Thursday, January 17, 2008

From Water to Kool-Aid

The recent water wars between Florida and Georgia have caused even some of the staunchest “no such thing as climate change” people to sit up and take notice that water is indeed a finite resource. The water war continues locally, with the Nestle Corporation donning the benevolent local disguise of Poland Spring, attempting to suck our local aquifers dry, so that they can sell our water to the highest bidder.

Some of our local legislators are getting involved. Last week in Concord, I was present for a hearing on HB 1353, An act relative to local control of water resources. This is bi-partisan legislation, sponsored locally by Representative Tom Buco. One of the other sponsors is Rep. Neal Kurk. As I signed in, in support of the bill, I noticed that Rep. Gene Chandler’s name was at the top of the page - against the bill. Being on the same side as Neal Kurk was shocking enough. If Gene Chandler and I were in agreement, surely a plague of locusts would be unleashed upon the Mt. Washington Valley.

The State of New Hampshire is the steward of NH’s water resources. The Department of Environmental Services (DES) makes the decisions about large groundwater withdrawals. They seem to come down (as everything in NH does) on the side of business, so it was no surprise to hear them testify that they wish to continue to maintain their control. There were lobbyists on hand to echo the same sentiments. The lobbyist for Ski NH does NOT want the townspeople involved in the decision making process. Those silly townspeople might eventually rebel at the need for a ski area to suck up millions of gallons of water to make snow in October or November. They could buy into the global warming conspiracy and decide to protect their water supply - and heaven knows, we can’t have that.

Gary Abbot, the lobbyist for the Association of General Contractors supports the perpetuation of DES as the deciding body. He is concerned about who would be making technical decisions - certainly a valid concern. Steve DelDeo, lobbyist for the NH Water Works Association, said that the bill would exacerbate water issues already in place. It’s safe to say, bill or no bill, water issues will continue to exacerbate.

During the course of his testimony, Rep. Kurk said that there must be public input into public policy regarding finite resources. This bill as it is written has some flaws. As it stands, the bill requires an affirmative vote of municipal legislative bodies prior to any large groundwater withdrawal. If 10 towns surrounded an aquifer, or if an aquifer involved one or two states, this could be a real problem. Reps. Harry Merrow and Howard Cunningham both testified that they support the intent, but not the bill as it is currently written.

Willie Farnum was sent to the hearing by the Tamworth Board of Selectmen. He echoed the concerns of Merrow and Cunningham. Farnum also brought up the fact that if towns are not in control of the decision making process, they can incur greater expenses (as did the town of Moultonborough with Castle Springs) which can have profound impact on a community. Farnum said that each community should have the right to say no to a bottling plant. Crow Dickinson of Conway supports the bill, finding it a step in the right direction. He agreed with the others who feel that the bill needs fine tuning. There were about 30 people present for the hearing, including half a dozen folks from Carroll County. Those Carroll County legislators who aren’t paying attention to water better listen up. The control of our water supplies is among the most important issues we face. Water is essential to life - which means that those who prefer to pander to business better think twice. Business may line pockets, but constituents vote you in and they can just as easily vote you out.

The bill was heard by the Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. This was my first experience with this particular committee, and I was impressed by their willingness to work on this bill in subcommittee, in order to make it workable. This spirit of cooperation guarantees not only better legislation, but better feelings about the process.

Two weeks ago, I wrote an editorial about the “dark side” of GOP presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul. I wrote: “Heaven help the hapless writer who actually uses critical thinking skills in a story on Paul. Legions of Paul’s cultish supporters show up to tell the writer how wrong he is for trying to hold Paul accountable for his own statements.” That proved to be most prescient. Within 15 minutes of the column being published on my blog, I began to get anonymous emails. By morning I was getting anonymous hate emails, with threats. I wasn’t surprised. I’d seen enough “Paullowers” on the internet to know what was coming.

Jennifer Call wasn’t so lucky. Ms. Call is the town clerk of Sutton, NH. There was an error in the paperwork that was turned in to the state, after the primary. It seems Paul had 31 votes in Sutton, but somehow that number hadn’t been transcribed on to the return sheet. As anyone who has ever participated in the ballot counting process is aware, it can be noisy - and at the end of a long day, mistakes can be made. The error was easily cleared up in the morning, the proper numbers faxed to the Secretary of State - and then the phone began to ring. The Paullowers had decided that Ms. Call was the ringleader in the plot to defraud Ron Paul of his 31 votes. Callers accused her of fraud, of treason, and at least one said she ought to be shot. They pretended to be media, in order to trick her into speaking with them. Most of them were from out of state. They harassed her at home. Ms. Call had to request an unlisted phone number.

The zombies have moved on, undoubtedly off to harass other people in other states. I’ve been wary of judging a candidate by his supporters (as a Kucinich staffer you can understand why) but in this case, I’ve lost all reluctance. This is not an ordinary campaign, this is a cult. Some campaigns become cults - the LaRoucheites, for example. LaRoucheites are extremely annoying, but not menacing. The Paullowers are so righteous in their brainwashed anger that they will threaten anyone who dares to disagree with their leader - and anyone unlucky enough to make a mistake.

“So, I guess when you mix Kool-Aid with bongwater… you get a Ron Paul supporter.” V the K, commenting on the Flopping Aces blog.


Anonymous said...

Good article, Susan. Ground water in the coming 10 years is going to be a legal battle from hell all over the country. And Ron Paul supporters....they aint cultist...they are just fookin idiots.

bergoffen said...

Susan, you have a responsibility with your column to be factual, even as an advocate of a point of view.

I was intimately involved in the Fryeburg effort to exercise control over groundwater withdrawals from the Wards Brook aquifer, including those of the Fryeburg Water Company and Poland Springs acquisitions from the Pure Mountain Springs Company..

Through the Planning Board, a highly regard hydrogeologist was hired to evaluate the nature and impact of the withdrawals.
His report is publicly available, and his findings clearly refute the notion that current withdrawals are "sucking the aquifer dry". There are issues people feel strongly about, including how the withdrawals affect Lovewell Pond (several scientific-based reports indicate there is little or no threat at all), and who benefits from the groundwater use.

But it is irresponsible to imply as you did that the aquifer is being sucked dry. Not here, and never in Fryeburg, which has been moving to put strong controls in place to assure that will not happen.

Your credibility is diluted strongly with these kind of scare statements. I urge you to base your opinions on facts and not impressions.

Gene Bergoffen

susanb said...


A more careful reading, would reveal that I said "attempting to suck our aquifers dry."

I can't stop you from reading whatever you wish into my writing, but accusing me of irresponsibility, while selectively quoting me, might be considered a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

bergoffen said...

Susan, I'll grant you the semantics point, but don't you think the "attempting" needs verification, too? The aquifer users have made a number of public statements that they will honor the limits on aquifer use to assure sustainability, and no negative impact, within the limits of the withdrawal amounts recommended by the hydrogeologist. What evidence do you have to validate the "attempting" statement. And isn't a phrase like "sucking the aquifer dry" designed to incite?

Thanks for publishing a criticism...I appreciate that opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Good piece here Susan. I hope you will continue to keep us alerted to how the water extraction legislation progresses. I think the health of water resources is a matter of grave importance and the threat posed by corporate control very serious.

I find myself very wary of the reductive "scientific-based reports" and "facts" which are being used to justify bulk water extractions. With the water out of sight, even reasonably informed and intelligent lay people have virtually no way to verify "facts" meant to repudiate valid concerns over a vulnerable life necessity.

I hope you will keep at this.

Doug Hjelmstad

susanb said...


I always print criticisms, unless they are fraught with personal insults and threats.

It is always interesting to me that my editorials seem to be held to a higher standard than those of some of the other Sun editorial writers. I doubt very much that you've ever told Tom McLaughlin that he owed it to his readers to be factual.

That said, I am responsible in presenting facts. An editorial, by definition, is an opinion piece. It is my opinion, that Nestle will do everything it can to suck that aquifer dry. Nestle has proven time and time again to utterly lacking in any kind of corporate moral compass. For 30 years the Nestle boycott has been in place, as a result of their shameful practices in marketing their baby formula in third world countries. My daughter was 12 when she learned of the boycott. At 33, she is still participating.

Nestle/Poland Springs representatives have been overheard making some very foolish statements by locals, Gene. Things like, "We'll just go to NH and suck it dry."

It seems likely that you and I are on opposing sides when it comes to the water situation, Gene. I do, however, appreciate your comments.

To give folks something to chew on - here's an excellent reason why we should NOT allow large groundwater withdrawals:

We should all be urging our elected officials to get us out of the WTO, ASAP.