Voices for Change

Advocacy ministries of the ELCA want to share stories and your voices about public policies and relevant advocacy issues that are of interest to you.

Safe Drinking Water for All Californians

Posted on July 25, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

By Mark Carlson, director, Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California

Sacramento Water Treatment Plant

The Sacramento Water Treatment Plant by the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers. Photo courtesy of Mark Carlson.

In California, a couple of well-known sayings are imprinted in the minds of those who care about water.  The most famous is attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.” 

In the Central Valley, whose rich productivity is supported by federal dams such as Trinity and Shasta, signs along highways proclaim a California truth: “Food grows where water flows.”  My favorite is the passage from Ezekiel 47:9, engraved on the masonry over the Sacramento water treatment plant near the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers: “Everything shall live whithersoever the river cometh.” 

A couple of weeks ago, a Southern California Lutheran youth group rafted the Trinity River, a tributary of the embattled Klamath River, in the far north part of the state.  A portion of the coastal Trinity is diverted over into the Central Valley to the farms and cities far to the south. While rainfall and snowpack are abundant this year, three years of severe drought contributed to cuts in water deliveries, fallowed fields, dead orchards, unemployed farmworkers, suspended commercial salmon fishing, and highway signs of a more partisan and demonizing nature. 

Yet even now that our rivers and reservoirs are full, there are more than 250,000 mostly low-income people in the Central Valley who lack water safe enough for drinking, bathing and washing.  Among that group are the men and women who pick and process the fruits and vegetables that end up in our grocery stores and on our tables. There are about 300 projects, at an estimated $400 million, on the waiting list for the federal Drinking Water Revolving Fund to address severe contamination in such disadvantaged California communities (compared with about $35 million available each of the last two years).  

In addition, fragile agreements for water rights to the Klamath and San Joaquin Rivers, reached after a generation of litigation, are threatened by possible federal budget cuts that could ignite a new round of courtroom conflict.

Through history and by collective will and difficult compromises, the federal government has been a primary partner and stakeholder in working with state, local, and tribal governments and private interests in promoting what remains the elusive goal of safe, sufficient, sustainable water for all – farms, fish, people and healthy, productive ecosystems that all thrive “whithersoever the river cometh.”

Fracking in Pennsylvania

Posted on July 18, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

By Amy Reumann, Director, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania

Hydraulic Graphic

Diagram on fracking. Graphic courtesy of Propublica

The federal budget matters…in order to preserve clean water in Pennsylvania where a new American gold rush is on. This time it is to mine natural gas trapped a mile underground between layers of shale rock, using a recently developed technology called hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). Fracking injects huge amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground. This action breaks up rock formations and releases the gas which is then brought to the surface.

This new, domestic source of energy is hailed as a cleaner burning fuel and a bridge to more renewable sources. Gas drilling activities provide a boost to job creation and local economies.  But the fracking process, which is currently exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, also carries significant environmental risks, particularly for water resources and quality:

  • Fracking one well requires about 4 million gallons of water, either drawn from local waterways or trucked in to the site.
  • Gas drillers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process. These may include substances known to be toxic to humans and wildlife, including carcinogens such as benzene.
  • A well brings over a million gallons of the fracking water back to the surface.  In addition to chemicals, it is often laced with corrosive salts and radioactive elements like radium found underground.
  • Some fracking water remains underground, with ongoing debate as to the long term implications.

Pennsylvania sits atop the Marcellus Shale reserve. The state has welcomed drilling and its benefits, with over 3,300 drilling permits issued in 2010 alone. The state has been slow to evaluate the environmental costs and consequences. Impact on water resources includes:

  • Pollution of rivers, including those that provide drinking water to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg. Pennsylvania is the only state that has allowed drillers to discharge much of their waste into rivers through local sewage treatment plants, which are not designed to remove drilling contaminants.
  • Contamination of water wells in proximity to fracking sites.
  • Spills and overflows of fracking waste water from holding ponds and during transport.

The drilling debate has been deeply polarized.  Opinions for and against fracking both suffer from a lack of information based on solid research.  The federal budget matters if we are to forge sound policy to protect and preserve clean water in Pennsylvania. A current EPA study of the impact of fracking on drinking water resources, which includes three Pennsylvania sites, is currently underway. Its findings will provide direction for the oversight of natural gas drilling, and the preservation of water resources in Pennsylvania and the entire nation.

Flooding, Water Management and Budget Cuts

Posted on July 12, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA

By Mary Minette, ELCA Director of Environmental Education and Advocacy

Fargo/Moorhead area

Flooding in the Fargo/Moorhead area. Photo Credit: Michael Nevergall

This month our series on the federal budget is focusing on how water programs may be affected by cuts in the federal budget.  The opening reflection focused on water quality and how proposed budget cuts will impact partnerships between the federal government and state and local communities. Those partnerships have made our nation’s waters substantially cleaner than they were 30 years ago

This spring and summer, several communities are struggling with a very different problem: too much water.  Higher than normal winter snowpack and greater than normal spring rain levels are overwhelming dams and levee systems throughout the Midwest and Southeast this year.  Communities in western Iowa, North Dakota and the Southeastern states along rivers from the Missouri to the Mississippi have been hit hard by flooding, with devastating impacts on farmland, homes and businesses.

As we pray for the recovery of these communities, we recognize the strain that rebuilding will place on the budgets of families and companies, and on the resources of local, state and federal agencies. As a church body, we do what we can through the work of ELCA Disaster Response

But we should also consider how the shrinking budgets of local, state and federal governments may impact the ability of communities to deal with flooding in the future. 

The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette recently reported that a critical monitoring system used by the National Weather Service to predict the path that floodwaters may take could be impaired because of federal budget cuts.  Stream gauges, operated by federal agencies working with states and local communities, track water flows in rivers and streams throughout the country.  Without this data it will be difficult to accurately predict when and where flood waters will crest.  But state and local governments are struggling to support these projects and federal budget cuts will endanger the monitoring system even further.

In a time of budget austerity, how do we decide which programs to save?

A Season of Prayer for Peace in Sudan

Posted on July 8, 2011 by Advocacy Ministries of the ELCA
Season of Prayer Event in Chico at Faith Lutheran Church

Pastor Reg Schultz-Akerson quotes Matthew 5 at a Season of Prayer event held at Faith Lutheran Church in Chico, California. Photo credit: James Henson

In solidarity with our brothers and sisters serving, working, and living in Sudan, the ELCA encourages you to pray for peace for all of Sudan as South Sudan approaches its independence from the North on July 9th, 2011.

Here is a prayer shared by Faith Lutheran Church in Chico, Calif.:

Abba, heavenly Father,

On behalf of the community of Chico, California allow our voices to be heard in unison with others across this nation and across the world. We pray for peace and self-determination for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan as they begin the Good Works as people of a new nation.

Lord hear our prayers:

Let the land yield crops; not land mines.

Lord hear our prayers:

Grant that the people of South Sudan may dig wells for water; not graves for their children from violence and war.

Lord hear our prayers:

Grant that both adults and children may be free to pick up pencils to write rather than pick up guns to kill.

Finally, God may the words of your prophet Isaiah come true so that the South Sudanese and all peoples begin to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4)

In Jesus name we pray.

Amen