Monday, January 20, 2014

west virginia's water woes and why they matter to climbers

I've kept the ropetrip a lighthearted foray into the adventures and life lessons of rock climbing. I never intended for this to become my soap box. However, it's time we band together and call for action. Environmental issues related to the sports in which we partake are numerous and should be addressed as areas of concern.

With the recent 7,500 gallon spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) into the Elk River that left 300,000 citizens from Charleston and nine surrounding counties without potable water for several days, many questions are left unanswered. Most notable is the facepalming location of the guilty tanks a mile upstream from the largest public water intake in the state. The sketchy business dealings related to Freedom Industries and the development of CDC safety measures arbitrarily based on improper chemical composition and material safety data sheets (MSDS) with no safety data available are also severely conspicuous activities.

This is a multi-faceted issue that deals with problems in industry, economy, and regulatory frameworks. I won't delve further into the details as any interested folks can venture down the rabbit hole on their own time. What I want to do is inform all the climbers, paddlers, backpackers and mountain lovers that this issue belongs to you, too.  In-state, out-of-state, West Coast, international. In our case, we who take to ropes tend to focus on access over actual ecological health. It's time we look at land management from a holistic point of view and promote watershed health from source to sea. It doesn't matter who you are. Young, old, gumby, top roper, 5.14 leader. If you make it down once a week or once a year. You're a New River climber, and this is your land. In fact, it's everyone's land, because we publicly own large tracts of it as taxpayers. Have your love and passion for the region go beyond practicing Leave No Trace ethics and throwing a couple bucks to NRAC for hardware replacement.

Because, guess what? Once the mountain tops are chopped and the water supply is poisoned, nothing remains. Your weekend getaways to the AAC campground and cheerful meals at Pies N' Pints mean nothing if you don't stand up to fight tooth and nail for what remains. Simply frequenting West Virginia as an out-of-stater doesn't absolve you from the responsibility to collectively build coercive force to fight corporate corruption.

Call and write to West Virginia's representatives. And don't think your call doesn't matter because you're not a voting constituent. You contribute to the state's tourism economy by spending your dollars at West Virginia businesses. Considering how much money talks on the steps of Charleston's gilded capitol, you have as much a voice as any native Mountaineer.

Don't fall pray to the idea that there are enough regulations on the books and the only problem is their lack of enforcement. This issue was the inevitable result of an industry with ZERO regulations. These tanks faced not one line of century code dealing with inspection because they were only used for storage purposes. And, you know, storage containers don't deteriorate over time. So go and demand effective regulatory structures. Demand that those regulations be enforced by properly funded agencies with compassionate employees. Demand an end to a destructive system that has long harmed the disenfranchised folk who shorten their lives and poison their land to provide your surrounding states with electricity.

Enough lofty rhetoric on my part. It's time we organize and produce tangible material. When it comes to environmental policy, we fall under the gift and curse of the policy window. This phenomenon is engaged by unpredictable events that point the spotlight on particular areas of concern. While these issues are illuminated, action may be taken out of urgent need or public support. However, these windows are often short-lived. As soon as some other story takes the spotlight, concern is lowered and the window closes.

With the Bridgegate scandal stealing the airwaves from an involuntary public health experiment being waged on 300,000 tax payers, the window is already closing. I ask that you take one source of action from the following avenues listed below. Call, write, donate, curse, scream. Do it for me. Do it for West Virginia. Do it for the New. Because when we've processed the last chunk of coal and the lights go off...when we've deemed the last stream dead, it'll be too late.

Don't just send bolt money (well, do that too) but find out what you can do to increase climbers' presence in recreational and environmental policy issues at the grassroots, local, and state levels.

Charleston Headquarters: 601 57th Street, S.E. Charleston, WV 25304

Room 203E, Building 1
State Capitol Complex
Charleston, WV 25305

1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East
Charleston, WV 25305
Office Phone: 304.558.2200
Governor's Mansion: 304.558.3588

One of the state's oldest environmental conservation advocates.

A great resource for all legislative contacts in West Virginia.

Last but not least, share this blog post. Share your ideas. Ask your friends if they know the travesty that's unfolding down here. Do your research and understand not only why the issues are the way they are, but what is endemically wrong with West Virginia's all-too-lax regulatory system. If you're out-of-state, make sure people are aware that we provide the power they use on a daily basis. And finally, keep climbing at the New. Thank you.