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“We should treat our water as the valuable resource it is”

Denis Thoet, Kennebec Journal

“We meter water and sewer use in our cities — rightly so, since city systems are heavily capitalized. But everywhere else, we act as if water is free and in endless supply. Thus, the dilemma: We are blessed with a valuable resource that we do not value highly.”

Besides healthy soil, water is probably the most important ingredient in growing healthy food.  And we use a lot of water at Long Meadow Farm.

We irrigate sparingly (drip irrigation); we water our chickens (52), sheep (2) and goats (17 total). Chickens drink a modest eight gallons per day, and the sheep and goats are parsimonious, finding most of their water in the pasture in spring and early summer. Our domestic consumption is about 80 gallons per day, including showers, laundry, toilet flushes and dishwashing. Total Long Meadow Farm consumption: 100-110 gallons a day.

With the small exception of pond water to irrigate a part of the garden, almost all of that water comes from our well, drilled to a depth of about 230 feet almost 30 years ago. The well hasn’t failed, yet, but we have run it out a few times and know the supply is finite.

We are seriously thinking about digging an old-fashioned shallow-water well near the pond to pipe to our apprentice house and to the garden. That would take the strain off the house well, but the question is whether it would test out well enough to be used as drinking water and for washing vegetables. The state requires us to test water from our drilled well annually if we are going to sell prepared foods at market.

We know the value of water, even though we don’t pay for it directly.

So when a corporation like Poland Spring, owned by multi-national conglomerate Nestle of Switzerland, announces that it will close down operations and leave the state if any tax is placed on the millions of gallons it extracts from our state daily, it makes sense to take a look at its operation and whether the aquifers it is drawing from can support their activities.

Poland Spring now extracts 700 million gallons of Maine water per year, bottles it in plastic and ships it world-wide. I wonder how many Poland Spring labels can be found floating in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 100 million tons of trash swirling in the vortex of the Pacific Gyre current? That’s mostly our West Coast trash.

For East Coast trash, we probably have to see how many cute Poland Spring bottles are swirling aimlessly in the Sargasso Sea. Not a brand Maine can be proud of.

Anyway, Poland Spring claims that Maine has more than enough water. The excess just runs into the salty Gulf of Maine, so why not put it in plastic and make some money on it?

Water is one of Maine’s best natural resources because it is plentiful and mostly clean. That does not mean it should be free.

We meter water and sewer use in our cities — rightly so, since city systems are heavily capitalized. But everywhere else, we act as if water is free and in endless supply. Thus, the dilemma: We are blessed with a valuable resource that we do not value highly.

We are, in fact, the Saudi Arabia of water, except that Saudi Arabia’s oil is finite and nonrenewable, something that we should take notice of since the west and southwest are in a perennial drought (as is Saudi Arabia for that matter)

Unlike oil, our water is a renewable and life-giving resource. Targeting Poland Spring and other bottled water companies with a modest tax (say, one cent per gallon) would set a valuable precedent and perhaps even help balance the state budget. At one cent per gallon, we would gain $7 million into a strapped state budget just from Poland Spring’s share. At 10 cents, $70 million.

Because misery loves company, let’s take another step: Require all private well owners to install meters on their water lines and tax them (us) at the same rate.

Long Meadow Farm would not mind paying that dollar per day for our current use. Big irrigation operations like our potato farmers may learn to appreciate the economy of drip irrigation systems.

Metering our water here on the farm is a good way to monitor our use and perhaps figure out ways to use water more wisely. Of course, our electricity is metered and we do all we can to keep our use down, often without success.

The revenues from a water tax could be split between the General Fund and also dedicated to preserving the health of Maine’s valuable aquifers.

We’re rich and we don’t even know it.

——————

Denis Thoet, with his partner Michele Roy, own and manage Long Meadow Farm in West Gardiner, Maine.

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