Chapel Hill: Opinion

George O’Neal: Water, think about it

Thinking about water is my default obsession.

I think about how it makes up everything, all our bits and pieces. How it works in a never-ending cycle, changing through its various forms and interacting with every speck of everything on this planet. How we would be pretty darn dead, or at least quite parched without it (which goes for all you plants and animals as well).

How sometimes we spend forever talking about it, leaning against a truck bed looking at the cloudy sky. How I can always have an opinion about it. “It’s too wet, or too dry.” How too much of it in the air makes me feel like I'm swimming through a cup of soup. How a big bunch of it lying frozen in place outside my door means I get to read just one more “Game of Thrones” book before pretending to work in January.

How if you consume too much of it after it’s been mixed with the right sugars and grains, you can make other water stream from your eyes and make the whole bar or church wish you would pipe down.

It is surely a force like no other. A single wall of it can make cities vanish instantly. A steady stream of it can stop the strongest flames or create caverns and deep valleys. It sustains us, entertains us and really asks little in return. Heck, it probably doesn’t even take note of us. Every time I open the tap to take a drink, or send water through its maze of pipes and out to a sprinkler I am humbled by the simple fact that we have such an amazing resource right at our fingertips. Freely flowing, tasty and cold. I live on a river, get my water from a well, and spend my afternoons watching my pond dry up and refill; hence my obsession with water.

Luckily I don't live where water is scarce. I don’t have to walk miles daily to collect enough water to keep my family alive. I don’t think long and hard about each precious drop and what I will use it for. In fact I’m a bit careless with it. I take hot showers with it, wash my dishes and clothes in it, and even use it to scrub my teeth. I try not to waste it. My hippy guilt is always hanging off in the corner, seeing that I don’t.

My dad is an engineer and works with water, and he always says that humanity will be done for as soon as we figure out how to destroy our water supply.

I’ve always put that statement in the “things my old man says” category. Surely we’d never let it get to that point, right? We all need and want it, right?

Well, never under estimate the most determined among us, friends. With money all things are possible. After seeing the horror that befell a big chunk of West Virginia’s water last month, it’s obvious that all the apologies in the world can’t put clean water back in your pipes. Once the nasty finds its way there, all the yoga and kombucha in the world can’t undo the damage done by drinking bad water.

And yet, here we are a few weeks later in the midst of our own water nightmare. We are watching one of the largest coal ash spills in history take out an entire river’s health. The Dan River is one of our many North Carolina treasures, or rather, it was. It’s truly criminal that a utility company can literally destroy a river, as well as a pristine tourist attraction, in an economically disadvantaged area and face little or no repercussions. That the people we elect to make sure things like this can’t happen are too busy rushing in and deregulating and trying to usher in the next water-destroying technology to bother getting to business fixing the previous “miracle fuels” mess.

Really it’s a bit too storybook villain to have our seated governor having been a nearly three-decade alumni of said utility not only look the other way while we dismantle our own environmental regulations but appoint another multi-decade alumni of said utility to oversee any problems that arise. This should be the point in the story where Captain Planet steps forward and makes the polluters pay, and they see the error of their ways. With a few flips of his wrist the river is cleaned up and everything is right as rain. Evildoers punished, water safe to drink. Easy peasey. But tragically, this is a real toxic spill, and the Toxic Avenger is fictitious, so it looks like it’s up to all of us to right this.

I could really care less what party these folks were put in power by. Politics are always just gonna be politics. Regardless of your party or preference, you and I are going to need a few drinks of water to get by. We are gonna need that water for everything that comes next. But water is one of those things that we humans can’t make more of. We have and only will have as much as we have right now. Let’s not just let this problem float down stream as well. Don’t let these jokers off the hook that easy, call them up and let them know you’re mad as a rushing river, and thirsty as hell.

George O’Neal is the owner and operator of the Lil’ Farm in Timberlake in Person County. Contact him at