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Have you seen these water trucks out?

  • Photographed through a rain-spattered windshield: drinking water tanker trucks heading west through Dublin. Curious Dubliners made inquiries and determined their origin. PHOTO BY FRANCIE VON MERTENS


Thursday, November 02, 2017

The big wind blew and suddenly the landscape is November bleak.

Or stark, a less depressive word.

There is bleak news out there that challenges the less depressive.

“Insect Armageddon” was the heading for a New York Times editorial on Monday. The editorial text actually warned of an “ecological Armageddon” but the headline writer softened the blow.

It cited a 25-year study throughout Germany that found a 76% decline in winged insects.

Likely main cause: pesticides, of course, from industrial-scale agriculture to homeowners with various poisons on our shelves. We are poisoning pollinators, key to the food chain, along with other insects essential to “ecosystem functioning and human well-being.” That’s a quote from the editorial citing a warning from 2014 related to another study. There have been many studies and many warnings.

Wildfires are in the news, accelerating release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Huge forests that act as carbon sinks are burning. Global warming brings climate disruption that brings droughts that bring wild fires.

Carbon dioxide levels just breached 410 parts per million—not reached in millions of years and certainly not in human history.

Anything above 350 ppm is risky business. That’s where we have arrived.

What do we as individuals do? We have to figure that out, as individuals.

Something I’m trying to figure out these past few days relates to the photo shown here that I took last week. I’d received emails about tanker trucks labeled “Drinking Water.”

First emails were from Dublin: trucks heavy with water, slowed by the steep incline on Route 101, traffic piling up behind them as they approached the traffic-calming roundabout — in view of Dublin town offices.

They return, empty, at normal speeds, to be refilled.

A Dublin Planning Board member called the state and found out the water extraction was in Peterborough under an Upland Farm Spring registration.

Peterborough town offices got the numbers from the state: over 2,000,000 gallons a month recently, a five- or six-fold increase from most years although there were some similar numbers some dozen years ago.

It’s the increase that has led to emails and phone calls.

To get a sense of volume, Peterborough’s daily average use of town water (residential and commercial) is 315,464 gallons per day. That’s about 9.5 millions gallons per month — compared with 2 million gallons per month hauled out of town. January and February amounts were well below the months that followed.

To get a statewide sense, there aren’t many large-scale commercial drinking water extractions in operation. A few larger and a few smaller. That’s about it from what I’ve been able to sort out.

Peterborough’s operation predates New Hampshire’s large groundwater withdrawal regulations, and therefore is grandfathered. There’s no amount limit. The reality, however, is that the state allows amounts beyond 2,000,000 gallons a month.

States, not towns, regulate water extraction, except in cases where there are safety concerns relating to traffic, or impacts on residential areas.

No taxes are paid on water extracted for sale. Trees yes (timber tax); water no.

You don’t have to look far to find people disturbed over water extractions in their towns — or oil, or gas, especially when accessed by hydraulic fracturing.

A few New Hampshire towns do have ordinances banning commercial water extraction based, I think, on the doctrine of public trust that dates back centuries. The state has applied that doctrine to water — the right to act in the public trust protecting a public resource by enacting protective laws relating to water.

I looked into it five years ago but ran out of energy when our town counsel advised our Select Board that towns don’t have that legal right — despite those few towns whose voters likely ignored that counsel.

There is a need for bottled water: firefighters as California burns; people whose wells have been contaminated by PFOA in Amherst and Bedford, among the many.

It’s saving lives in Puerto Rico right now.

I don’t know where our Peterborough water is going.

Always, it’s good for us to channel our concerns into action.

I wrote about one small step relating to water some years back after visiting Christine Destrempes’ installation at the Sharon Arts Center, an installation all about water that she has taken to galleries and college campuses. Christine, from Harrisville, is doing something about her concern for water, both local and worldwide.

I wrote: “Before it closes, be sure to visit the River of Words installation — and then sign the pledge that’s available there as your “Act of Green.” It’s a pledge to carry your own water bottle, filled with your own tap water.

“No more Fiji Water shipped from afar in stylish square plastic bottles that are added to the waste stream. Very contrary to a billion acts of green, a billion bottles of water are extracted, bottled, and then transported to be drunk in this country each week. Imagine diesel exhaust rising above cargo ships that carry plastics to the Fiji Islands and then bottled water from there to destinations around the Earth.

“I’ve taken the pledge to avoid all bottled or canned drinks. I carry my own water, often with an herbal tea bag in it to add flavor.

"Do visit Christine's exhibit at Sharon Arts. And do take the pledge. It's one small but significant step to decrease the human footprint. Non-partisan. Life-affirming."

I don't buy bottled water. Ever. I also lobby our Town House gang against having a case of bottled water at Town Meeting, available to anyone who can't last three hours without drinking water, and individual bottles placed at every town official's seat.

Small steps, but if everyone took them. . .