Iron John

            This morning a small USA Today news article caught my eye. It has been making the rounds under many guises. It originates as a Columbus Dispatch article from March 25, 2012 by Spencer Hunt entitled ‘Fracking’ Is Thirsty Work But Groundwater Isn’t Plentiful In Eastern Ohio. In a nutshell, the process of hydraulic fracturing for those seemly deposits of gas and oil over a mile underground requires a considerable amount of water. Water that is pretty much “consumed” in the process though the industry likes to spin its “recycling” of this “material” at the plethora of “informational/educational” public meetings that have been sprouting like mushrooms before the season has even begun. They claim it is only good business practice to recycle (reuse) this material (water) back into the next well since it is a rather expensive “commodity”. As the article points out, the water is beginning to be purchased (for consumption) from the very folks promoting this economy, the state. Back in the 1930’s, as part of the programs meant to generate employment, stimulate the economy and improve living conditions, various creeks, streams, rivers and flood prone areas that ultimately fed into the Muskingum River were damned, forming a set of lakes in eastern Ohio under what is now the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. This large project contributed socially through the stabilization of the unpredictable effects of too much/too little water, by assuring an even distribution of this resource throughout under whatever conditions. In addition to the flood control, it also established new leisure time resources for sportsmen, boaters, campers, etc. and contributed to a literal “cottage” industry where previously there had been none. Many state parks are located within this district. Now this very trust is “studying” the amount of water it will be able to sell in addition to the legal jurisdictions that already are engaged in this practice. The ultimate irony, or sadness, of this is the twisted relationship of the state (legal jurisdictions et al) in bed with the gas and oil industry (why the long legged woman spokesperson seductively purrs how good it will be on the TV promo spots). Just in the last 2 years, the USDA Hydrological Experimental Station in Coshocton County Ohio (just about the heart of the Watershed Conservancy District area) found itself terminated by having its federal funding cut through congress’s budgeting. The work done there has an incredible history of contributing to agricultural and landscaping practices that rely on water resources, both ground as well as meteorologically produced, and its effect on various soils through absorptions, run off, and erosion rates. Now the county has reasserted its ownership over the federally leased land that the lab sat on and is in the process of leasing it again, only this time to those wanting to access the Utica shale that lies below. The MWCD is within the purview of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Any “studies” used to determine feasibility/availability of water to be sold (“tapped”) will now be determined by the same folks who did the studies on the soundness/sustainability of the damns, dikes, and channels of New Orleans and Missouri. Visions of the long legged spokesperson telling us how good it will be!

            All this brings to mind the Aral Sea. Roughly during the same time period as the inception of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, the central planning economy of the Soviet Union believed it would benefit the state (and the people) by diverting the feeder waters of the Aral Sea into irrigation channels to open up vast areas of undeveloped land to cotton farming. This appeared to be a win/win since the area around the lake was not agriculturally productive, and the Soviet Union would become “cotton” independent, with the textile sector providing jobs and product. Eventually, not only did the Soviet Union go bust but the entire cotton farming in this area went belly up. The wound on the land left from all of this economic “planning and development” is that the Aral Sea has just about disappeared, and a totally inhospitable desert now “flowers” where once was a huge lake and thriving fishing industry.

            There certainly is a hand in the water of Ohio, but it is not the one of fairy tale legend.

 

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