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  • Relying on clean water
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  • Tainting our aquifer defies common sense

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    Letters to the Editors

    Tainting our aquifer defies common sense

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


    Re: Aquifer may get tainted water, April 12.

    Once again, short-sighted legislators and big money interests have formed an unholy alliance to pass a piece of legislation that cuts costs but defies common sense. I am referring to the bill that will allow tainted water to be pumped into the Floridan Aquifer. Sen. Jack Latvala reduces his defense of the bill to the so-called "real question" of whether we ought to clean the water up when we put it in the aquifer and again when we extract it, or if we should only decontaminate the extracted water. I would like to propose that the real question is whether we ought to save money now in order to make Sen. Latvala a more attractive candidate, or if we want to pay twice as much to decontaminate our water supply in the future when the issue may no longer be the senator's problem.

    While realizing that the true motivation for support of the bill is a matter of speculation and will vary from senator to senator, it is better to think they were driven to vote "yes" for purely political reasons. Why? Because the alternative is to assume that they are brick stupid. Pro-contamination arguments cited in the article ranged from the ridiculous, ("they were convinced that scientists would one day prove that bacteria and coliform would die off underground"), to the absurd, ("I don't believe we are going to do anything to the water. . . . If we do, I'll be the first to apologize"). Spurning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations, these legislators would apparently prefer to base their decisions on unproven theories and advance apologies.

    Our elected representatives should go into their communities and ask their constituents one simple question: "Would you like more bacteria in your drinking water? Yes or no?" I believe the results of that exercise might help them to put both their decisions and their political futures into a whole new perspective.
    -- Carol Schiffler, St. Petersburg

    Basic wisdom is bypassed

    Re: Injecting untreated waste water into the state's aquifer.

    It is bad enough to have some Florida legislators and a governor with questionable cerebral contents. Now they want to fill our water supply with coliform and various other bacteria that come from fecal matter and other noxious, infectious materials. What is in their heads? Is this plan a clue?

    Furthermore, they purport to "know" that this sludge, slime and scum, which we have spent 10,000 years or so of hygienic progress to keep out of our bodies if not our lives, will die off in the aquifer. However, these lawmakers of ours cannot explain how this happens. Yet, they somehow know.

    Are we supposed to trust their intuition? What is going on here? Is this magic or madness? Every language in the world has an axiom regarding such an issue. I shall couch it in polite English. Never defecate where you eat or drink.
    -- Charles L. Sodaro, Tarpon Springs

    The risk is too great

    Re: With such wisdom, who needs guarantees?, by Howard Troxler, April 13, and Aquifer may get tainted water, April 12.

    Surely this is madness! Pump untreated human and animal waste into our aquifer? Where it will supposedly form a nice storage bubble we can clean up tidily when we need it? I am horrified. Why do I think of silicon breast implants and storage barrels at Love Canal? Because they were treated as safe, trust-worthy containers, too. But they leaked; they ruined people's lives; they ruined environments (the body also is an environment); they cost millions to clean up even partially.

    Elsewhere in the world, scientists and informed groups are adopting the Precautionary Principle as the wise, safe way to proceed in such instances. Here's the principle as defined by scientist Sandra Steingraber: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof" (from Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer & the Environment, 1997).

    Why does Sen. Jack Latvala call the outcry over this risk-laden proposed measure "much ado about nothing"? Potable water, clean springs we aren't afraid to swim in -- these suggest what's at stake here. In most of the world, especially where water-borne diseases and parasites plague populations, these things are not regarded as "nothing."

    The "real question," says Latvala, is should we clean the water twice -- going in and coming out? I'd suggest the "real question" is considerably more serious. Do we ruin pristine communal water in our state with the false economy of only cleaning it once -- after we've perhaps irretrievably sullied it? Are we completely satisfied that no harm will be done by this infusion of waste into the aquifer to other life forms (such as turtles, fish, manatees, other water-dependent life), let alone to humans when we try to make it drinkable?

    "Much ado about nothing"? Please think again, legislators. Unless you responsibly proceed with fully informed precaution, dumping tainted water into our aquifer sounds far too costly. It sounds, in fact, like a painfully bad joke on the public you are sworn to serve.
    -- Nancy Corson Carter, St. Petersburg

    Leaders overlook reality

    Re: With such wisdom, who needs guarantees?, April 13.

    Howard Troxler expressed my astonishment perfectly! Is this the latest version of accountability: "I'll be the first to apologize."

    To play recklessly with our aquifer, which is "the largest underground supply of fresh water in the world" and the primary source of freshwater for the state, is unconscionable. This quote, by the way, comes from an article in the St. Petersburg Times, Floridian Section of June 20, 1995, which also asked, "Water shortage? What water shortage?" Obviously, the writing was on the wall many years ago, yet our leaders refuse to acknowledge the reality.
    -- Alberta Beversdorf, Port Richey

    A not-so-bright idea

    A few months ago, Sixty Minutes did a story about a small Far-Eastern country that I had never heard of. This country is governed by a committee whose duty it is to provide certain "needs" that the people of this country deem necessary. The No. 1 "need" these people deemed necessary was clean water.

    Now here in Florida, we have a governor who wants to experiment with our clean water by polluting it and hoping that it will clean itself later. Something is wrong with this picture. He has already allowed more air pollution by doing away with auto emissions testing (which I "fume" about daily as I travel behind more and more smoke-emitting cars), and now he labels federal clean-water rules "nonsensical" because they don't want him to pollute clean water?

    I had heard that the Bush who is president is supposed to be the one who is "not so bright," but now I'm really baffled. I hope that the "not so bright" one in Washington tells the "bright one" in Tallahassee to go do his experimenting back in Texas. We surely don't need it here.
    -- L.A. McCloud, Gulfport

    Looking for help to do it fast and cheap

    Re: EPA isn't helping, Bush tells president, April 14.

    Having our governor try to get his brother to loosen the EPA rules on aquifer storage and recovery of untreated surface water is just another example of his recklessness and irresponsibility.

    First it was the headlong rush, which he opposed (wink, wink), to politicize Florida's higher education system. Then it was dollar-for-dollar tax breaks in favor of private schools, which still don't have to meet the same standards as public schools. Now it's this!

    The EPA wants Florida to test the idea first and see if all the fecal coliform bacteria actually die underground and whether or not the water is really recoverable, and whether it will pollute the aquifer despite their best hopes. Our governor seems headstrong and rash, and now that someone wants to make him do it the smart way, he wants to get his big brother to make them lay off so he can do it fast and cheap.
    -- Chris Woodard, Tampa

    Bush has it backward

    Let me get this straight now! Jeb Bush declares EPA rules "nonsensical." He says this with no trace of humor when surely he must be kidding.

    The most casual acquaintance with elementary science would have helped Jeb to see that the problem is the other way around. The plan to place impure water in the aquifer is the "nonsense."

    Jeb's acceptance of a leadership role here instead of lying down in front of the Legislature would be welcome indeed.
    -- Doug Nessle, Dunedin

    Remember those thirsty visitors

    This water shortage is somewhat like when we residents had emission tests on our vehicles, yet the winter visitors had none for several months of driving down here!

    Now, take the water shortage. How many gallons of our water do these winter folks (snowbirds) use up?

    Well, soon they will head back up to the Great Lakes. No shortage there and no rate increase either. Maybe if they would each bring a truckload of snow or water with them next year, it might cover the water they use here, and we'd have no shortages.
    -- George Pollock, Largo

    An almost-forgotten word

    At last! I have finally seen in print, regarding our energy "crisis," that almost-forgotten word, "conservation," (An energy strategy by Gregg Easterbrook, April 1). It certainly is a word that has been obliterated from George W's agenda, which would rape, for a mere pittance of oil, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, put more pollutants into the air, accelerate global warming, ad nauseam. There are other ways and better ways.

    What happened to solar power . . . the research into and implementation of? What happened to those age-old admonitions to turn off lights when not in use? Could we not use manual can openers instead of electric? Could not the utility companies, instead of almost doubling rates as they recently did in California, reduce rates for consumers who can reduce usage of kilowatt hours? We could also address the problem of our deteriorating mass public transportation system. And finally, if all else fails, we could bring back into our vocabulary another idea not talked about since World War II: gas rationing! It helped us win that war and might help us win this energy war, an additional benefit being greater health as we walk more and use our wheels less.

    Of course, none of the above will put money into the coffers of the oil companies who support George W's agenda, but these measures may go a way in saving our planet, and, as a card I just received said "We have got to save this planet. It's the only one that has chocolate on it!"
    -- Sue Bogart, Dunedin

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