Sludge from a mine cleanup spill that turned a Colorado River orange a couple of weeks ago made the EPA a target of criticism and potential lawsuits over their handling of the cleanup efforts.
The local government entities and property owners cited concerns about drawing water from the river for drinking and irrigation, not to mention the long-term effects of polluting the river. The story certainly struck a chord across the nation. How ironic, the EPA being sued for pollution it caused — the tables are turned. When someone gets what they dish out, it feels good, doesn’t it?
To be honest, when I saw the story all I could think of was that an effort was being made to clean up a pollution source, and unfortunately, human error or errors lead to the pollution of the river. Not to discount the problems faced locally by those who use the river, but it felt like the statements and lawsuits were more about revenge and finger pointing, than about retribution for those who have been harmed.
I mean after all, doesn’t everyone want the same thing — a clean river. Anyone who has had an accidental release from their farm and felt the effects of the regulatory agencies actions in the ensuing clean up, I imagine, would hope that the agency would take into account the individual working with them to notify them and to aid in the cleanup.
We have had a couple of instances locally that I felt resulted in some good coming out of a bad situation. In one case, a farmer proactively notified the EPA of the release into the waterway as soon as it occurred. When the EPA arrived on site it was immediately noticeable that they were in a mind set of working with the farmer to remediate the problem rather than to probe and interrogate.
In another instance, a farmer used his own, and his neighbor’s equipment, to help contain and mitigate the spill. Later, that same year he hosted a Manure Science Review on the very same property where the EPA and the Division of Wildlife had been dispatched to assess the accidental silage leachate discharge.
During the panel discussion, management options were shared, safety procedures reviewed and emergency spill response plans discussed. Perhaps from this one mishap several more were avoided. It seems often times good arises out of something bad when people work together on solutions rather than accusations.
When something goes wrong in our modern society, we want to find out who is to blame. Certainly finding the source of problem is important so it doesn’t happen again, but identifying and vilifying a scapegoat is energy and time that is wasted.
In the words of my barber during a recent haircut, “It seems that everyone is going through something difficult in their lives, everyone deserves a little mercy.” No one is 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong — we have to compromise at times and acknowledge that we all have strengths and weaknesses when addressing a problem.
Somehow in this adversarial society we are going to have to find a way to work with each other to solve problems like the algae problem that we are faced with in the Lake Erie Basin. Rules have been passed and guidelines like the 4 R’s (Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place) have been touted. Changes in practices have been made, and there will need to be more.
Progress is being made, but it is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take some time. Patience and understanding and knowing that we are all working toward the common goal of cleaner waterways. Sounds like mercy to me.
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