The Norman Transcript

March 3, 2013

City council taking important steps forward on water conservation policy

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

The Transcript’s Feb. 27 article, “Protecting Norman’s Water Supply,” did a great job reporting on city council’s efforts to improve water conservation and safeguard the lake from over-fertilization. Council passed a measure requiring drought resistant plants to be used in the landscaping of city property.

These are important steps forward, but lots of work still remains. That this multi-pronged approach now seems to be endorsed by the council majority is good news for anyone relying on the municipal water supply.

Leaders have negotiated timely responses to meet the water crisis head on. Most of these are non-controversial, easily marketable policy solutions. As one council member skeptically put it, we are at least “learning” in the right direction. His skepticism is warranted. Stronger regulations, though welcome, won’t be enough.

While a citywide ban on phosphate fertilizers and detergents would seem to be in order, this was evidently too divisive. The voluntary measures, while limited, will at least help publicize the harm done by lawn fertilization. Phosphates content feeds the harmful algae growth seen at many lakes in these increasingly hot and dry Oklahoma summers. The blooms can limit access to some lakes for both recreation and drinking water. If we’re lucky, this information may help to discourage irresponsible use, but there’s still no reliable mechanism for enforcement.

The fertilizer ordinance easily won favor with the developers and their lobbyists.

Certainly, it will have little impact on their harmful land use practices. In getting behind such ordinances, they can appear to support water quality issues while blocking stronger regulations that would require changes in their behavior. Limiting development in sensitive areas, preserving the flood plain; this is all part of the hard work and “bolt cutting” that lies ahead.

Despite broad support for the fertilizer ordinance, two notable dissenting votes came from Wards 5 and 8. Their insistence on absolutely denying the city’s legitimacy in passing voluntary measures was backed, somewhat confusingly, by a standard refrain denouncing any limit of “freedom.”

To be sure, there’s more to it. These dissenters are prominent, outspoken members of a local religious organization. Their positions have allowed them to steer their church’s own real estate projects (including a Planned Unit Development) through the city planning process.

Reading through the “positive papers” available at the Harvest Church website, their approach to policy making becomes a bit clearer. Armed with a unique take on scripture, it seems any government action to curb environmental damage caused by humans is seen as illegitimate. Online documents associate environmentalism with “nature worship” and sinfulness. If human industry destroys our habitats, no matter what. Such consequent “end-of-days” tribulations are perfectly consistent with the horrors described by biblical prophecy. The language of “property rights” is equally important to this crowd. Stretching the metaphor a bit, God-as-landlord and executor of the estate supervises his tenants, meting out harsh penalties for property vandals. So, pray up or shut up. That’s their answer.

Whether phrased in secular appeals to “freedom,” for rapture-ready religious lingo, or both, the off-beat rhetoric and badly executed bluffs invariably advocate for non-action.

Even the most dedicated of believers, even the most fervent advocates of individual liberty, will understand that and in this crisis situation, non-action is not a tenable position.

Regardless of one’s religion or ideology, we’re all responsible for safeguarding the land and water from pollution and wasteful overuse. Whether we act on that responsibility is another matter. Some of us will comply with voluntary conservation and phosphate ordinances. Some will not. Some will even deny that government has the authority to act. As long as that’s the case, stricter regulations will be necessary to limit abuse and manage access to our collectively held resources.

We should be extremely wary of any politician or religious spokesperson who wants us to believe otherwise.

Casey Holcomb


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