Grains de sable
Pensez-y un instant : nous faisons face à de sérieux problèmes reliés
à l'eau ici au Nouveau-Brunswick, un petit territoire supposé baigner
On devrait être très bien pourvu comparativement à la plupart des
autres endroits géographiques ou des autres juridictions, mais des
avertissements ont déjà été lancés à Moncton où des restrictions
obligatoires sont en vigueur, etc.
La plus grande difficulté à laquelle nous faisons face comme société
est de réagir à ces types de questions sans en connaître vraiment les
causes et les effets.
Causes et effets : combien de temps pouvons-nous encore les ignorer?
Grains of Sand
Restigouche Naturalist Club
the last year or so, there has been a spate of news stories dealing with
water problems. Communities across New Brunswick are having supply
problems. Wells are contaminated, sometimes so badly that boiling the
water is not sufficient to make them safe for consumption; reservoirs are
at, or near, all time lows even in the winter; and rivers are reaching
their summer low periods much earlier in the year than previously.
(photo: NB Images)
Consider this: we are experiencing serious water-related problems here
in New Brunswick, a small territory with a supposedly abundant supply of
the stuff. We should be very well off in comparison to most other
geographical locations and political jurisdictions, but the warnings have
already been issued. Moncton is facing mandatory restrictions on water
use, unless we experience very heavy spring rains. Hillsborough is facing
the reality of having to find an entirely new water source, because, it
seems, the current one is so badly contaminated that it is essentially
useless. Campbellton and Balmoral both experienced water shortage problems
last summer, and I think that we all realize that another long, dry summer
will exacerbate those situations and introduce them to other communities.
Yet, by and large, we continue on, doing things as we always have,
seemingly trusting to blind faith to correct the situation.
The greatest difficulty that we face as a society in dealing with
issues such as this is that we still really do not understand cause and
effect. I have used the following example on previous occasions, but I
think that it remains instructive in trying to understand this fundamental
principle of physics.
Way back in the early 1970's, I "discovered" a small brook
back in the South East. I used to fish for trout in this brook, and we
used to camp there two or three times a summer. It was a delightful place,
but it was extremely rugged to fish and as a result, I had it largely to
myself. One spring I discovered that there had been an enormous runoff.
Previously shaded little nooks and twists in the streambed had been gouged
and straightened; overhangs of willow and spruce had been destroyed; signs
of the height of water were evident in branches of trees and along rocky
shores. At the time, I didn't know any better, so I assumed that this had
been a natural, although extremely aggressive, spring runoff.
All summer, I continued to discover consequences of that runoff.
Previously prolific fiddlehead patches had been inundated or erased.
Little runs and riffles, the favorite lurking place for trout, had
disappeared. The trout themselves were no longer present either in number
or in size. Each August, I had been able to find a few very large fish
that had come up from the Upsalquitch to spawn. But they did not this
year, and, as it turned out, not for many years after. Still, I persisted
in visiting the brook throughout that summer and fall. It was only the
following year that I became seriously concerned about what was happening
to this brook.
(photo: Restigouche River, NB Images)
The winter that second year had not been a particularly heavy one, but
when I returned to the brook in early June, I discovered a repeat of the
previous year. Once again, the waterway had been devastated by the runoff.
That summer I decided to investigate. I struggled up the river as far as I
could to see what had been going on up at its source. And therein lay the
answer to the puzzle and, I would guess, the beginning of my environmental
education. The whole area had been clearcut two years previously. In the
process, the soil itself had lost its capacity to absorb and store water,
which meant that what should have been a whole year's supply had flushed
down the brook in a couple of weeks.
I revisited this brook last summer, nearly thirty years after the
devastation. It is once again beginning to look like a natural brook. I
did not fish it, so I have no way of knowing if the descendants of those
large fish I used to see up there were once again coming back. I hope that
they are. However, I was reminded of two things: one of those is that
nature will eventually repair nearly everything that happens to it, given
enough time. The other, though, is a sobering one for a society that
persists in blundering its way through the environment: we simply do not
realize that when we do something in one place that the worst consequences
of that action may show up weeks or years later, kilometers downstream or
half a continent away. We cut a hillside and village's wells start to run
dry; we clean out a cedar swamp, seemingly kilometers from nowhere, and
brooks dry up in early summer. Cause and effect: how much longer can we
afford to ignore it?