The Bright Side of Water Pollution - West Virginia Strong

The Bright Side of Water Pollution

Morsels Of Truth: By Bil Lepp

Way back in January of 2014 I stepped out of the shower at YMCA. I picked up my water bottle, which I had filled from the water fountain, and took a long drink. Then a guy says to me, “Hey, there’s been some kind of chemical spill. You’re not supposed to drink any tap water or even take showers.”

I got dressed quickly. If I was going to die, I didn’t want to die naked in the men’s locker room at the Y. “Bil Lepp, a well-known liar, died naked at the YMCA,” is not how I want my obituary to begin.

My grandmother, who we called Ama, lived through Stalin’s famines in Russia. I asked her once what the worst part of living through a famine was. Ama never had a cross word for anyone. Not even Stalin. I was trying to provoke her into saying something negative. Ama considered and then said, “Well, the best part of living through a famine was that there were no dishes to wash.”

So maybe we are looking at the 2014 water crisis all wrong. Instead of being grumpy about the hardships we endured due to the fact that dangerous chemicals were stored, and spilled, just above our drinking water intake, take a page from Ama’s playbook. Find the silver lining. Sure, you couldn’t drink the water. You couldn’t bathe. We lived in fear of erupting skin rashes. We were perplexed that neither the state government nor any scientists really knew what the chemicals would do to us. It was frustrating that we had no idea how long the crisis would last. But, you didn’t have to do the dishes! Even better, a mere four years after the fact, you may or may not soon be getting a check for $550 from the settlement. My grandmother never got paid for being in a famine.

If we could have a water crisis every January, we’d all have a nice little extra income to look forward to each year. Not to mention saving on your water bill.

Groups like WV Rivers Coalition and Appalachian Mountain Advocates (AMA) are all the time whining about water quality in West Virginia. They claim it affects our standard of living. An article on AMA’s website states, “More than 40 percent of West Virginia’s rivers are too polluted to pass simple water-quality safety thresholds. They are too polluted to be safely used for drinking water or recreation, or to support healthy aquatic life.”

But that AMA needs to think like my Ama. Instead of looking at the negative, find the positive. Instead of wasting our time cleaning up the 40% of chemically wrecked waterways in this War on Polluted Water, we should start polluting the other 60%. We’re almost halfway to 100% pollution. What if we could turn all that dirty water into a financial boon?

I’m thinking we should start offering people who live near polluted waterways in West Virginia $550 a year for the privilege. The Departments of Tourism and Commerce could begin a campaign advertising how much money a person can make living near undrinkable water in West Virginia. Hundreds of thousands of people would move to West Virginia to earn the annual $550. Instead of losing population, people would be moving in. Commerce would go up. Contractors would make a fortune building new houses. The economy of West Virginia would blossom.

Promote the No Dishes benefit. Nobody likes doing dishes. People lament and wonder why young people are leaving West Virginia. I’ll tell you why. Dishes. Have you ever met a young person who likes doing dishes? If we can just find a way to pollute all our waterways the kids will stay in state. Instead of the Mountain State we could be the Mountain of Dirty Dishes state.

The area that is now West Virginia has been famous for thousands of years for the restorative quality of our natural mineral springs. George Washington himself used to come to West Virginia to soak in the natural spring waters. The Greenbrier spa advertises: “Since 1778, people have traveled to The Greenbrier to "take the waters" and bathe in the white sulphur spring water… Luxuriate in a whirlpool bath or soak up the healing properties of the native sulphur waters.”

Instead of “Take the Waters” we could advertise “Leave the Waters.” Conversely, we could hype up the Unnatural Spring Waters brimming with mysterious toxins that, for all we know, might turn you into a superhero. It’s totally possible and well worth the risk.

Republicans in the West Virginia House and Senate have worked hard over the last few years to reduce water protection laws and increase ways industry can contaminate our streams. They haven’t bragged about. But it’s time for them to quit being so humble. If you have a Republican senator or delegate, call them up, or send an email. Thank them for their foresight and ingenious economic plan to save and perpetuate West Virginia’s polluted waterways.

Bil Lepp is a nationally renowned storyteller and a PEN Award winning author. To see more of Bil's WV Strong content click here.


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