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Water = Life

Is this an identity? I am pretty sure that Life = f(water, z) where z is a vector of factors. It may surely be the case that water enters this function multiplicitively but with a coefficient of 1?

Of course, this is the new sign that is popular around my part of the world (and maybe yours too). As you by now know, New York State is about to give the go ahead to allow fracking for gas under a tight regulatory program (seems sensible). The fractivists of course do not wish to see any of this development happen at all, regardless of its safety. So, here is a sign I was sitting in front of while walking the northern shore of Honeoye Lake the other day:

Let’s not discuss the particulars of fracking here. The point today, as in most days, is even simpler. This house, you see, sits right on the water (across a very small access road) of Honeoye Lake. While for us up in Rochester our water comes from nearby Hemlock and Canadice Lakes and also from Lake Ontario, I suspect for families around this lake they are getting their water from wells or right from Honeoye Lake. Of course people want their water to be clean and safe. I suppose that by posting this it means that I hope for dirty water to kill and maim lots of people.

But as those anti-fracking signs proliferate around Honeoye Lake and nearby where I live, here is what is actually going on right beneath everyone’s noses (and noses I mean, this literally stinks):

Yep, that’s a blue-green algae bloom. And this picture was taken less than 100 yards from the one taken above. Not only does it stink, the stuff is toxic. It is in fact so toxic that some folks believe that their dogs have been killed from swimming in water where this algae is or recently was in bloom. We did not know about this until we showed up for a swim at the park on Honeoye, which is one of the nicer in the Finger Lakes. Right next to the water=life sign we then saw this:

Why do we have blue-green algae blooms? While this particular bacteria has been around for millenia, the increasing prevalence of blooms in our area and in lakes across the country has been due to … fracking …farming and sewer systems. The massive amounts of phosphorous and other nutrients that run off from farms and many residential “farmers” (remember that lawn grass is America’s largest crop) along with the runoff from sewage treatment plants and even rainwater runoff coupled with warm summer temperatures allow this bacteria to flourish. As some of my readers know, the Finger Lakes area is perhaps New York State’s premier farming area, so the cows and crops are surely to blame for a good portion of this problem. And the damage caused by this algae dwarfs the damage caused by fracking (again, more on that in the future posts – I have one paper showing adverse effects on health in a sample of wells, and many papers indicating the drilling is safe). This algae kills marine life. The water is not swimmable for people or animals. It is very hard to treat and clean. It is ugly. It stinks like … (insert your favorite expression here).

Yet I have never in my life seen a single sign that says “Water = Life, stop those farmers!” Or “water = life, citizens against stormwater runoff.” Yet the risks to health and safety caused by these crush the potential risks from fracking. Further, while we clearly do get a benefit from farmers using fertilizers (less land use required to grow our food) and from treating our sewage, the benefits of substituting coal fired power plants with gas fired ones are orders of magnitudes higher. But it’s much easier to slap a one-liner catchy slogan in your yard demonizing “those outsider evil energy development firms” (whose owners and employees clearly don’t live here and who clearly want your water to be unhealthy) than it is to put up detailed information about your neighbors that are actually the major reasons your water is at risk. It’s especially hard to put up signs right next to these (which now proliferate the Finger Lakes area too):

Well, the farms are certainly keeping New York green. It’s too bad few people stop to recognize it.

(Yes, for the algae to grow the water needs to be warm, so there will surely be individuals who will “blame” the increased amount of blooms on global warming; when the NOAA’s site stops being cranky I will put up a post on the historical temperatures in our region). This whole thing reminds me of the mid-20th century radical environmental movement that suppressed the evidence that tobacco smoking caused cancer and instead frightened the world with stories of huge percentages of Americans dying from exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals. The cancer epidemic never came even as millions died from lung cancer.

4 Responses to “Water = Life”

  1. Harry says:

    Let’s deal with this first thing that washed up on the beach. It does not look like blue-green algae to me. Might be something else, and may be something I have seen before, but it is not blue-green algae. Blue-green algae is something you view along with the rotifers with your first microscope, along with the planaria.

    OK, WC, things looked purple, and it may have been from too many people fertilizing their lawns with phosphates, or maybe by washing their clothes. On my way to your place last year, I passed several farms that had many cows that I am sure produced many tons of organic waste, much of it nitrogen. Shame on any farmer who does not plow or disck that down.

    Wintercow raises a great complex question to us all: Did the cows, or the people cause the blue-green algae to profilerate, if it did? Are the rich people in New York City to solve this problem on their own, given their moral committments? What are the solutions to this lake’s algae problems? Should they solve their own problems, or should they ask people from a neighboring state, or a neighboring country (France? Greece? Spain?) to help?

    I have a predisposition for the cows, but I am partial. Having planted corn myself, one was always stingy with fertilizer, putting it exactly where the roots would grow, Yes, I saw more than one cow urinate in the creek, and exactly one out of a thousand, maybe in 1962, do a cow flop, but cows are not the cause of all our ills.

    Philadelphia takes its water from the Schuykill River, processed by the Water Works. When I am in Philadelphia, I do not buy Pelligrino, but drink Philadelphia water, but not much — secure that they have purified it from the deer pellets upstream.

  2. Harry says:

    My phone still gives me one contact a day, and no comments, Alex

    • aarmlovi says:

      Dammit Harry! I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve set it up to challenge IP addresses from the Spamhaus and Project Honeypot blacklists, but as long as you pass the Captcha (the prompt to type in funny-looking letters that computers can’t read), you should be fine. I’ll double-check the setup.

  3. jb says:

    Good post. The point that farmers pollute the environment is an excellent example to point to when reminding knee-jerk luddites that progress involves trade-offs. (No doubt there is a hypocrite somewhere driving a car with a bumper sticker that says “water = life”, and a second bumper sticker with the infamous “no farms, no food”.

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