From the Earth Stewards Team

Earth Stewards begin Water series

December, 2014, the first entry in a series on sustaining our most important natural resource

Water: A Critical, Complicated Issue

Note: This is the first entry in a series on water from the Earth Stewards Team. (Right: The Yadkin River at Bean Shoals/Pilot Mountain State Park. Photo courtesy of Joe Mickey)

When you rose this morning, perhaps you showered or washed your face, had a glass of water, brushed your teeth, made coffee, ate breakfast consisting of foods grown with water, washed your hands, started the dishwasher or washer, filled the dog or cat water bowl and various other personal hygiene routines. Of course the common denominator here is a dependency on a ready supply of clean, safe water. A facile exercise might be to put tape or ribbon over all your water outlets and notice how often you rely upon water. One source I checked indicated a human survival time of 3-5 days without water. That’s not very long.

According to Wikipedia, water covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and is vital for all known forms of life. This is why extra-planetary expeditions always look for water. Most (96.5%) of our planet’s water is found in the seas and oceans. Only 2.5% of Earth’s water is freshwater. We rely on the purity and availability of that 2.5%.

Beginning on Feb. 2, 2014, and continuing for a week, a stormwater pipe at a closed Duke Energy plant broke and discharged arsenic and other heavy metals into the Dan River until Duke Energy was able to stem the flow. Tens of thousands of tons of coal ash from a Duke Energy coal ash pond (estimates range from 30,000-82,000 tons) and more than 20 million gallons of contaminated wastewater entered the Dan River near Eden, NC, resulting in 70 miles of sludge in portions of Virginia and North Carolina and miles of toxic sediment accumulated on the floor of the river. It is the third-worst coal ash spill in our nation.

Four months later, June, 2014, officials from both states, the EPA and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reached agreements on Duke Energy’s responsibility to pay any reasonable cost associated with the clean up of this disaster (article). To date, about 10% of this mess has been cleaned up. Here is a link to an interactive map to increase understanding of where coal ash impoundments are in our region in relation to water intakes for populated areas.

It’s obvious why we should all care. If we don’t have clean water in our city, region, state, country and planet, everything will come to an abrupt halt in a few days, including our lives. Our state legislature passed new coal ash management law this fall outlining requirements for Duke Energy to purify the 33 sludge ponds at 14 sites across our state. Still, many claim that all 14 of these unlined coal ash sites are still leaking toxins and heavy metals that will leach into our ground water systems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 30% of all freshwater comes from groundwater systems. The new law requires that coal ash stored at four priority sites be removed but leaves open the possibility of capping in place the other 10 sites. Many scientists feel this will not prevent groundwater penetration of these toxins and heavy metals.

This is a complicated topic. We will continue to focus on this topic in future installments. We will look for the good news and how our faith informs our stewardship of what God has given us as fiduciaries. Stay tuned.

Revelation 22: 1-2 (NRSV)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.