Thursday, February 4, 2016


Every morning, first thing, I fill a bucket of water from the kitchen tap, then next morning pour it out under a tree out front, and repeat.

Every morning.

It's something Dan Lungren long ago told me to do — one of the few things, probably the only thing, I do on Dan Lungren's say-so.

He last appeared on the public stage as the classic Republican fat-cat congressman, leaning heavily on the lobbyists' dole, wanting limited government except for the part that monitors and regulates our private lives.

But back when he was California's attorney general, he advised residents to let their kitchen taps run for a minute each morning, to flush lead that built up overnight.

At the time, shortly after our daughter was born 23 years ago, Lungren sued 14 plumbing manufacturers on the state's behalf, charging that their faucets leach hazardous amounts of lead into water.

Huh, what now? I remember thinking: The thing that dispenses clean water in your glass — also dispenses lead into otherwise clean water?

Letting the water run for a minute minimizes the lead left over, Lungren said.

So ever since, for two decades and change, I have flushed the tap. When the drought looked like it wasn't going away, I started catching the water in a bucket to put on the trees. I overhear visitors to our home every once in a while asking, What's with the bucket of water under the counter?

I don't know whether lead is still a hazard in the faucet I flush. The one we have is new; I managed,  in my lack of grace and patience, to install it last spring (still no leaks!). News and government sources tell me lead is probably still there, so I do what I can, running the tap for a minute.

We've got it made.

Flint, Michigan, not so much.

You probably know that the state of Michigan switched Flint's water supply from the clean source of Lake Huron to the caustic source of the Flint River in April 2014, to save money in that economically depressed city. And/or to enable tax cuts for the wealthy of Michigan. And/or finance mounting retirement pension obligations.

The corrosive Flint River has etched the pipes, leaching lead from them and into the water supply. Flint residents did what you and I do, turning on their faucets without a second thought, and now Flint children have lead poisoning. Michigan switched Flint's water back to Lake Huron in October, after the story finally blew up, but lead still appears to be coming from the corroded pipes.

Water from Flint taps comes out the color of crushed brick.

Water ran like that for a year and a half before government, denying and delaying, decided to do something about it.

Now Gov. Rick Snyder, trying to save money/cut services to serve tax breaks, as well as Michigan and the federal government (that's us), will have to pay millions and millions more to fix the problem and manage the long-term health consequences. Oh, and Legionnaire's Disease — did I mention that since the water switch, 10 deaths from Legionnaire's Disease resulted in Flint, up from zero before?

Or maybe you didn't know about Flint. Maybe you also don't know about Porter Ranch outside of Los Angeles, where since Halloween natural gas has been spewing out of an underground storage cave, its sickening methane cloud driving people out of their homes. Southern California Gas Co. took a week to reveal what happened, and says it will still be more weeks before the spew is capped.

Though invisible, it's one of the country's worst ecological disasters.

It's not well known, which is curious but not surprising. Neither disaster affects you or me, except as distant witness.

What would you do amid these disasters, though? Wouldn't you be out of your mind with rage? Whether from negligence or fiscal malice — the FBI and a Congressional committee is chasing who knew what when — it really doesn't matter, does it? Leaders governing on Flint's behalf poisoned its water, and residents using the water ingested unsafe levels of lead, which in children especially can cause irreversible harm, developmental delays, borne out in long-term medical care, educational costs, unbearable heartache and loss.

Whether negligence or cost cutting or a trick of geophysics, natural gas has made a neighborhood unlivable, and worsened air across Southern California.

Would you care the cause? Would you delay and deny, debating whether Democrats or Republicans did this, whether one inept or uncaring government trashed the budget and forced another to govern by terrible triage — some die, some live? Would you hem and haw and analyze whether someone worked it so the rich got richer and the poor got poorer and poisoned?

Or would you just want it to stop? Would you just want it never to have happened? Would you expect those who caused harm to make it right, right now?

Wouldn't you also wonder why? How, in this greatest country in the world, an entire city could be poisoned? Would you wonder how other cities could be made to drink tainted water, worse than Flint's?

Erin Brockovich, who has worked her celebrity like a cudgel, advocating tirelessly — good for her, good for all of us, letting her do our advocacy — says what you may have heard before: Our infrastructure is falling apart, and disasters await. This big brawny visionary country, morning-in-America sunny yellow, seemed to have gotten everything built and then lost interest. Taxes became anathema, and no one can seem to figure out taxes judiciously applied pay for that infrastructure and keep it intact.

We wait until the bridge collapses into the river and hope it's the only one for awhile, because two bridges, well, we didn't even have a plan for one. We wait until the well is poisoned, and pay millions millions later because we tried to get by with a few hundred now.

We hope a child doesn't suffer for a lifetime —a life denied and delayed — because we wanted a tax refund.

Or shouldn't anyway.

Do what you can do. Flush your tap, water your trees and think, How lucky am I?

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