Marsh Creek, a short distance from my home, is bloated like a certain writer who has partaken overmuch of turkey and ice cream at a family dinner. Rain pours down on the tableau, filling the myriad tributaries that flow into the creek like an array of gravy and soup bowls, each adding ingredients they have collected from minor hills and valleys in the larger creek’s watershed.
Just over a week ago, a snowstorm laid a biodegradable covering across the scene. Now the rain melds it into the water that is its main ingredient, expanding the creek to a degree the spring and summer feeder streams will not.
My canoe cries out from the back yard. Oh, if the water could be warmer, but all that snow-melt makes me willing to wait a bit.
It’s amazing to watch the rush of clean water coursing toward the Atlantic Ocean, and more amazing to think of people in our nation of equality and plenty who do not have access to their own supply.
Such as those in Flint, Michigan, where the town’s only real industry left town, taking with it millions of tax dollars for which it had once loudly taken credit. Anyone who has lived to the limits of a good job, and suddenly been unemployed, knows the feeling. It happens to towns and cities as well as individual families.
So Michigan’s governor appointed a manager, who changed Flint’s water source from Detroit to the Flint River, because polluted water was cheaper than the clean stuff. For much of the past year, those Flint residents who had not fled when the car-maker did complained about the water, but those in charge of the money paid no heed. So what if it looked and tasted bad. Until the national news discovered a story in lead-poisoned children.
Meanwhile, Duke Energy had been piling coal ash generated by its electricity generating plant on the Dan River, near Eden, North Carolina. On Feb. 2, 2014, as the nation was making itself comfortable with beer, chips and Super Bowl 48, the dam holding the Duke Energy coal ash in place failed, dumping nearly 39,000 tons of muddy ash and 24 million gallons of wastewater – a concentrated slurry of heavy metals such as lead and mercury – into the Dan River.
In 2008, a similar spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority electricity generation plant in Kingston, Tenn. poured billions of gallons of sludge onto homes, property and the Clinch and Emory rivers. Much of what could be recovered was shoveled onto trains and hauled to Uniontown, Alabama – a town of low employment and lower wages. Leaders of its largely African-American population tout the few million dollars in dumping fees added to their government coffers. What effect the mountain of ash will have on their children is not yet clear.
In parts of Ohio, the upper tier of Pennsylvania and numerous poor towns in south Texas, people with relatively little money are told if they will put up with the inconvenience, they will get money for motorhomes and travel while frackers leave their waste, some in “accidental” spills, all potentially hazardous to kids.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how we Americans seem to think of those who are Not-Us. It would be convenient to frame it in terms of Black vs. White, but it actually is happening in the context of “It’s not happening here, so it’s not happening.”
As I drive along the banks and bends of Marsh Creek, with its free-running supply of clean, safe water, I cannot help thinking no one will be quietly dumping coal ash near the homes along its path. But water pays no attention to boundaries established by route numbers and mortgage values.
Whether the pollution is dumped in our water, or our water is used to replace that destroyed by industrial events hundreds of miles away, continuing dumping our effluent on the poorest among us eventually will drown us all.