The history of civilization is the story of water technologies for cities and villages. Interlaken and all municipalities have followed a long road to providing clean potable water to citizens that began millennia ago by the Mayans, Romans and others. Each of these civilizations developed technologies to clean and transport water to people in ancient cities. According to research published in Scientific Reports on Oct. 22, 2020, the Maya used a zeolite treatment technology to help purify the water. The Romans are well known for the aqueducts that provided water to cities throughout their empire.
The Village of Interlaken is a small, municipally owned and operated water and sewage systems. I, as water commissioner, along with the mayor and staff of the Department of Public Works, keep an eye on water quality. We agree to the burden of responsibility to be alert and informed about the water pumped to the customers of our network. The DPW checks chlorine levels daily as per Department of Health requirements and checks for other contaminants annually, lead/copper every two years, and bacteria every two months.
The concerns of the village include those of the watershed. Interlaken is a member of the Cayuga Lake Watershed Inter-municipal Organization. As a representative of the village, I support the goal of protecting and restoring the health of Cayuga Lake.
Water issues are difficult. There are few short answers to questions and issues. We often can’t see, smell or taste the toxins in water, natural or man-made. To investigate water quality issues requires an understanding of ecology and chemistry.
Until recently in the United States, few manufactured chemicals were tested. That changed in 2016 with the Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, supported by environmental groups and bipartisan approval in Congress. A principle of chemical toxicity is “the dose makes the poison.” Any chemical could be toxic if a high enough dose were ingested in a short amount of time. This begs the question, what about the prior release of toxic chemicals that are still present in the environment?
PFAS (Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are a group of man-made chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe since the 1940s. They are commonly known as “forever chemicals.”
Interlaken has begun testing for PFAS and is awaiting the first quarterly report. Roxanna Johnston, Watershed Coordinator for the City of Ithaca, reports: “Regarding PFAS, the City of Ithaca collected their first samples in October (2020). We have finally gotten the results and all are below the maximum contaminant level (MCL), some are non-detectable. Based on early testing (to develop the MCLs), it was predicted that 20% of water supplies would exceed the MCL.” Ithaca tests showed no detectable amounts. A sigh of relief.
We live in a vulnerable ecological wonderland, connected by water and air. What is discharged into the environment, intentionally or not, eventually ends up inside our bodies.
Besides reporting from sources such as the Finger Lakes Times as well as official announcements from state DEC & DOH, viewpoints and data from Water Front: environmental reporting of the Finger Lakes, and Rural Matters (Rural Community Assistance Partnership) provide perspectives on best practices in maintaining water quality on a regional basis.
The Finger Lakes have watchdogs like The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network; Seneca Lake Guardians; Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now; the Finger Lakes Institute; the Community Science Institute; and Toxics Targeting to name some who keep the spotlight on the quality, health and threats to our waters.
Phillip Inman (The Guardian, Dec. 5) writes about Adam Smith’s, The Wealth of Nations: “(Smith) … devoted many pages to the need for an active state and, after observing their effects on fellow humans, the idea that rich owners of capital should observe a higher morality that circumscribes their activities.” We need to support economic development that puts the Earth and the well being of all life before profits. Industries must be challenged to act in good faith, to be good neighbors.
Some state governments are making efforts to mitigate the poisoning of our waters. New York, Maine and Washington have outlawed the use of PFAS in food products. These “forever chemicals” are toxic and don’t break down easily.
This year The Green Amendment in New York state will give voters an opportunity to add S 528/A 1368 to the state constitution: “Each person shall have a right to clean water, air, land, and a healthful environment.” This gives current and future generations the constitutional framework to protect our environment. Citizens need to urge elected officials at all levels of government, to endorse this amendment. Protecting water is not a partisan issue. The health and well being of our water ought to bring us all together for the common good. The Green Amendment is a commitment to use the government for the good of everyone.