I understand the need for economic development,affordable housing, healthcare, public transportation, working wages, world peace, and the cure for cancer. What I do not understand is the pervasive separation between humanity and nature.
Our insatiable addiction to growth combined with corporate greed that is motivated by ever-increasing profits at any cost is manipulating who we are and what we inherently need to survive. Without a healthy environment with stable, healthy ecosystems, we are just people living on a rock. The Earth is our home, and without it, all of the billions of dollars spent on economic development or anything that does not, in some way, include environmental conservation, ecosystem stability, and/or biological remediation with a keen focus on sustainability will be worthless.
The basic necessity, the common thread of all life is water. The water we have is millions of years old and the Earth repeatedly cycles this antique resource. Only about 3 percent of all water on Earth is fresh, and of that, almost 70 percent is locked up in glaciers. Less than 1 percent of usable freshwater is readily accessible to humanity. This means that about 0.007 percent of all water on Earth is available for human consumption. Water-water everywhere and not a drop to drink. A billion people do not have access to clean water. Millions of people are facing water shortages, and millions more will suffer the same fate in the coming years. We did receive this life sustaining resource from the past and we are most certainly altering what we will leave to the future.
Can such an important resource be thrown away? Yes, we do it every day- we call it wastewater. Most wastewater is wasted. It is drained into nearby water-bodies or the ground. Wastewater reclamation may be the way to a sustainable future. Without reclamation facilities, we will certainly need regional wastewater treatment facilities on Long Island. Wastewater contains high amounts of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Nutrient pollution is the greatest threat to Long Island’s ground, inland, and coastal waters. From 1987 to 2005, nitrogen levels have increased by 40 percent in Long Island’s upper glacial aquifer and by 200% in the Magothy aquifer. We drink from this sole source of water, and once it is non-drinkable, then what?
Nitrogen input to surface waters from groundwater is the largest regional issue we must address. Every day, more than 100 million gallons of sewage is discharged into the ground (and subsequently the groundwater), by way of hundreds of thousands of cesspools, septic systems, and wastewater treatment facilities across Long Island. Thirty million gallons of wastewater is discharged directly into our marine waters by wastewater treatment plants as well.This directly affects the environment, which is our economy.The best way for towns to control their own fate may be to work with other municipalities. The solutions could be cost efficient if addressed regionally. Federal and state assistance may be available to communities who collaborate, rather than each community trying to address what is, I dare say, the challenge of our generation.
The challenge of how to manage eutrophication, (excess input of above mentioned nutrients) that cause ecosystem disruption by increasing phytoplankton growth,which can cause harm through toxin production, high biomass, or both, must not be ignored. These algal blooms reduce light attenuation to the bottom and cause harm to photosynthetic species and other organisms. The alga eventually settles to the bottom and dies. As it decays, it consumes oxygen. This can result in hypoxia(reduced oxygen) or anoxia (no oxygen) to benthic dwellers. Get the picture?
The last generation faced land use and planning and now, we must manage wastewater in a way that will benefit us today and for those in the future. Without clean water, you can develop the economy with millions and billions of dollars, but if we continue to destroy our water, we will have nothing. We do have a new law in New York intended to reduce phosphorous input into our waters. Fresh water lakes and drinking water are negatively affected by excess phosphorus, so this new law may be a very good thing. The first “Green Revolution” increased our global production of food through technology and the use of synthetic fertilizers. We need another revolution that will introduce the many readily available organic products as an alternative to chemicals.
Pesticide bans would be highly beneficial.Pesticides are in our drinking water. Bans will not only protect further decline of our drinking water, but will help beneficial insects such as honeybees and butterflies. At least 80 percent of our world's crop species require pollination, and bees are responsible for the pollination of 71 of 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the global food crop. Pesticides do not discriminate and we are facing an impending pollination crisis. Look up Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and you will understand the problem. If you drink water or eat food, please support local (and other) environmental (or other) groups who are currently working to ban three chemical pesticides (atrazine, metalaxyl, and imidacloprid) that are in our groundwater.
Storm water abatement through improvements to our aged infrastructure is necessary and long overdue. We did have the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems General Permit program (MS4 General Permit) in place to address this issue. However, a judge recently ruled to annul the permit because it failed to comply with the Clean Water Act of 1972 and certain terms of New York law. The ruling was made because there was a lack of NYSDEC supervision, self-certification by municipalities was deemed inadequate and public participation was not allowed. So, what is the plan now? How do we stop or reduce the pathogens and other contaminants carried by storm-water from flowing into our coastal waters? Will our legislators step up without regulatory demands or oversight to address these issues?
Marine debris is affecting all forms of life. Our oceans are filled with an estimated 315 billion pounds of plastic, and 60-year-old plastics have been found in oceanic plankton today. Marine debris and plastics cause death due to animal entanglement as well as internal blockages or starvation after ingestion.This is all too common. Flame-retardants, mercury, PCB’s, you name the chemical, or the item, and it’s in there. We have made the oceans into a slow brewing toxic soup.
Levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere have increased over 40% since the industrial revolution along with an increase of almost 30% in the acidity of the Earths’ oceans. These increases are directly related. The conditions created are problematic for calcifying organisms such as shellfish, corals, some algae, and even starfish. Many marine organisms are very sensitive to carbon dioxide and acidity changes. Effects will travel throughout marine food webs, and eventually to humans. Humans will adapt, but can marine life?
Bottom line, our oceans are in CRISIS!
Add together lots of nutrients, wastewater, stormwater runoff, pathogens and particulates, chemical cocktails, atmospheric deposition, and everything else that flows from the air, land and seas to the Earth’s waters and what do you get?
All the water you will ever have forever. Water is life. Without it, we are nothing.