Water is life

My garden has been blessed with an abundance of water this summer. It has turned into a jungle of vines and mosquitoes. Many of our neighbors and even my spouse have thought we perhaps had a bit too much rain in July. Some not far away have lost most of their crops to storms that flooded their fields. Even those losses pale compared to the deluge that hit Louisiana earlier this month. Still other areas have had no rain and crops have withered and died.

Without regard for our skill as farmers or gardeners, we are dependent on our gardens and fields having access to the right amount of water.

Humans need water. We need it to grow our food. We need it to water our livestock and even more so, we need it for our own bodies. Our bodies are predominantly water. While we can skip meals for a few days or even for weeks, we cannot go without water. If we become severely dehydrated, all our organs shut down. We go into shock and very shortly we die.

Even though the earth is covered with water, most of that is too salty to drink. Of the fresh water on the planet, much of it is tied up in ice and snow or is otherwise inaccessible. Much of the remaining water is contaminated with toxic chemicals, bacteria, amoebas, and parasites. Water born illnesses are the number one killer of the world’s children, especially in underdeveloped countries. The amount of drinkable, safe water available for human use is a tiny part of all the water on the earth.

We, in this country have our own problems with water. Flint, Michigan, has been in the news because of high levels of lead in their municipal water supply. Across the country more communities find their drinking water, air and soil contaminated by one toxic chemical or another as human error and greed make a mess. Often the messes are left behind in poor and minority communities with the federal and state government left to pick up the tab for cleanup. It is the people who live in the middle of the pollution who really pay the price with their health and the health of their children. Many can’t afford to move and haven’t the resources to fight for their right to clean water, air and soil.

Having clean water is a big deal.

No wonder the people of Standing Rock are concerned about an oil pipeline being dug under their source of life giving water. They are not unreasonable in their concern about the safety of the water on which their community depends.  The very same pipeline was originally routed under the Missouri upstream of the city of Bismarck’s water source. It was moved to just north of the Standing Rock Reservation because of concerns for the capital city’s water supply. If it is fair for the state’s capital to be concerned about their water, why are the protestors blocking the pipeline’s construction south of Bismarck out of line?

So far, except for unsubstantiated rumors and accusations, the demonstrations have been remarkably peaceful. In spite of the Lieutenant Governor’s repeatedly calling the encampments and protests “illegal,” he has not stated which laws were being broken. No one has been charged with anything more than disorderly conduct, trespassing, or other minor charges. Angry words have been shouted and grace has been extended both ways. The demonstrators have in the majority exercised restraint and the law enforcement officers seem to have shown professionalism and patience.

It is a false paradigm to argue that protestors are disingenuous because they use products made of petroleum or that they drove cars to the demonstration site or that some of their supporters are from outside the state. This is not solely a North Dakota issue. The issue being argued is that this specific pipeline puts this river and the people’s water at risk. It puts the water downstream at risk. Were all the laws followed in determining the location of the pipeline? What options are in place to provide those downstream with clean water if the pipe leaks? Were they consulted before this project was started? Were their concerns listen to and addressed? Our dependence on this one time harvest of a non-renewable resource and the impact on the planet as a whole is a related issue, but it is not the reason for this confrontation.

Ask yourself what you would be willing to do if an oil pipeline were running right next to, under or through your well, your town’s water reservoir, the river where you fish, swim and boat? Would you stand up to protest what you see as an injustice? Or would you simply post angry Facebook memes and insults, obscene Tweets and sarcastic online comments? Would you want others to stand with you? Would you risk being arrested for what you thought was right?

What price would you be willing to pay to protect the water your grandchildren will drink?

Copyright © 2016 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains