Rain and Clean Water: Purifying the Mind, Cleansing the Body
The following is excerpted from Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth, available from Dream River Press.
Draining the Fountain of Life
Here in America, we take water for granted...for now. Turn on a faucet in our homes and there it flows. It's easy to convince ourselves it is in abundance. Whether for baths, showers, cooking, gardening, and landscaping or livestock and crop irrigation, water flows from underneath the soil to the surface with a little electricity and a simple turning of a valve. As we continue to exhaust below-ground aquifers, streams, and lakes, we will soon be faced with a need for other means to draw our water.
We now know that less than 3% of the world water supply is fresh water, since 97% is salt water. Much of that is frozen or out of our reach. Scientists claim our drinking water supply is closer to 1% of the entire water on the planet.
Today, the Nile, Colorado, and Yellow Rivers no longer flow to the ocean. The longest river in the world (the Nile) can no longer find its way to the ocean! And yet, we continue as if all is well with our water supply. Where creeks and streams once ran full of life, there are now only dried veins stitched into the Earth's flesh.
Yes, we are feeding and clothing the world, but as irrigation systems continue to pump and pump and pump, we are depleting our future water supply. If agriculture truly consumes 80-85% of this nation's fresh water for crops and livestock, and the Ogallala aquifer (stretching from South Dakota to Texas) really is being depleted at a rate 160% greater than its recharge rate, we are heading irrevocably into a natural disaster.1 We are creating the unthinkable -- complete destruction of our fresh water supply.
How much water is enough to irrigate cotton, corn, wheat, or any other crop? How much money is enough to stuff in our pockets? This isn't robbing Peter to pay Paul, but rather killing our children so we might live in luxury. By maximizing per acre profits with excessive irrigation we are sucking dry the blood within our own bodies, draining our children's futures. In the case of water usage, excess does not lead to the palace of wisdom. It leads to a derelict world of decay.
Some experts have already suggested we abandon irrigation altogether in areas with little rainfall in order to preserve the water supply. I disagree with this principle. Moderation is the only answer, for now. If farmers cannot comply with that, then regulation is inevitable. I detest excessive amounts of laws and regulations, but when it comes to protecting our dwindling water supply, I'm all for them -- particularly when it is overwhelmingly evident that man is looking no farther than his own pocketbook. The U.S. government shut off irrigation to parts of the California Central Valley, destroying crops in this desert region. This water prohibition was advertised as being imposed to save protected fish. Not much was mentioned of California's receding water supply. The farming towns involved will vanish over the next few years. Where will the people go? What will they do for work? And how will we replace this vast source of food? This area grew almost 10% of America's entire food supply with over 250 different crops. It also represented over 16% of the country's irrigated land relying on the second largest aquifer.
In 1949, about 4,300 wells irrigated 550,000 acres in Texas. Fifty years later, as many as 8 million acres rely on irrigation systems in Texas. The southern High Plains (my neighborhood) accounts for roughly 68% of all irrigation in Texas. Why? Because it has the driest climate in the state. To the west of Lubbock lies Gaines County. This is some of the most desert-like territory in the state, yet it produces more peanuts and cotton than anywhere in the country due to an excessive number of irrigation circles. More than 400,000 acres of irrigated farmland is found here with less than 15,000 residents.2
It is not only farmers abusing our water supply. Living in urban areas such as Lubbock, Texas, I've witnessed extremely wasteful practices of water usage. Businesses irrigating huge grass lawns with sprinkler systems in the heat of the day during summer; the flooding of streets by opening fire hydrants (why?); and inefficient rain drainage/runoff along streets and sidewalks are classic examples. Many urban areas simply drain the rainwater from several blocks into one large area commonly designated as one of the city parks, which then serves as nothing more than a huge bowl to absorb the quasi-floods caused by miles of concrete and pavement.
City planners give little to no thought concerning Mother Nature when laying down miles and miles of hardened earth. To feed a deranged sense of comfort in modern suburbia, humanity has instead focused on building as many over-sized cookie-cutter houses as possible per block with as little grass (backyard) area as possible. I get hot flashes, breaking into a sweat, every time I drive around these neighborhoods. Where does the rainwater go? It is wasted in low intersections and flattened streets. Why is there not more civic planning to widen streets with grass areas to catch the runoff or create slopes to run water into people's yards or onto trees along hot summer sidewalks? And somewhere Joni Mitchell is singing, "They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot."
But the depletion of our water supply from agricultural and urban methods of abuse has nothing on that from corporate America. Bottled water companies are taking full advantage of a $400 billion industry in today's tinfoil economy. Despite the fact that the water of 33% of bottled water brands is no safer than tap water, we continue to purchase tiny plastic bottles of water priced more than three times higher than gasoline (December 2009: gasoline less than $3 per gallon, while bottled water equated to $10 per gallon). Incidentally, it takes two to seven barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. Corporations have yet again figured out a way to profit from us on a daily basis from the most essential element for our lives, and we continue to overpay them rather than spend the money to secure our own supply of "safe" drinking water.
Water in the Well
Not long ago, it was easy to believe our underground water was completely healthy to drink, bathe our bodies in, wash our faces with, and brush our teeth with. That couldn't now be further from the truth. According to the March 2009 issue of Acres U.S.A., "over 50% of the nation's drinking water wells contained detectable amounts of nitrate and 7% have detectable amounts of pesticides." 3
For the past century agriculture has done more than its share to contaminate our underground water table by combining excessive usage of pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum fertilizers. In some areas fish have such high levels of the pesticide atrazine that it is genetically altering the males, transforming them into females. Atrazine is used on approximately 65% of the U.S. corn crop and has been sprayed for the past 35 years. Interesting how its use is still widespread here when it has been banned not only in the European Union but also the very country (Switzerland) in which it is made. For some strange reason, the EPA ruled in 2006 that there are no severe risks or dangers in the usage of atrazine. We use 80 million pounds of atrazine each year on our corn crops in America.
Syngenta, the company which manufactures atrazine, hired the University of California at Berkeley to conduct a study of the potential dangers of their product. The university discovered that atrazine "demasculates or chemically castrates" male frogs, other amphibians, and fish. Males (with traces of atrazine) grow ovaries and lay eggs.4 Could this affect the human species as well? Are men becoming emasculated via chemical invasion?
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's website, atrazine is "the most heavily used pre- and post-emergence herbicide in the United States." The website also states that:
In humans, atrazine exposure has been associated with increased pre-term delivery, miscarriage, and various birth defects. However, the lack of information on exposure levels and the simultaneous exposure to other pesticides makes these studies inadequate to assess whether these effects are attributable to atrazine exposure.
There is evidence that atrazine disrupts the normal function of the endocrine system. Several animal studies have shown that atrazine exposure disrupts estrus cyclicity and alters plasma hormone levels; these effects appear to be mediated by changes in the gonadal-hypothalamic-pituitary axis (feedback or communication system between reproductive organs and the brain) and lead to premature reproductive aging.
Developmental effects have been observed following pre-gestational, gestational, and lactational exposure of rat and rabbit females or post-weaning exposure of rat pups to atrazine. The observed effects included post-implantation losses, decreases in fetal body weight, incomplete bone formation, neurodevelopmental effects, delayed puberty, and impaired development of the reproductive system.
Epidemiological studies that included cohorts at triazine manufacturing facilities, case-control studies of farmers, and ecological studies of populations living in areas with atrazine-contaminated drinking water, collectively, provide suggestive evidence of an association between atrazine exposure and several cancers including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostrate, brain, testicular, breast, and ovarian.
Tests across the country of our nation's drinking water show an even more disturbing invasion of our water supply -- pharmaceuticals. As the majority of Americans are entranced by some type of anti-depressant or other chemical, they are flushed into the water table via sewers and other underground water pipes and enter our streams and rivers. So they are eventually recycled back into our water supply once again.
Factory farms are another key polluter of our water supply. Nitrates from animal waste seep into the ground, along with the toxic antibiotics pumped into their bodies. When thousands of animals are confined to a small area in feedlots, dairies, etc., their waste overwhelms any local water supply whether above or below ground.
Oil field activity is another destroyer of well water. Old lines are often not capped properly, and they begin to seep either salt water or other toxic elements from old gas or oil lines buried and forgotten. For the past five years, oil activity has increased all around us in West Texas. Oil well sites are a common place to find hundreds of thousands of gallons of water being pumped away into a small pond or lake area to scrape up a few barrels of oil here and there. That water soon evaporates and is gone.
Whether it is in urban or rural areas, not enough attention is focused on our water supply. We can't allow apathy or disbelief to keep us from facing the dire consequences of our gluttonous habits. Without water, we are nothing. We cease to exist. Rather than all our focus remaining on energy in the form of oil or electricity, water should be at the top of the list.
1. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, "Eating Fossil Fuels", From the Wilderness, http://www. fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html, October 2003.
2. The Handbook of Texas Online.
3. Mike Amaranthus, Ph.D., Jeff Anderson and John Marler, "Degraded Soils, Food Shortages and Eating Oil: Restoring Soil Life Through Biological Agriculture", Acres U.S.A., March 2009.
4. Robert Sanders, "Pesticide Atrazine Can Turn Male Frogs into Females", UC Berkeley News, http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2010/03/01_ frogs.shtml, March 1, 2010.
Image by Nikhil Verma, courtesy of Creative commons license.Tweet