Thursday, December 31, 2009

More on the Water Rights initiative proposal

This was published in the Herald on 12/30.  Letters from the proponents, which appeared the previous week, are not on line, but the comment thread is open if Ed G. or any of the other proponents want to chime in.   

Re: the proposed water rights ordinance

The people have a right to know that this proposal could affect the city's ability to provide basic services. Lawyers are expensive. One of the ways the city balanced the budget this year was to make a big cut in the amount budgeted for legal advice. But if the city were actually involved in a lawsuit, this budget limit would go out the window and something else would have to be cut. That something else could be one of the guys running snowplows, or a police officer or fireman.

Yes, it would take at least one complaint to force the city to sue. That was exactly my point. Even if the city's own testing found no water contamination; even if the city attorney said the case was not winnable; even if our elected representatives believed the complainant was a paranoid hypochondriac, one complaint could force the city to sue. Would this be enforceable? Probably not, but then the city might end up in a lawsuit over its failure to file a lawsuit. If there were a specific standard written into the proposal, such as our water being contaminated with more than 50 micrograms per liter of silver (the EPA standard) I would not be concerned. But as written, the definition of harm is entirely subjective.

Silver toxicity comes from the silver ion, not from any particular compound. It could be caused by silver nitrate in photographic chemicals, or from ingesting colloidal silver—a product sold locally that some people swear by, but which any M.D. doctor in town will tell you to avoid. Iodine toxicity is also a potential problem, but the threshold for harm would be much higher, since it is an essential micronutrient.

For a private citizen, civil disobedience is an option if existing laws are seen as unjust. But public servants take an oath to administer the laws as they are, not as they would like them to be. I'm writing this letter strictly on my own, but it does seem like the authors of the proposed ordinance expect city officials to do their civil disobedience for them by ignoring state laws to the contrary.

And there is really no credible evidence that cloud seeding 40 to 80 miles away, in a separate watershed, would deposit silver iodide here, in harmful, or even in measurable quantities. Studies in the Sierra Nevada downstream from cloud seeding operations rarely show more than 100 parts per trillion, which is more than two orders of magnitude below the toxic level. The generators would only be fired up when a storm front comes in, and the fronts all blow away from our village. This is not to say that I trust PG & E. The movie "Erin Brockovich," was based on a true story about water contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a really toxic substance, by the same PG & E Corporation. But the take home messages from that story are that if big corporations really do cause contamination, there are always lawyers who will take the case for a contingency fee, and there are existing laws to base it on. You don't need to force a cash-strapped small town to take this risk.

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