We are water

We are water. We are water. We are water. 

Not exclusively, of course, yet essentially so. 

As Indigenous people continually remind us, water is life. 

Before anything else, I offer unceasing prayers of gratitude for the sustenance of water. 

While Asheville’s recent water system failure was a terrible and frightening disaster, may we benefit from the resulting increased community awareness of, and concern for water. The breakdown sparked overdue conversations around the critical importance of its care and protection. And hopefully it will motivate changes to better put that care into action. 

Asheville watershed (photo: Conservation Trust for NC)
Asheville watershed (photo: Conservation Trust for NC)

The recent water system fiasco inspired me to do more research about our water. I appreciate the “Wandering Your Watershed” Story Map created by the City of Asheville (though, ironically, the embedded Watershed App is not working). 

A reality that is always sinking into my soma is that “the French Broad River is the third oldest river in the world. It formed 450 million years ago, before the Appalachian mountains rose up around it.” Ancient, wise, tenacious waterway. A ceaseless wonder. And I am reminded to show more love to my neighborhood watershed, the often dirty and always lovely Reed Creek.

All of the water from Asheville that drains into the French Broad eventually flows into the largest watershed in the U.S., mother Mississippi, as shown in pink in this map (which I adore) of all of the river basins in the U.S. Awe inspiring. Veins of life.

All of the river basins in the U.S. (Map by Imgurian Fejetlenfej)

A quote I heard from Toshi Reagon (included in my piece Sinkhole Revelations) stands as true as ever, “There is only one water.”

Drinking in the awareness of this interconnection. 

Yes, I’m gushing about water again. Join me. 

French Broad in fall. Photo: Ami Worthen
French Broad River. (Photo: Ami Worthen)

Politics is all wet

As a public resource, our water system is awash in politics. In Asheville, it appears that a well functioning and resilient water system has been an expectation but not a priority. 

Helpful writing on the recent outages and the water system as a whole can be found on Ashvegas, Asheville’s Christmas water crisis is over. Here’s what we can do to keep it from happening again; via the Asheville Blade on twitter; and on the Asheville Watchdog, Information About Holiday Water Failures Is Trickling Out, as Asheville Officials Meet in Private

The Ashevegas piece gives technical context and emphasizes the importance of paying attention to our watershed and water system. The Asheville Blade points out how residents pay significantly higher water rates than commercial customers. And the title of the Asheville Watchdog article refers to some of the serious issues they are covering. What a mess for sure.

As the water system story unfolds, there will be more discussion the impact of tourism on our infrastructure. Interestingly, in the Mountain Xpress, Manheimer addresses county board on water outages, it says the Mayor referred to the “high water use by residents at home over the holidays,” as a primary cause of the high demand for water that contributed to the system failure. She did not name the water use of tourists celebrating the holidays in our home, which certainly also played a significant role in the situation.

While requiring real corporate accountability has not been pursued by our local government, it will have to be part of any realistic plans to address the improvement and maintenance of our water system (and other systems). 

Another river. Photo: Ami Worthen
Another WNC river. (Photo: Ami Worthen)

Watering what we want

The Asheville Watchdog article touches on the financial impact the water outages had on some restaurants, which restaurant owner Eric Scheffer said hurt servers the most, since “These people live paycheck to paycheck, a lot of them.” As we learned after the crash in 2008, with the onset of the pandemic, and again and again – tourism based service industry jobs tend not to provide benefits that can help workers weather unexpected events.

Related, in the recent Buncombe County Vibrant Economy Follow Up, the county shared a number of distressing statistics. Service industry jobs are on the lowest point on the pay scale (below living wage), and the most recent data suggests that Buncombe County (and Asheville MSA) average wages are flattening while North Carolina average wages are continuing to rise. 

When the BCTDA was created, there was no plan around how to evaluate the success (or negative impacts) of their efforts outside of fueling the ongoing growth of the tourism industry. There were no economic justice, equity, or environmental standards embedded in their work over the past four decades (to devastating results). The small concessions in these areas they may be making now are too little too late. Besides, their very structure is fundamentally flawed. Any usefulness the TDA may have had has long passed its expiration date. There are more appropriate and urgent uses for those public funds.

As Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger said to Xpress, “The unelected TDA is the largest taxpayer slush fund in WNC, with no oversight or accountability…The county should stop collecting this tax until there is oversight.”

In the meantime, Buncombe Decides is inviting community members to make a public comment (virtually or in person) at the next BCTDA meeting on Wednesday, January 25, 9 am – 11 am. My understanding is that some speakers will be asking the TDA to use funds not required to go to marketing for affordable housing. Perhaps others will call for infrastructure investments or Reparations. Here is a link with more details about how to sign up (note you will need to do so by noon on January 24). 

Rather than feeding a destabilizing industry, our public resources can be used for systems that serve us all.

We can water what we want to grow.


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