Saturday, September 01, 2007

Trying to make a difference

The thing about working for a small-town paper is the chance to maybe make a difference -- even though the pay is lousy (hence my part-time job) and the benefits nearly nil.

I believe it's part of my calling. God might put me in some other post in the future, but this is what I'm supposed to be doing now.

Of course, I don't inject that into my stories, but I can say it here, and not care if I sound like a religious nut.

Protecting the environment is part of my concern - we are trustees of the Earth, not
its masters. We're charged with protecting and conserving this beautiful, fragile orb that floats through space.

The LandLord is not pleased with what we're doing to his planet.

I've watched a developer trying to put a huge marina into the heart of an aquatic preserve on the river, upstream from Blue Spring State Park, a manatee habitat area.

About two weeks ago, I heard divers were complaining about the water quality at Blue Spring, and investigated.

I got mad, after taking a look at cloudy, sickly-green looking water.

Part of the clouding came from limestone particles in the water, from the collapse of an underground cavern in the spring system. While such collapses occur spontaneously, I think they're occurring more often because of wells pumping water out of the aquifer - the river of water that runs beneath the earth and limestone in Florida. It's the source of our drinking water, and the source of the water that bubbles up from the boil at Blue Spring.

Combine a year of low rainfall with all the wells, municipal and private, drawing water out of the aquifer, and some of these caverns that are normally filled with water dry out. They become weaker without the water to help hold their walls in place. Then, after a heavy rainfall, more water washes into them, and walls collapse from the impact.

Cloudiness caused from dissolved limestone in the water was starting to improve when I went out there. It was up to around 15 feet, when a week before, it was only 7-8 feet.

Problems from algae remain, though, and the park manager is concerned about the spring's health.

This is my photo taken at Blue Spring run 11 days ago.

This is the run as shown on a state Web site. Manatees swim through crystal-clear water.

Blue Spring sits at the low point of a big basin that takes in surrounding towns and unincorporated but developed areas. Water can wash directly into the river and run area of the spring as runoff after rain; it can percolate down into the aquifer and into the spring, or it can run into sinkholes for a pretty direct route into the aquifer. This runoff is filled with nitrates, because people like to fertilze their lawns. Fertilzers contain high levels of nutrients to fertilize grass. Those nutrients also feed algae.

[Of course, after fertilizing the lawn, people want to water it, pulling more water from those underground caverns.]

Septic systems also contain a lot of nitrates, and bacteria, too. Last summer, the spring was closed twice due to unacceptable levels of f coli and enterococcus bacteria.

We have an ailing spring and manatee preserve. It's suffering from development we've already done. Now we have developers who want to build huge projects on either side of it - the developer I mentioned before, who's fighting the state's denial of the project because of environmental concerns, and another developer who wants to build a huge resort complex with more docks on the other side of the spring.

I've reported forced resignations of environmentally-friendly county planners and written about the flap between a county manager and environmentalists who charge he is too developer-friendly. I've been in the uncomfortable situation of being the only one to report on what's been going on. A political columnist for one of the other papers has written a column on it, thank goodness.

Agencies charged with protecting the environment often compromise with bargaining developers. I'm going to be watching and telling what they do.

What's going on would be enough to make a true saint angry.

We can't just blame it all on developers and officials. We have to change our ways - all of us - as consumers, as protectors of the environment and as watchdogs of our public officials.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Pat, you're right. We're all going to have to change, not just the developers. As I was taking my walk tonight, I was looking at the lawns. Think of the energy we waste with our lawns. The gas for the lawn mowers to keep them cut, then the watering for dry weather. I was trying to think of an alternative to lawns, and I could not come up with much.

I've been wanting to come here to say a word about the cancellation of "La Cage aux Folles" at the high school. What a blow to the kids and teachers who worked so hard on the production, and at the last minute. A very big turnoff from the church for the young people, I would think.

Saint Pat said...

A former park ranger who posted a comment on my news story said, the problem's going to continue as long as we all think we have to have green English-style lawns.

So many people have grass like the St. Augustine variety that has to be watered regularly, or it dies, and sucks up fertlizer, too. Then, it needs pesticides, because the cinch bugs and other little critters find its leaves tasty.

I've kept the (cheaper) bahia grass on my lawn. It's a true Florida variety that can take heat and drought. It goes dormant, then pops back when it rains -- I never water it. It also goes dormant in the summer. I think it was developed for use in cow pastures.

I haven't used any fertilizer on my grass since I first moved in and was getting the lawn settled in, and I wasn't so aware of the fertilizer's effects on the environment.

My yard is nice and green, with the summer rains.

Saint Pat said...

Re La Cage Aux Folles -- in a way, I'm surprised they even tried it, in this diocese. I wonder if the students were trying to make a statement. I hope so.

I never saw the stage version, but I enjoyed the movie with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Trust me. We never fertilize or water our lawn. It's enough work in the heat of summer as it is. We have a mixture of Bermuda grass, which came up on its own, and St. Augustine, which crawled over from the neighbors.

Saint Pat said...

Yeah, (grin). Low-maintenance lawns suit lazy people like me! I need to go out and trim the bushes under the window, but I've been putting it off, because it's just too HOT to get out there.