North American News

A Year Later, and the Land & Water Conservation Fund’s Exclusion of Groundwater Represents a Failure of True Conservation

Biden and Trump at odds over climate matters, but health of aquifers is safely ignored

By AWN / Editorial & Analysis / May 6, 2021

Joseph R. Biden sees himself as America’s “environmental” president, especially compared to Donald J. Trump, who, as president, backed the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change back in 2017—a decision which Biden reversed.
But, all things considered, Biden’s ongoing call to fight “climate change” is significantly more abstract than, for example, Trump’s signing of the Great American Outdoors Act on Aug. 4, 2020. Among other things, signing that act into law helped address “the historically under-funded, multi-billion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog at [America’s] national parks and public lands,” according to a U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) news release.
So, it’s a matter of what kind of environmentalism that one may want to consider: Biden’s global approach, or Trump’s more grassroots approach.
While both have their merits and demerits, climate change—although it’s a vitally important issue—largely rests on computer models, whereas the Great American Outdoors Act inaugurated progress that can be more easily seen and felt.
In fact, the signing of that act finally enabled the full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF,) a long-anticipated development.
Yet, here’s a major irony: The LWCF depends heavily on the royalties that energy companies pay the U.S. federal government for mining and drilling natural resources—especially natural gas and oil—the use of which, however, produces so-called “greenhouse gases” which are said to play a major role in artificially warming the planet. Thus, if Biden is serious when he states his intention to reduce our reliance on “fossil fuels,” that will mean less revenue for land and water conservation projects.
Revenues from energy development will inject $1.9 billion per year for five years, via the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, “to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas and American Indian schools,” the same DOI press release noted, while adding that the first-ever full funding of the LWCF, at $900 million a year, was part of the package.
The LWCF, in turn, preserves only surface-water resources, among several other things. But when now-former Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado (who lost his re-election bid) announced the LWCF’s permanent funding at a March 2020 press conference, he begrudgingly admitted when questioned directly by AWN that groundwater, i.e. aquifers, are not part of the equation. At first, he wasn’t going to directly answer the question—until another Senator interjected and clearly stated that groundwater was not included in the broad scope of the LWCF.
This exclusion of groundwater continues to represent a major oversight on the part of the former Trump administration and the federal government under Biden.
Groundwater undergirds countless public water supplies; it irrigates vast farms, waters countless livestock and enables fish hatcheries to exist. And innovative hatcheries with high percentages of recycled water (instead of the old, pollution-prone flow-thru system) are urgently needed to raise baitfish to counteract that massive shortage of baitfish in our lakes, rivers and oceans—an ongoing problem that threatens the balance of entire ecosystems and puts the sustainability of a major part of our world food supply at risk.
So, at this juncture, a key question that Americans may want to ask Congress and President Biden is whether groundwater preservation can be added to the mix.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk about royalty revenue in exchange for extracting natural resources, Nestle, a global food and beverage corporation, pays the state of Michigan next to nothing per year to hammer the aquifer near Evart, Michigan at a rate of 400 gallons per minute, or 210,240,000 gallons per year. The rate was a “mere” 200 gallons per minute until the Michigan government doubled it a few years ago with virtually no public awareness or input.
And need we remind our readers that Nestle’s Guelph, Ontario plant, according to the most recent estimates, pays $3.71 per million liters to bottle water? And that plant is just down the street from Guelph University, which developed the innovative groundwater recycling technology that AWN co-founder John Devine used to drastically reduce groundwater usage at an Ontario fish hatchery that he operated in the early 1990s—until the “powers that be” in “casino-revenue-addicted” Canada decided that widening a road for a nearby casino, and taking too large a chunk of Devine’s business property in the process, was more important than good environmental stewardship.
Bottom line: Nestle’s operations at those two massive bottling plants represent “mining” a resource just like “mining” oil, gas, coal, etc. And Nestle should pay much more for that level of nonstop extraction. That money could and should be directed to help state and federal conservation efforts. After all, we often hear, “Water is the new oil.” This is the perspective that’s missing from so-called efforts toward “land and water conservation” in Canada as well as the U.S.

All told, while climate change will continue to be a concern, more tangible and measurable environmental concerns deserve close attention. So, perhaps concerned citizens in the U.S. as well as Canada should remind local, state, provincial and federal officials that groundwater is apparently a forgotten component in our worldview when it comes to conservation.
Notice that the major political parties in both countries may publicly disagree on the reality and nature of climate change, yet these same parties quietly exclude groundwater from conservation legislation in perfect harmony with each other. That suspicious situation needs to be called out and changed, in AWN’s estimation.

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