“War on coal” ends, water is the new target

Coal train exits a mountain tunnel near Hometown, PA.I woke early Tuesday morning, to the sound of July thunder, and the splattering of humungous raindrops on the roof above my pillow. In my childhood memories, the lake ice is becoming unsafe to walk on. Soon it will turn to crystals that tinkle in the waves of a light spring breeze. One morning soon, the first loon of the year will issue the celebratory call announcing open water.

I would go to school one morning and the lake would be half blanketed in ice. By mid-afternoon, it would be gone. I never picked the right day to see it happen. Old timers used to tell us kids the ice didn’t actually melt in springtime; it just sank to the bottom of the pond. I believed that, for a time. After all, if you can’t trust the old timers, who can you trust?

It’s all a dream, of course. My now favorite lake for canoeing and kayaking, Long Pine Reservoir, is not frozen. If it was at all this winter, I missed it.

And the water is low, about 12 feet below normal, leaving the shores lying nude in the mostly snowless winter sun. The walk is about 50-to-100 feet farther than usual between where I must park my Outback and where I can put the kayak in the water.

Chambersburg Director of Utilities Lance Anderson told me the pond was down some 26 feet during the drought of 2001-2002. I remember stories of dry wells filled local newspapers. Well drillers made money deepening the holes in their search for the precious fluid.

Though there is more water visible this year, our county and the one to our west were placed under drought watch in November. Although Adams and York counties were removed from the list last month, Franklin County remains in drought watch. It’s amazing how a row of mountains can have such radically different weather on each side of the ridge, and it takes time for the rain to drain off the mountains, into the reservoir.

“The water doesn’t disappear overnight,” Anderson said, “and it doesn’t come back overnight.”

After this winter, it may not come back at all as abundantly as it has. We experienced little snow, and though there has been rain, there have been inches less this month than we should normally have expected.

Nearer where I live, Gettysburg Municipal Authority Utilities Manager Mark Guise assured me there is plenty of water in the authority’s five wells.

“Marsh Creek water actually is going over the dam,” he said, adding, “From the dam upstream the creek is fully charged.”

“Trees use a lot of the ground water up,” Guise added. “Even though we get some spring rains, it doesn’t take long for it to dry up.”

It is good to know our water supplies are at least adequate to keep the liquid flowing from our faucets and flushing away our waste. It is easy to not think much of the couple hundred gallons of the stuff we each consume every day.

My beverage of choice is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Sometimes, in my more thoughtful reverie, I wonder how it is that two gasses combine to make a liquid – one that when it freezes becomes a solid less dense than the liquid from which it derives.

Tuesday, President Trump declared, “The United States is putting an end to the war on coal.”

I wonder how long it will be until the reservoir does not refill in the spring, and we discover the collateral damage of war on water.

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