The Source


Carol and I took a hike up to “The Source”. To start out, we drove our rented Suzuki Jeep up the path to where the road ends, parked the Jeep and set out uphill on foot. It’s a lovely hike up through a tropical rain forest populated by banana trees and vervet monkeys. The trail started out relatively easy, but as it went up, it became more narrrow, steeper and less developed, but certainly no less beautiful.

“The Source” is the source for much of the people’s water on the tiny Carribean Leeward Island of Nevis, where Carol and I had gone for a second honeymoon. Nevis is a volcano and The Source is at the top, 3,400 feet up. Among the people of Nevis, The Source was widely revered and respected and always mentioned with a certain amount of awe.

The whole time we were visiting Nevis, the island was sunny, bright and hot, but The Source at the top of Nevis Peak seemed perpetually ringed in its own little halo of white clouds. People spoke of The Source hike as something we should definitely do. This hike went up a rugged mountain trail following the water pipe that comes down from The Source. Both the trail and the water pipe apparently date from the 1600’s. We weren’t sure what was up there, but were reasonably certain it must be some kind of ancient mountaintop Shangri-La.

As we ascended to The Source, the air became cool and misty and the trail became ever more enclosed and still continued to narrow. In fact, Carol and I never did make it to The Source. The trail seemed more than we bargained for when we set out in our flip-flops and shorts, plus it seemed to be taking much longer than the budgeted time. After all, we were both anxious to get back to our beachfront resort and relax.

But had we continued, we would have gone further up into the clouds, confronted a final 100 foot climb up a rickety iron ladder bolted into a rock face that seemingly dated from the 1600’s itself, then we’d have found a relatively unimpressive small pool of water about 6 to 8 feet across fed by a smallish waterfall, with the water pipe leading down and out from the side of the mountain just below the pool.

Presumably, the trail wasn’t made easy on purpose. As the main reliable source of freshwater on a small volcanic island surrounded by sea, the people kind of had to have it that way. They can’t have a lot of honeymooning tourists or partying college kids splashing around in “The Source” of their island’s freshwater, after all.

When it comes to protecting freshwater, people do get defensive and can be downright reverential.

That was 23 years ago. But I had an experience a few weeks ago that brought back these memories of our (attempted) hike to The Source.

Carol, Abbey and I had the opportunity to attend a reverential love-fest for The Source of our own freshwater. But in these parts, we refer to The Source as the Mahomet Aquifer. I can say this, you can say a lot of things about people and the divisiveness of current political discourse, but when it comes to protecting our Mahomet Aquifer, all I can say is: Don’t make us angry.

And I think it’s fairly safe to say that Peoria Disposal has managed to make nearly all of Central Illinois pretty angry with a lucrative financial proposal (for them) to potentially poison the people’s well.

As many of us are aware, they want to dump Chicago’s highly toxic polcychlorinated biphenyls right over our Aquifer, protected by a plastic liner that they promise is much thicker than several Hefty Thik-Saks and might even hold for at least several hundred years.

So this particular love-fest was actually an Environmental Protection Agency hearing to gather public comment on designating the Mahomet Aquifer as a “Sole Source Aquifer”. In addition to being a nice-sounding name, this would give our Source an ‘added layer’ of federal government protection if anyone were to consider any federally-funded projects anywhere above the Aquifer.

What it wouldn’t do is affect the decision to locate the PCB waste dump over the Aquifer, which was, after all, why most of the attendees were there. But still, there were several hundred people in attendance, all defending the Mahomet Aquifer with nearly 100 people approaching the mic for public comment and 100% of them speaking in favor of additional federal government protection for our Aquifer.

It seemed to me that this was all the more inspiring in an age when many of us question the role of increased government intervention in our lives. Although apparently they’re not so questioning when it comes to protecting The Source of our freshwater.

The thing is, I wondered, why are we even having such a hearing for the EPA to determine whether or not our Mahomet Aquifer is worthy of protecting? According to them, it must be the “sole” source of a population’s water to warrant additional layers of protection. So I’m to understand that if it’s not the “sole” source of water, we’re substantially less concerned about protecting it?

This gets me to our very own Sangamon River, which as I wrote a few weeks back, is the “sole source” of water for the people of Decatur except for a supplemental well in Cerro Gordo that taps into – you guessed it – the Mahomet Aquifer). For the record, Decatur’s population is nearly four times that of the Island of Nevis (therefore four times as thirsty.)

Despite this fact, there is no hearing about protecting the Sangamon River that I’ve heard about. There is no love fest attended by hundreds of people with 100% of the hundred people speaking out in favor of protecting the Sangamon.

Most of what I hear about the Sangamon these days is silence. As a matter of fact I can kayak a mile up or downstream from where I live and find places where people dump their junk down the bank of the river that runs through the back of their property. I can pick up a kayak full of trash floating in the river along the way. I can see along the Sangmon’s tributaries the ends of pipes from field tiles that drain whatever was sprayed onto farmland directly into the River.

So I’m left to ponder, why don’t we treat our Sangamon River with the same awed, reverential respect as the people of Nevis treat their Source? Why don’t we get as angry about people actually using the Sangamon River as a dump as we do when someone merely proposes a PCB landfill over the Mahomet Aquifer?

After all, when it comes to protecting fresh water, people do get defensive and can be downright reverential. Or does that only apply to some sources of fresh water and not others?




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