Editorial: We must act to protect our drinking water

06/09/2011 4:57 AM |

We’re very lucky to live in a place where water — the fresh kind, for drinking — is generally plentiful. We live in a maritime climate with no shortage of rain falling onto sandy soil that soaks it up like a sponge. Quality, not quantity, is the issue and has been since the landmark 208 study released in 1977 first identified threats to our surface waters and groundwater supplies.

Simply stated, all of us, humans and animals alike, are responsible for degrading our water supplies. Fortunately, it hasn’t reached crisis proportions, at least not yet.

As the story on page 1 reports, the problem is growing worse and can’t be reversed by accepting the status quo and hoping for the best.

The county Department of Health Services is close to completing a new comprehensive water resources management plan. We’ll have to wait until late summer, when the report is expected to be released, to discover what preventive, if not corrective, measures might be taken. Since there’s little to be done to limit the natural contaminants left behind by wildlife, the only option is to limit human impacts. That, unfortunately, raises the very thorny issue of adopting more restrictive land use policies. Not zoning, which local governments control, but the health department’s rules, specifically relating to wastewater disposal systems.

It’s also clear that out here there’s no popular support for new public sewer systems, nor is there funding available. It all boils down, then, to new regulations for individual home septic systems. But significant changes there will undoubtedly be met with swift and spirited opposition from development and construction interests.

The question then becomes, what’s the price of inaction? Could we indeed face “serious problems” with our drinking water by mid-century, as environmental advocates predict?

There’s too much unquestioned science behind those predictions to brush them off as environmental extremism. We know that’s not the case. Doing nothing is not an option. Either our water will be there when we need it or it won’t. The choice, and the responsibility, is ours.