From Our Readers
THE COAL TRUTH
Cameron Davidson’s photos of mountaintop mining in Appalachia [“Scarface,” March-April] prove that this forgotten part of the country has been abused. Mining has also contaminated the drinking water in coal country, and a large part of America is downstream. I urge anyone who was disturbed by this essay to contact their members of Congress and ask them to support HR 2719 (the Clean Water Protection Act). It may be your drinking water next.
In perusing the photo essay on the devastation that mountain-top removal of coal wreaks on Appalachia, I couldn’t help but think of the numerous letters published recently about the negative impacts of wind energy. I wonder if those letter-writers realize that over 50 percent of our nation’s electricity comes from coal, and if they think that wind’s impacts would be worse than the impacts of mountain-top removal mining, which Cameron Davidson captures so vividly. Conservation and efficiency have to be the pillars of any real energy strategy, but we still need to get our power from somewhere. How sad that in advocating against the only utility-scale clean source of energy currently available, these opponents are, by default, advocating for a source that is orders of magnitude more damaging.
As a resident of “Appalachia,” I appreciate Cameron Davidson’s concern regarding the Chesapeake Bay and our mountains. However, it is unlikely that mountaintop removal mining has any major effect on the quality of the Chesapeake Bay, despite being "within 100 miles" of the Bay’s watershed. The vast majority of "Appalachia" as defined by Mr. Davidson's article (West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee) lies west of the Eastern Continental Divide, and therefore the runoff goes to the Gulf of Mexico via either the Ohio or Tennessee River systems. He is correct that mountaintop removal "affects everything around it and everything downstream," but northern Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay are not downstream from the coal mining regions of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Thank you for “Happy Meals” [March-April]. I had the pleasure of dining at Stone Barns in 2005, but I do wonder: Can we have local farming and naturally grown produce without the sense of moral superiority? I hope so. The piece accurately illustrates how wonderful the whole Stone Barns concept is and the work that the Rockefellers put into it—to say nothing of the money. I think it’s also important to point out that the very urban sprawl that is eating into local farmland came, in part, from the automobile and its internal combustion engine, which uses gas from oil that comes from Exxon, Esso, and . . . Standard Oil. This doesn’t diminish the Rockefellers’ generosity and accomplishments, but it does demonstrate that all of us must make changes and choices, and we need to have very honest conversations if we are going to make real change going forward.
I grew up in the Pocantico, New York, area and often drove by the site of the wonderful new Stone Barns endeavor. Of particular delight for me was your photo of “Millie’s Best” plum tomato. One of my school classmates was Delores DiMauro, daughter of the creator of Aunt Millie’s Tomato Sauce, and I would bet a case of the product that Millie’s Best comes from that family. Thanks for the memory!
Ellen Douglass Haith
I am interested in finding restaurants that use local food sources, but the Chefs Collaborative website was not working when I visited. Also, one statistic in the article that caught my eye was the statement that 90 percent of farm subsidies go to the growers of just five crops—wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans, and rice. I suspect the recipients are a relatively small number of corporate agribusiness producers (I won’t call them farmers). Where can I find out more?
Editor’s note: The Chefs Collaborative website (chefscollaborative.org) should now be running normally. Other resources for getting hooked into the local food movement are Slow Food USA (www.slowfoodusa.org), and Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org). For more information on farm subsidies, visit the websites of the American Farmland Trust (www.farmland.org) and the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org).
SIN CITY ATONES?
The Las Vegas Strip is built upon the principle of illusion; this is certainly the case in terms of water use. Southern Nevada’s resort industry employs hundreds of thousands of people and supports the bulk of our state’s economy while consuming only 3 percent of our community’s water supply. Moral judgments aside, this is a staggeringly efficient use by any standard. While focusing on high-end communities built before landscaping restrictions were enacted, Ted Williams [Incite, “Sin City Goes Dry,” March-April] failed to mention the fact that grass is now prohibited in the front yards of all new houses or to recognize the efforts of developers who have built ultra-efficient housing communities. Statewide, southern Nevada supports approximately three-quarters of Nevada’s population and economy while using only a tiny fraction of its water.
My greatest concern, however, is the mischaracterization of the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) environmental ethic and water resource projects. It’s my job to ensure that our projects are implemented in an environmentally responsible manner. As a board member for the Great Basin Bird Observatory, a longtime supporter of bird conservation, and a professional biologist, my principles demand that I take that responsibility seriously. Our organization is committed to careful and ecologically sound water-supply management, frequently going above and beyond regulations to protect our region’s wildlife. We have and will continue to work closely with the appropriate state and federal agencies to ensure our activities comply with environmental laws created specifically to safeguard sensitive species and habitat.
Environmental Resources Manager
Southern Nevada Water Authority
Ted Williams responds: I commend the SNWA for its recent good works and regret that space didn’t permit more coverage. I was, however, careful to note that the agency “promotes ‘water smart landscaping’ and pays property owners to replace grass with desert-adapted vegetation” and that “most of the water from [the Strip’s] lavish displays is recirculated.” One of the Strip’s “illusions”—effected by such displays as a 1.6-million-gallon “wave pool” for surfing—is superabundant water. As I also reported, that illusion makes it “hard to convince the public that it needs to commit to serious water conservation.”
Regarding salamander conservation [“A Rare Jewel,” March-April]: We moved to our acreage in North Carolina 30 years ago. At that time, there were salamanders everywhere, under pieces of bark and in logs in the woods. Something changed 20 years ago, because we have not seen a single salamander since. We live downwind of Greensboro, North Carolina, a major source of air pollution. The water table has dropped locally, and surface vegetation has changed. The thick understory plants have died out noticeably, including most of the wild dogwoods and redbuds. We’ve built some small pools and water features to encourage frogs and toads, the sole remaining amphibians in the area.
SEWAGE SAFE HAVEN
It was heartening to see this article about solving one of the biggest nemeses to the environment and humanity: effluence. Arcata is deservedly proud of this monumental achievement! I have been following the work on "created wetlands" by John Todd and his Ocean Arks group from the earliest days of its founding, and I am happy to see that their influence has now spread worldwide. Todd's work has spawned a host of similar organizations that are bringing such a beautiful and efficient way of dealing with human effluence. Affluence, Indeed! And all natural at that.
Patrick C. Murphy
San Gabriel, CA
Many thanks for the article on the Arcata Marsh, a wetland that serves as the final step in a sewage treatment plant [“From Effluence to Affluence,” March-April]. Hopefully the article will catch the eye of city planners elsewhere who will add this treatment to their plants.
I have “birded” a similar plant in Florida—the “Great Blue Heron Water Reclamation Plant”—which serves Titusville. In drought years many of the ponds in the nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge dry up, and there are fewer birds to be found. But birding is still good at the reclamation plant, as the birds will have water as long as people are flushing in Titusville.
However, I have one question: Is it practical, or even possible, to use such a facility here in the north, like in New York State, where the ponds will be frozen over and the plants dormant for four to six months of the year?
Lawrence H. King
Just about everyone, it seems, is against this thing called “sprawl,” yet most of these same people are part of it! To many, sprawl is where others live—those people farther down the highway in the next subdivision. To bring this matter closer to home, perhaps we should use the term “suburban sprawl,” rather than simply ‘sprawl.’
Mary M. Weinberger
In “Happy Meals” (March-April) Quentin Bacon should have been credited for three photographs (two on page 87 of the magazine, and one on page 91). We regret the omission.
Send letters via postage-saving e-mail to email@example.com, or by mail to Editor, Audubon, 225 Varick St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10014. Please include your full name, city, and state.