemical compounds have been found in the Great Lakes, many of which are persistent toxic chemicals. Various species of fish now suffer from tumours and lesions, and their reproductive capacities are decreasing. Over the past 30 years, however, the sensible use of regulations has caused PCB and DDT levels in seagulls to fall. Good governance is essential. Governments should demand mandatory groundwater testing around industrial activities, and the pre-treatment of industrial wastes; use the precautionary principle for all new and existing chemicals; and impose higher fines, that are meaningful. See www.ec.gc.ca/water/en/manage/poll/e_regs.htm

9. Create a Clean Water Legacy
What do you do when the damage is done, and you want to get the pollutants out of the water? Minnesota is facing this challenge. 40% of its lakes and rivers are polluted with human and animal waste, algae from too much phosphorus, mercury, and various toxins. Clean Water Action, a local non-profit, is proposing a Clean Water Legacy program which will raise $80 million a year by imposing a $3 monthly fee on municipal sewer hook-ups and septic systems (with waivers for low income families), and tiered fees for businesses. They would use the money to clean up all the polluted lakes, rivers and streams, and prevent future water pollution. Just $3 a month to clean all Minnesota’s waters? That has to be the best deal in town. See www.cleanwateraction.org/mn/cwl.html

10. Sail the Seven Seas Cleanly
A boat can be a filthy thing, when its owners toss their garbage overboard, flush their sewage, and empty their bilges into the ocean. Just half a litre of oil can pollute a whole acre of surface water. A marina can be even worse, with its fuel spills, sprayed off paint residues from cleaning, and the use of toxic anti-fouling paint. So go green! Sail clean! And live forever free! (of pollution). See www.georgiastrait.org/greenboating.php

Guy Dauncey is President of the BC Sustainable Energy Association (www.bcsea.org) and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change (New Society Publishers). His website is www.earthfuture.com.