Voices from the River: Common ground on clean water

By Shauna Stephenson

As a Montanan, a rural, progressive-leaning one at that, I don’t often consider myself to be in lockstep with many Texans. 

Nothing against Texas. Truly. It just doesn’t occur to me that we may agree on many things – politics, music, Whataburger. But so goes the saying – people can surprise you.  

Taking an aisle seat on a three-hour flight to Dallas with a borderline toddler on your lap is usually grounds for minding your own business and praying that the flight attendants keep you well stocked on cookies.  

As the family of four file in around me, I found myself sitting next to a friendly gal – a former high-powered career woman turned stay-at-home mom of two from the Dallas suburbs. 

Her boys settled in behind her watching movies, and as the flight dragged on she told me about their life in Texas, handing them napkins and snacks, reminding them to use their manners while chirping to my son Otto, who was content to smile and babble, kicking the seat of the person in front of us with his chubby, stubby legs.  

She described their life, an ideal house in a nice area, good schools, small backyards, lots of after school activities, soccer, baseball. She talked about what it was like to leave the work force and how different two seemingly similar kids can be.  

Somewhere she got on the subject of learning to garden because she was concerned about the chemicals in our food supply.  

“I’m just so sick of having to worry about whether or not we have clean water and clean air. Don’t we all deserve clean water?” 

It’s not often someone tosses you a softball on an airplane. 

In December, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a plan that would roll back protections on small streams.  

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, the most obvious being that no one wants to worry about polluted water. The proposal, as written, will deregulate a host of development activities such as pipeline construction, putting at risk thousands of miles of streams and wetlands. 

It goes without saying that risking streams and wetlands also risks fish, wildlife and, you guessed it, drinking water. 

A recent poll by Colorado College showed that 60 percent of Westerners had a negative view of the removal of protections for small streams and wetlands. In contrast, only 17 percent viewed the move favorably. 

While the comment period is not yet open, it is expected to start any day. And when it does, it will be incumbent on all of us to voice our concern. 

But, even knowing all of that – being immersed in all that detail daily – I let the softball pass.  

“I worry about it too,” I confided. “Every day. Every time I turn on the tap or give my kids a drink of water, I think about what might be in it.” 

There’s a lot of reasons to worry about our coldwater resources these days, many of which are long-lived and complex problems that won’t be solved easily.  

With that challenge already on our plate, it makes no sense to voluntarily create more insecurity for our water quality. 

Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks so. 

Shauna Stephenson is TU's national communications director. She lives and works near Bozeman, Mont.




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