Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. Just as religions do – they all contain truths. —Muhammad Ali
I was standing outside with the Tipster this morning waiting on her bus in the rain. As we stood there, huddled under my umbrella, she noticed the water running off the side. Being the silly little six-year-old that she is, she tipped her head back so that the top of her head was exposed to the rain.
“What are you doing?” I asked in a rather incredulous tone. As with many six-year-olds, getting her ready for school this morning was a trying set of circumstances and I really wasn’t in the mood for nonsense.
“I’m drinking the rain off the umbrella,” she giggled.
I pulled her back up under the umbrella with a warning, “You don’t want to do that.”
She’s six. She’s not going to let a statement like that go unchallenged. So, naturally, her response was, “Why?”
What came out of my mouth was, “Because the cats have been all over it,” which is a cop-out because the cats have been all over everything in our house. What I really meant, though, was something more like, “I have no idea what the Ph balance of the rainwater here is and given all the manufacturing on this side of town I’m not sure any of the rainwater is safe without some form of filtering.” That version would have gone right over her little head, though. Cats are much more relatable.
If you’ve driven around Indianapolis lately, you’ve probably seen the billboards and/or heard the radio ads from Citizens Energy, the company that manages and oversees the Indianapolis water supply. The ad campaign has been an attempt to garner public support and understanding for a proposed rate increase to water bills in the areas that Citizens covers. The situation, as presented by Citizens, sounds dier. Some pipes are over 100 years old and much of the original infrastructure is crumbling. Replacing all those pipes is expensive. The plan worked. Yesterday, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) approved a rate hike that will increase the average residential water bill by $5 a month starting in May.
The rate hike doesn’t actually ensure that the water we receive through our taps is any cleaner when it leaves the treatment facility, but that it’s less likely to be contaminated between there and your home. In short, what the rate hike does is help prevent Indianapolis and the surrounding areas from experiencing a water disaster like what happened with Flint, Michigan. Clean water passing through aging pipes is about as dangerous as, well, drinking water falling off an umbrella. All manners of nasty chemicals leach into the water supply with no means of control.
As Americans, we take the quality and ubiquity of our water supply for granted. Almost everyone alive today has grown up with running water. We are accustomed to turning a knob and having the water flow at quantities and pressures we could take for granted. That’s why Flint’s water crisis was so alarming. We, as a general populace, weren’t even aware that such a disaster could happen.
Scientist and climatologists have been warning us for years, though, that our supply of drinking water is becoming increasingly unsafe. As with most matters of earth science, no one wants to listen. The stories are of gradual decline, of a slow erosion that isn’t necessarily evident every time one looks out the window. In 1990, the Acid Rain Program was created as part of the Clean Air Act, but corporate and industrial opposition to the limits established by those laws has been severe and through continued lobbying the laws have been diminished to the point they’re hardly recognizable.
Keeping our drinking water clean is neither cheap nor easy. Earlier this month, Citizens was happy to announce that, “… drinking water produced at all of the utility’s treatment plants is safe …” but that announcement didn’t come until after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding an area downtown to its list of superfund sites. Being on this list allows federal funds to be used in cleaning up the area. Two of Citizens’ wellfield areas, along Riverside and 16th streets, would be included in that cleanup. Until then, anything from those wellfields has to go through extra treatment before it’s ready to be consumed.
Spring is deceptive in its ability to make everything look so clean and pure. We just assume that what we drink and sprinkle over our gardens is healthy and safe. A major effort is required to keep us as safe as we think we are, though, and your Indiana state legislature isn’t helping any. Bills attempting to eliminate or significantly limit the EPA’s rules, especially those regarding groundwater, are frequently introduced and there is a vocal lobbying effort to prohibit all EPA legislation completely.
As beautiful a state as Indiana could be, you’d think we’d value our natural resources more and want to keep them clean, but apparently that’s not necessarily the case across the board. Some would rather indulge the continued dumping of raw sewage and spew horrible chemicals into the air. What may seem harmless to some, eventually impacts us all. Rain eventually falls and little girls try to drink the rain from their umbrellas.
You would think such an act would be innocent and safe. It should be.