Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

My connection of the clean water theme of Blog Action Day to genealogy is easy:  My husband and I both served in the United States Coast Guard, which -- among its many and varied duties -- is responsible for enforcement of federal clean-water laws in federal waters.  I had some connection to this in some small ways.  As the officer in charge of a sub-unit of reserves who manned the Jacksonville, Florida, Marine Safety Office during the 1980s, I was in charge on my weekend of pollution response.  There were a few small incidents of "a visible sheen on the water," the principal sign of pollution.  It mainly came from factories along the St. Johns River or from the ships that called at the port of Jacksonville.  We never had any serious pollution problems on my watch.

Currently I'm taking a class on the environmental history of the St. Johns River, for which we in the class will be taking oral history from people involved with the river in one way or another.  I am not on a team that is looking into the varied sources of potential pollution to the river, or the history of that aspect of it.  My subject is how artists have depicted the river over time, and how that depiction has changed.  Or not.  I have not yet encountered any visual arts representations of St. Johns River pollution.  Though I have as yet found no artistic representations (paintings or art photographs), there are news photographs of such things as the periodic algae blooms the river is unfortunately subject to, and historical photographs of channels of the River or its tributaries choked with water hyacinths, which at one time constituted a hazard to or at least an obstacle to navigation.  They are pretty much under control these days, though it is a continuing battle.  The explsotive growth of the hyacinths through much of the twentieth century, and the problems they presented, is an object lesson in the hazards posed by invasive species here in Florida.

The algae problem is due to the introduction into the river of hypernutrients, via runoff from agricultural fields and residential properties.  The nutrients spur the algae growth, which uses up the oxygen in the water.  In consequence, fish and plants die.

These problems are not a direct threat to the population hereabouts, for very few areas get their drinking water from the River.  They get it from the Flroidan aquifer, a large system of underground limestone caves.  However, with the population growing, especially in the central part of the state, some municipalities south of us (which is actually upriver, not down, as the St. Johns flows north) have their eyes on diverting many hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the river for their drinking water.  This prospect alarms those of us living downriver (i.e., north), because of the real harm it could do to many aspects of life on the river, including commercial fishing and recreation, as well as the problems it would cause with salt-water intrusion into the river itself.

The problem is more severe in other parts of the world, where climate change, war, and other conditions have altered the availability of water in drastic ways, threatening populations with actual extinction.  There are ways to conserve water, keep it pure, and provide for these peoples who need it so much.  That is what this year's Blog Action Day is all about.  Even in my own very small way, on a very local level, I've helped through my service in the Coast Guard.  It is a problem we all need to be aware of.

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