Opinion: On nutrient pollution, don’t wait for government


algae-112356_640Nutrient pollution is a well-known problem in Utah’s lakes and reservoirs, and has been the subject of much discussion in recent years. The trend I observe is that the worse the problem gets, the less willing some are to fix it.

Now that the EPA and state agencies are beginning to regulate nitrogen and phosphorus discharges, public opposition seems to have increased. Some are annoyed that government is stepping in, adding more regulations that would require wastewater treatment upgrades, shifts in agricultural practices, and other expensive measures. Nutrient pollution is everyone’s problem. We all contribute in some way and we all have some responsibility to resolve it.

To their credit, water managers and other officials understand the problem and have acted to address it, accepting the costs as a necessary investment. Some critics, however, cry “big government” and only delay real solutions. Expanding government is not the answer, they say.

But why is big government interfering at all? Simply because they like to boss people around? No. It’s because of a failure to act. On environmental problems like nutrient pollution we must either act or react. So far, many have chosen to react, waiting to solve a problem until someone else says they have to. It’s like a child who knows his room is messy and that he should clean it up, but delays it because his mother has not asked him to yet. And when she does ask him—at the most inopportune time, of course—he objects but is forced to clean up anyway, sulking the whole time.

Delaying action only costs more: It costs water users, it costs taxpayers, and it costs the environment. Trickle-down regulations suck time and taxes all the way down while the environmental disaster continues. When the mandate finally comes to us—right where it began—we have even fewer resources to solve a problem which has only worsened in the meantime. They’re telling us to do what we know we should have been doing anyway.

Like those critics, I’d appreciate less government interference in these issues. But that’s only half of the story: We must do our part, we must be proactive, we must compensate with local initiative and solve our own problems before someone else makes us. We can only get them off our backs if we act first.

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