Imagine for a moment your tap water was the color of a rusty nail. It tasted terrible, it smelled like the bottom of your garbage can and bathing in it gave you a rash. Imagine if your kids manifested health and behavioral issues subsequent to the changes in the water.
Imagine becoming frantic and raising the alarm for someone, anyone, to take seriously the deterioration you and your neighbors were experiencing in the water supplied by the public utility.
Imagine this goes on for months, despite repeated complaints made to the responsible government agencies and urgent calls to your elected officials. Imagine the response that you get with astonishing regularity is, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Your water is perfectly safe.” The condescension you hear in their replies signals you and your neighbors are paranoid loonies.
Imagine nobody responding or caring until finally the truth is no longer deniable. Your data and evidence prove the community’s water is massively poisoned with lead. The catastrophic harm being done to public health is exposed.
Imagine thousands of kids subsequently tested have lead in their bodies. The consequence they suffer is irreversible damage to their brains and overall health.
Imagine that only then is a state of emergency declared, citing the poisoning of an entire city’s water supply. More than 100,000 residents are directly affected.
The trail of the state’s failures to prevent this catastrophe leads all the way to the governor. Officials resign and heads roll. The governor apologizes and says he will make it right amidst public demands he resign. He doesn’t and likely won’t.
From the safe distance of South Florida, we follow the news, take our showers, cook our food and drink water supplied by the local utility. We feel a pang of regret for Flint and its residents. We shake our heads in disbelief at the stupidity and negligence of the state public officials grown hostile to serving and protecting the public interest.
But this is what you get when state government ceases to function as an instrument of the people, and corporate enterprise drives its calling. We might think such a thing could not happen in our state or in our town. But our confidence may be misplaced.
The water crisis in Flint has history going back decades. Michigan state government consistently underinvested in the regulatory systems and infrastructure necessary to protect and conserve the city’s water supply and quality and special interests prevailed over the public interest in the wave of cost-cutting affecting public services. The state’s failures of policy and due diligence in Flint were aided and abetted by lawmakers who gutted and abandoned the state’s role of regulatory oversight, crippling the ways and means of state government to provide essential services and perform its role of stewardship on the public’s behalf.
The aversion of state officials to governing, as if the people mattered also, put the state’s long-term future at risk and allowed a corporate-friendly state bureaucracy to give away the store and pass the key to their favorite friends.
Florida is vulnerable on all counts. Gov. Rick Scott and the legislative majority are choking off budget resources for environmental protection and conservation, including failing to invest in infrastructure improvements demanded by climate change which affects protection and sustainability of Florida’s freshwater supply.
In the recent legislative session, the conservative majority sought to further shed the state’s environmental responsibilities, over-compensating special interests with policies proposed and favorable to satisfying a laundry list of their lobbyists’ wants and needs.
These included a major rewrite of state water policy that rewards polluters, strips meaningful language to protect Florida’s freshwater aquifer and springs and undermines the state’s commitment to restoration of the Everglades.
It includes supporting legislation to bar local governments from enacting prohibitions on fracking, a process which involves drilling thousands of feet below ground and forcibly injecting millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into layers of rock to release gas and oil.
To do this, they ignored the fact that rock in Florida is mostly limestone, porous as Swiss cheese, highly vulnerable to leeching contamination, and a geological freeway into the state’s freshwater aquifers. Fracking subjects the water supply for millions of residents to the threat of chemical poisoning. And that’s only one issue with the process.
Meanwhile, the Miami H erald reports, phosphorus and ammonia levels increased dramatically in the aquifer under Biscayne Bay after Florida Power & Light Co. started sucking up as much as 100 million gallons a day of freshwater to cool its nuclear reactors at Turkey Point. The Biscayne Aquifer is the source of drinking water for 3 million people in South Florida.
So how do you think Gov. Scott and the conservative majority in our state Legislature reply to the fears being raised about these issues and the threats they represent to our state’s water supply and quality?
Why, they say, “Don’t worry. Be happy. Your water is perfectly safe.” ¦
— Leslie Lilly is a native Floridian. She resides with her family and pugs in Jupiter. Email her at llill firstname.lastname@example.org.