Part 8: What Constitutes Overpopulation in 21st Century America? Poisoning our ground water and aquifers.

Published on November 24th, 2010

“In 22 states parents can’t take kids fishing and eat the fish if they’re lucky enough to catch anything because of mercury. Think about that. In 44 percent of all American river bodies and streams it’s not safe to fish or swim. And yet industrial polluters continue to block legislation that would prevent mercury and MTBE from polluting our water supplies and leaving children with debilitating diseases.”  — U.S. Senator John Kerry This continuing series attempts to connect the dots as to overpopulation and carrying capacity.  The United States remains on course to add 100 million people net gain, by 2035—a scant 25 years from now.  Ironically, every environmental predicament we experience today will multiply by a factor of 100 million. Yet, you will not hear a word from the president, Congress or the media.  Ever wonder why?  Answer: population remains the final taboo!  Much like Galileo grappled with the Pope in 1600 with Galileo’s newly discovered facts about the Earth revolving around the sun instead of the ‘proven’ longstanding acceptance of the sun revolving around the Earth—Galileo lost to myth, religion and culture. Today we address overpopulation in America with the same stigma perpetrated against Galileo.  The Pope still wields enormous power against any mention of overpopulation, birth control or family planning.  Wherever the Pope’s doctrine dominates in third world countries, humanity suffers from overpopulation, misery and suffering.  Haiti comes to mind long before the earthquake! Nonetheless, this series connects the dots as to the accelerating ramifications of added population onto an ecologically staggering planet. In Part 8, let’s examine how our beef cows and dairy farms create billions of tons of fecal waste that drains down into our lakes, streams and rivers.  Additionally, it drains into ground water and our aquifers.  It pollutes the water we drink. Elizabeth Royte, “How America’s breadbasket is poisoning its own water supply,” Grist said, “The trouble starts with a healthy rain, which washes sediment from farms, especially from row crops like corn, into waterways. Nationwide, farms lose 1.76 billion tons of topsoil each year to wind and water. The sediment can clog intake pipes at water treatment plants, make the water cloudy, and give microbes places to hide from disinfectants. “By the time the Missouri River reaches Kansas City, for instance, its turbidity can be as high as 10,000 NTUs (nephelometric turbidity units). To serve this water to customers, the local utility must use chemicals and mechanical processes to lower turbidity to less than 0.1 NTU. They don’t call it the Big Muddy for nothing.” USING CHEMICALS TO CLEAN OUR CHEMICALIZED WATER “When soil runs off the land, it also sends phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer into ditches and streams,” said Royte, “Six billion pounds end up in the Mississippi and its tributaries each year. In rivers and reservoirs, these nutrients encourage the growth of algae. “When algae die, bacteria feast on them, and they also consume oxygen in the water. The biotic riot sluices down to the Gulf of Mexico, where it has created an oxygen-free ‘dead zone’ that supports no marine life. In the summer of 2007, the zone expanded from 6,000 square miles to 10,000, an area nearly the size of New Jersey.” Royte continued, “But enough about shrimp: those algae are bad news for drinking water, too. Anaerobic conditions release iron and manganese previously bound to a river or reservoir’s bottom sediments, which causes the water’s taste, odor, and color to quickly go downhill. “To deal with skunked water, plant operators dump in chemicals like potassium permanganate or copper sulfate. Dead algae and bacteria can also combine with chlorine — the mainstay of water disinfection since the early 20th century — to form nasty byproducts like trihalomethanes, which have been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer and miscarriage. “The nitrogen itself, which converts to nitrate, is also a potential health threat to humans. In babies, nitrate binds to hemoglobin in blood and hinders its ability to deliver oxygen to the brain. In adults, high nitrate levels have been linked with increased risk of hyperthyroidism, birth defects, and miscarriage. To stay under the federal nitrate limit of 10 parts per billion, the city of Des Moines, Iowa, spent $4.5 million on an ion-exchange process that switches nitrate for chloride.” “We run it fifty to a hundred times a year,” Randy Beavers, assistant manager of Des Moines Water Works, says. “It costs us $3,000 a day.” At peak runoff, the utility just beats the cutoff, bringing levels from as high as 20 ppb down to a yearly average of 9.9 ppb. Iowa communities that drink from shallow wells, and that lack funds for fancy ion-exchange systems, have a tougher time of it. When nitrate levels spike, they issue “blue baby” alerts: kids, step away from that faucet.” “The situation is bound to get worse. In 2007, farmers planted 90 million acres of corn, 15 million more than the previous year. More corn means more water contaminants,” said Royte. “What we’re dealing with is a symptom of what’s happened in agriculture over the last forty years,” Chris Jones, lab supervisor at Des Moines Water Works, says. “We have these new hybrid varieties, which are designed to use a lot of nitrogen, and we plant fencerow to fencerow. Without some upstream changes, plant officials say, the denitrification plant may soon be maxed out. The frustration of local utilities is palpable: while the federal government pours millions into agricultural subsidies, encouraging massive planting, state and local governments are stuck cleaning up the resulting mess.” COWS, COWS, COWS AND MANURE “In the last 20 years the Midwest has seen an explosion in the number of feedlots that keep high numbers of cattle, hogs, and poultry in close confinement,” said Royte.  “Nationwide, these animals generate roughly 500 million tons of manure a year. Farmers hold this waste in ‘lagoons’ until they can spread it on nearby fields. But rains wash manure off fields into streams, lagoons breach, and those built before the late ’90s aren’t required to have liners. In short: Sh*t seeps. And often: the Iowa Department of Natural Resources documented 329 manure spills between 1992 and 2002. Overall, according to the EPA, hog, chicken, and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17.” Thus, Senator Kerry’s quote sobers when you learn the ‘why’ of it. To think that we continue on course to add 100 million people within 25 years to create ever greater ground water contamination!

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