Things that make you go “Hmmmm.”

I’m on a bit of a break from Facebook, and I’m finding a lot of thoughts bottled up in my head that I would normally be relieving on social media. One occurred to me at lunch today. It has to do with water.

Water is a precious resource. Here in the United States, most civilized areas are blessed with a sufficient supply of clean, fresh water for drinking, bathing, car washing, and other natural human pursuits. People in other areas of the world aren’t nearly so lucky.

The coastal part of Eastern North Carolina where I live has one very large underground aquifer that constitutes the primary source of groundwater in the area. In other words, if you drill a well anywhere around here you’re going to hit one of two things — the Castle Hayne aquifer or salt water. Although it’s a very large reservoir of water which is being constantly replenished through percolation of surface water into the aquifer, it’s not infinite. Withdraw too much water and the aquifer — and those who draw their drinking water from it — are in deep trouble. Wells can run dry.

We’re constantly hearing that water is a terribly precious resource, and that we shouldn’t waste it. Toilets are now regulated by law and can’t use more than a certain amount of water per flush. Showerheads have flow restrictors in them. Municipalities regulate on what days and at what times you can water your lawn or wash your car. Some car washes operate by recycling their water. And water bills in some areas are absolutely astronomical. In the little town where I live, called River Bend, our water utility charges twice what the Atlanta Water Works charges, yet they supply barely treated water with high dissolved solids and awful taste.

Today I remembered a tour my wife and I took of a phosphate mine nearby. It’s an open pit mine run by a company called PCS Phosphate, and it’s near a little town called Aurora. The mining engineer on the tour casually pointed to a fairly large creek emptying into the river, and mentioned that it was water drawn from the Castle Hayne aquifer. He said that they “depressurize” the aquifer so their mining work can be done in the dry without groundwater seeping into the mine cuts.

This bugged me at the time and when I remembered it today, I looked up their permit. PCS Aurora is allowed to withdraw 78 MILLION GALLONS PER DAY of water directly from the Castle Hayne aquifer, by way of wells drilled on mine property. And what do they use that water for? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The water is thrown away. It is dumped directly into the Neuse river through man-made creeks like the one I saw.

I asked myself why, at a time when water is considered in short supply, a corporation is allowed to withdraw as much water each day — and not use it —  as it takes to supply the entire capital city of Raleigh. I couldn’t come up with a decent answer. It seems that wasting precious groundwater is a privilege reserved only for corporations. To me that’s more than appalling. It’s corrupt.

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