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Hamptons Life

Jun 2, 2009 6:31 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Reclaiming lawns: stop polluting and save the environment

Jun 2, 2009 6:31 PM

While many forms of life can survive without oxygen, none can survive without water. And as hard as we try, with all of our intellect and scientific prowess, we cannot manufacture water.

Most people are shocked to know that 97 percent of the world’s water is salt water, and that only 1 percent of the Earth’s water is usable to us. Even more shocking is that most of that water is now unfit for human use.

We are polluting and destroying our finite sources of water faster than it is being replenished. Simply put, the world is running out of water, and in 50 years, there will likely be a collapse of the world’s water systems.

Water is even being sold on the stock market and the water market is exploding because some of the biggest corporations in the world are realizing that water is the hottest commodity out there. And in the end, those who can afford water will have water, and those who cannot afford water will go without. If there is one thing that will finally wake us up to how abusive we have been to our environment, it will be that we are running out of water.

There are many who say that the third World War will be fought over water. And indeed wars over water are already being fought around the globe. There are even maps charted out to explain where the hottest areas of conflict over water will take place in the future.

In Bolivia, people have been killed in the streets while fighting to maintain control over their water. The Colorado River dries up before it gets to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico because all of the water is being used upstream in the United States, causing intense friction between the United States and Mexico. In Malaysia, the water pollution is so severe that the government has issued the death penalty for those who pollute the water. Water-borne diseases are now killing more children than malaria and AIDS combined. And every 21 seconds, a child dies from a water-related illness.

In the United States, 40 percent of our waters are classified as impaired, and a United Nations-commissioned report found that 60 percent of the Earth’s life-supporting resources, including water, are in decline. Here on Long Island, we have one of the few sole source aquifer designations in the country—a place from which comes at least 50 percent of our total water supply—our very own source of precious life-giving water thanks in very large part to the hard working people at the Suffolk County Water Authority, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, The Nature Conservancy and The Neighborhood Network.

And yet we defile our water by killing our wetlands and streams and replacing them with lawns and landscaping with bulkheading and pavement, destroying the very ecological niches where our water can clean itself.

The first thing many of us do when we buy a property is kill everything on it, the turtles, the songbirds, the groundhogs; and we rip out all of our native plants, which feed and shelter our native wildlife and insects.

We even remove the roots that have been holding the soil in place, exposing the soil, sending it into our water supply where it gets into the gills of fish, covers fish eggs, and prevents plant life from photosynthesizing. Many of us replace our wetlands and streams with bulkheading, also in the process destroying feeding areas and breeding and spawning areas. Not to mention the fact that deer and turtles and muskrats, among others, can drown looking for a place where they can make their way onto the land.

And then we replace our natural heritage with pavements and lawns and with non-native plants that require life support to survive here—life support that includes the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers and exorbitant amounts of water.

These things are my nemesis, my crusade, and my passion: the fight against The Tyranny of Landscaping.

As for me, I don’t even have a lawn. Here is why: Lawn mowers, blowers and weed-whackers have no emissions standards and are thus major polluters. One hour of power mowing emits the equivalent in air pollution as driving 350 miles by car. In addition to causing respiratory ailments in humans and other animals, emissions pollute our air and our clouds and fall back to us as acid rain, ultimately polluting our water supply.

More than 700 million gallons of gasoline are used annually to power lawn equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. That is more than all of the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska.

Approximately 3 million tons of fertilizer are applied annually to American lawns and 60 percent of the nitrogen from these fertilizers ends up in our groundwater. Nitrogen is toxic to humans! And the nitrogen is killing aquatic life.

There are black zones in our bays and oceans where nothing is alive because of fertilizer leaching and runoff. As a result, there are communities across the country that are banning the use of fertilizers and gas-powered lawn mowers in a last ditch effort to save their waterways.

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