Monday, May 29, 2006

telling the truth

If you tell the truth, have one foot in the stirrup. - Turkish Proverb
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. - 1 Timothy 6:10

That Turkish proverb was in the signature of a fellow rabble-rouser in my area of the country, where people are bulldozing trees right in the floodplain across town. Here in my backyard, they mine sand with no state-mandated reclamation, and there are rampant violations of the one regulation they do have - that they can't discharge into a river: sand leaches into the rivers, turning it into a brown muddy mess, and damages the aquatic ecosystem (all this is documented by studies, photo & video evidence). Much of this 20-40,000 acres of forest upstream of Houston will soon turn into development or mine pits - and downstream is Lake Houston which provides the city's drinking water. Do we not realize that these forests not only protect our water, they protect people from catastrophic flooding? Flooding will inevitably get worse in this bayou floodplain city as developers and sand mining operations continue to bulldoze and plunder with glee. Economic gain can not be blindly pursued at the expense of the common good. (Photo of sand mine on the San Jacinto River (c) 2006 Bryan Carlile/Legacy Land Trust)

New York City decided it was cheaper to permanently protect over 140,000 acres of upstream forest than it was to build a new water treatment facility (this was reported in the World Bank/WWF 2003 report "Running Pure: The importance of forest protected areas to drinking water.") The cost to build a new plant was $6-8 BILLION plus $300-500 million annual operating costs. Preserving the land was $1-1.5 Billion over ten years. Houston likes its pork barrel projects though, in my researching sand mining I found that Houston spends $7.3 BILLION annually on transportation compared to the next big TX spender Dallas at only $1.9 billion, and all the rest fell under that. Transportation/road construction and concrete appear to be the largest purchasers of sand and gravel. Houston also just built several new water treatment plants on Lake Houston. Was protecting the forest ever considered? I seriously doubt it.

The Observer newspapers ran my OpEd this week and it turned out great. You can read it here - this is a Scan so it will open a GIF file - or here is a link to the online version. I'm writing a piece for website on sand mining also that will be out soon. Some fascinating stuff coming out of my research...

I think it's interesting that Pulitzer-prize winning Times Picayune journalist Mark Schleifstein's warnings of what could happen in New Orleans with a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane were called "disaster porn" by his colleagues and editors - until afterwards when his Nostradamus-like predictions came true. People need to realize that destroying the environment, and building in the floodplain without adequately protecting a lot of greenspace is not only unwise, it is dangerous. I met Mark a few days after Katrina at the SEJ Conference (Society of Environmental Journalists), and seeing the Katrina video footage at the conferences opening session brought tears to my eyes - I don't watch TV so it was the first time I'd seen it.

Why is it so hard for people to use a little foresight?

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