Opinion

Water, water

A few years back, the guys from the well manufacturing company came up to our place to replace the foot valve on the hand pump. To accomplish this, they had to pull the water line up through a slot in the shed roof, take the old valve off and put a new one on. Then it was a matter of dropping the pump’s shaft back down into the casing and disinfecting the water.

I describe the process only to indicate that it was a hands-on operation, and the workmen remarked that the water was as clear and cold as they’d ever seen. One of the men even said that water down his way, in lower Aroostook County, wasn’t near as clean (or as cold) as ours.

It led me to think about water. The most important commodity we have in northern Aroostook County is cold, clear, fresh water. Yet, like most people, we take no notice of it, passing it off as something that exists and will exist for all time.

Not true. The cold, clear, fresh water part is true, but it existing forever and ever is an illusion.

In the last several years, I’ve attended a number of meetings intended to resist mining operations up here in Aroostook County. There were two sides to the story, as always. The economic development side said that mining in The County was a matter of jobs, jobs, jobs. I heard that mantra plenty of times, going back when the late great Senator Ed Muskie stumped for building the Dickey-Lincoln hydroelectric dam project on the upper reaches of the St. John River. I find his current sainthood rather odd, particularly with the environmental community. He was no environmentalist, rousing an audience of supporters of the hydro project to their feet at Big Daddy’s restaurant while I sat down on my hands.

Was I against jobs? Well, yes and no. It’s the cost of those jobs that concerns me most. At what price environmental destruction? The mining concerns were always touting that it would have little if any impact on water quality, the forests, the people, other than the positive benefit of having a few years worth of paying work. The allure of jobs, jobs, jobs is irresistible to some. It clouds the mind. Drinking sulfuric-acid-laced water from a tailings pond would disabuse anyone of such sky-blue notions.

That’s the story they don’t tell you when they dangle the prospect of jobs, jobs, jobs. The other part they don’t tell you about is the fact that once the water is thoroughly fouled, the jobs gone and the mine inevitably paying out, you’re stuck with having to treat the water for the next 10,000 years. The jobs are the quick heroin fix and once it wears off, you’re stuck looking for more heroin. And don’t drink the water.

The native Maliseet never achieved the critical mass it takes to be or make an environmental problem. They lived on this land for 12,000 years. I always refer to them not as an ideal necessarily, but as an example of what ‘softly, softly’ can do for the rest of humanity. Their gods, their stories relate to the land and their surroundings. They lived surrounded by a church.

Water. It’s the only reason for life where there’s nothing otherwise. Scientists and astronomers look for other planets that can sustain life and the first criteria is water. Apparently everything else comes with it.

Here, in this remote quarter of northern Maine, we have fresh, clean water in abundance, and I fear we have little consideration for it. “It’s water, and it comes from the faucet.” People will say that and think it right up to the moment it turns foul or isn’t there anymore. What good are ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ after that?

I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I know a good thing when I see it. It comes out of the ground, cold and clear and clean. It flows across my view through the picture window.

That’s why my mantra is ‘water, water.’

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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