Originally published in the Thousand Islands Sun on February 3, 2016, from Lee Willbanks Upper St. Lawrence Riverkeeper and Save The River executive director.
Clean, drinkable water is a basic human necessity. It is fundamental to the environment that sustains all human activity. Even so, for much of our history we have taken fresh, life-sustaining water for granted. In the vast St. Lawrence River watershed, blessed as it is with an abundance of clean water, threats to it have frequently seemed remote.
It is a sad irony, when the Thousand Islands stretch of the River is ranked as America’s number one archipelago, the River is recognized as a premier destination, and Clayton is chosen to host the 2016 Empire State Tourism Conference, that right in our backyard the fundamental ingredient in those accolades – fresh water – is under such a threat.
In the unfolding story of Flint, Michigan, and, closer to home, Hoosick Falls, we are witnessing the toll on a community when access to fresh water is compromised and government turns its back or is slow to mobilize. Much closer to home news reports have made a compelling case that this is happening in the Town of Orleans.
While the number of affected residents and businesses is small compared to Flint or even Hoosick Falls, it is clear that salt from a source other than the individual homeowners is in the groundwater. And it is there in high enough concentrations to cause serious health concerns – the introduction of lead from salt-caused corrosion foremost among them.
Corroded pipes and appliances are not within the mission of Save The River. Protection of the River, its tributaries and the people that live within its watershed from polluted water is. Montreal’s massive sewage dump opened our eyes to the equally massive amount of sewage entering our waters upstream. Algal blooms, dead zones in Lake Erie and the threat of oil transport on and around the River make it clear that threats to freshwater are not remote but right here right now. As Riverkeeper we join our community in the effort to protect it.
Whether the state is culpable or has just been inattentive is not the immediate issue in Orleans. Bringing the necessary resources to bear to solve the problem is. A state that can contemplate $100 billion in multi-year capital projects should be able to put together a funding package for the Town that gets clean, safe and affordable drinking water to its citizens. And it is imperative that it do so as soon as possible.