Just as we are addicted to oil, we are also addicted to everyday living habits that damage our environment, specifically our water supplies. It has always been that way. “People equal pollution” has been a common phrase in the environmental science world for a long time. Thirty-three years ago, while on a kayak trip near the Arctic Circle, I was advised, “You can drink the river water everywhere, except in the areas where people live.”
We all live downstream. That is a fact. We don’t realize it when we are buying it or hiring a landscape firm, but much of the fertilizer and pesticide used to keep landscapes beautiful washes into our lakes during thunder storms. We are “the casual polluters” because we don’t know, or we don’t care about the damage that is taking place. We think that as long as we are just doing what everyone else is doing, and there is no law against it, there is no compelling reason for us to stop doing it.
We are living a contradiction. As we beautify our private landscape we are damaging our communal landscape. A beautiful yard gratifies us personally while improving the look of the neighborhood, but when we use fertilizers, pesticides, etc. to make our private property beautiful we are, in fact, polluting the public water supply and turning our beautiful clear lakes an ugly green. The cause and effect relationship is difficult to see because of the delayed reaction and the immeasurable affect each bag of fertilizer has on the whole. While each person with an over-fertilized yard is thinking that their bit is insignificant, to a lake it is like death from a thousand cuts because it all adds up. Because our private landscape can be seen and attributed to us individually and the corresponding degradation to our communal water can not, the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomena is in full force. It will be difficult to get people to change their ways because of our innate desire for personal beauty. Like Galbraith said in 1908, “private affluence is consistent with public squalor.”
We in the Bear Lake watershed have to come to grips with this contradiction of private affluence (green landscaping) at the expense of degrading our public water supply (lakes, rivers and ground water). I am referring specifically to excess fertilization, excess erosion, soaps, pesticides, insecticides, etc. washing into the ground, the streets, ditches and our lakes. Things that you know would kill your fish in your home aquarium are allowed to wash into our communal environment. To get everyone in the watershed to change their behavior, will require a complete change of their values.
Can we all agree on this statement? An unpolluted natural environment with clean clear lakes and clean drinking water — but without lush green lawns — is a more desirable environment than an environment with un-swimmable lakes and un-drinkable ground water, even if it has lush green lawns. If we agree on that, we can act right away as intelligent, proactive people who understand science and the laws of cause and effect. OR we can do it some years later, after the water is irrevocably polluted, when we are forced to do it by the EPA or some other regulating body, when they eventually outlaw fertilizers and other aquatic pollutants.
There are many places in the United States and Europe that already have very restrictive laws on the use of fertilizer for the above reasons. Should we do the same? Asking people to conserve energy, water, or anything else of a personal nature does not work with most people. You have to force them (like with rolling blackouts) or make it a law (like watering only on certain days). The Florida Department of Health is now making new laws concerning septic tanks and the Department of Agriculture is looking at restricting fertilizers. I hope that we don’t have to wait for the laws because I’m afraid that at the rate we are going our Bear Lakes will be un-swimmable by that time. How can we get everyone in the watershed to see that the reduction or the elimination of fertilizer on their property as a good thing?
Here are some things that we should be doing to protect the jewels of our communal landscape, those things that we came to this location for, those things that make our property values go up and up…our beautiful Bear Lakes.
* We can have it both ways (lush beautiful green landscape and clean water) ONLY if we are super diligent with the use of fertilizer, pesticide, etc. That means using only no phosphate liquid fertilizer, non-toxic biodegradable pesticides, and preventing the first flush of rainwater from leaving your property. Car wash water should go into the ground and not into the street or storm drain. Do not use a garbage disposal. Pump your septic tank every three years. Pick up pet waste.
* Our watershed was originally sugar sand for the most part, with scrub oak, pines and palmettos. When it was like that the lakes were exceptionally clear. We can never get back to that but we can undo some of our polluting behaviors. Some properties do not need a lawn. If you have lots of pines you can let your lawn revert back to pine needles. No watering, no fertilizers, no pesticides, no cost. This is common in places like Arizona, Lake Tahoe watershed, and it is mandated on Captiva Island (a very wealthy island) and many other environmentally astute areas.
Do your part…stop polluting!