When clear, sparkling water was the norm

Published 10:06 am Friday, August 19, 2011

The continuing saga of efforts to assure plentiful good water for Polk County is of great interest to me.
When I was a boy in the 30s my grandfather, T. A. Rippy, owned the Piney Mountain Spring system that supplied water to Lynn, Harmon Field and parts of the valley. He sold the system to the Town of Tryon sometime in the 50s, I believe.
The state of North Carolina sent Papa Rippy a glass vial periodically, which he was to fill from a spigot and return to them for analysis.
The report always came back negative, with a note that he should not add anything to the water or treat it in any way because it was so pure. It tasted good, too.
In the 40s my brother, friends and I began to hike fairly often on White Oak and Tryon Peak. We never carried water with us because there were plenty of streams and waterfalls from which we could drink our fill. The water was clear, sparkling and tasted good. Yes!
Fast forward about half a century and we find that water supplied to the public must be “treated” and that we’d better not drink from streams or waterfalls. In a column I wrote some years ago about our environment, I quipped about nearby Tennessee and the French Broad River that “They send us air we cannot breathe, and we send them water they cannot drink. Does that make us even?”
There are many places in the world that already do not have enough potable water to support the increasing population. Water is essential to all life forms, both plant and animal.
Does it make sense to ruin a lot of water to get oil and gas out of shale? Some need oil, but all need water.
I shudder to think that some people are not content just to pollute surface water in rivers and lakes, but willfully spoil the water in our aquifers, too.
Right now a bottled water enterprise is pumping an awful lot of water out of the central Florida aquifer. Nearby Tampa is already desalinating sea water to meet demand. I have to ask what will happen when the aquifer is pumped down far enough for sea water to enter.
It seems to me that everyone lives on someone else’s watershed, and therefore should think seriously about what they do to “their” land. I remember seeing a sign at a friend’s backyard pool that read, “We don’t swim in your toilet, so please don’t….” Think about Lake Lanier (principal source of Tryon’s water) in this context. Then think about Lake Adger and Henderson County’s stated position on upgrading that watershed.
As an engineer, I am often asked how I think the very expensive space program has benefitted us, especially putting men on the moon.
I begin my answer by mentioning the ICUs in hospitals, the communications satellites, new materials and methods, etc. We now take for granted the weather reporting such as hurricane warnings, our GPS units (we call ours “Matilda”) and the explosion in communication and computer technology spawned by space exploration.
I think the most important outcome is the picture of our beautiful blue and white earth rising above the barren moonscape.
Because it brought home to all of us the realization that our earth is a finite thing, a little ball hurtling through a very hostile space. Its gravity causes our life-sustaining atmosphere to cling to it.
Everything we need to live is built into it, balanced and regulated within the narrow limits required for our survival. And if we mess it up, we don’t have anywhere to go.

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