Commentary: Earth Day should be everyday
April 21, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, April 21, 2011) - When I was growing up in the 50s on a dairy farm in southeastern Pennsylvania, we never gave a thought to the health of the fields, nor the streams and trees that outlined the cornstalks and grasses that fed our Jersey cows.
Never gave a thought until one of our farming fields was sold and became a large residential field of houses for a migrating population trying to find work in a post-World War II economy.
Neither did the builders give a thought, because sewage run-off got into the streams and followed the water through our fields in the Valley Creek.
The pond fed by those waters meant the sheep we kept out there had to move and we could no longer swim in our beloved "Sheep Hole."
These were the times when we washed out our tractor's air cleaners with gasoline and changed our oil, allowing it all to filter through the gravel of our driveway, not really thinking about it getting down into aquifers, the large underground "ponds" that fed our house and barn with "fresh" water.
The Army, at the time, was not much different from the rest of us, until the 60s.
"Back in the late 60s and early 70s, just like in the rest of the country, we started looking around and realized 'we have to live here,'" said Jim Daniels, chief of the Army Environmental Command's Cleanup Division.
ARMY BEGINS RESTORATION
In 1975, the Army established the Installation Restoration Program to look at the installations where things might have been dumped.
"We wanted to have an inventory of where those toxic chemicals and munitions were and what we needed to do to make the area safe for folks on the installations, and for the folks off the installations, that may have been impacted," Daniels said.
Because only partial records existed of where toxic chemicals and munitions had been dumped, the newly formed Department of the Army Project Manager for Chemical Demilitarization and Installation Restoration, later AEC, began each new installation cleanup program by going back to old records and old photographs at the installation.
"We also interviewed some of the former employees and some of those longer-term employees still at the installation," Daniels said.
This started back in 1975 and Daniels said the Army was able to catch a lot of the folks who worked there during the era when things were just dumped.
"But we can't catch all of them. Sometimes we trip over new sites where no one frequents, back in the wooded areas where maybe we're no longer operating or training. Something may have been put back there in the '40s but it's all overgrown now and looks like a forest. We still find some of these sites, but I'd say we know where 98 to 99 percent of our sites are already," Daniels said.
By 1978, the Army's environmental responsibilities had expanded to include challenges such as the installation restoration program, and the organization was renamed the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency to reflect a broader, more long-term mission.
By 1980, the agency welcomed several new responsibilities to include environmental research, development, test, and evaluation; pollution abatement; and environmental control technology.
STEWARDS OF PUBLIC LANDS
Another group to recognize the importance of the environment, the Army Corps of Engineers, is stewards of 12 million acres of public lands and waters at more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states. Every outdoor recreation activity imaginable is available at one of the Corps' 2,500 recreation areas.
During the turbulent early years of the 21st century, President Obama has taken the seriousness of this stewardship to include all of us.
On Feb. 16, he announced the "America's Great Outdoors" initiative, to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that power our nation's economy, shape our culture, and build our outdoor traditions.
This initiative seeks to reinvigorate our approach to conservation and reconnect Americans, especially young people, with the lands and waters that are used for farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, and for families to spend quality time together.
In order to promote his initiative, Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers helped kick off a project in March to restore the Heeia Wetland, adjacent to Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, Hawaii.
"A lot of people don't realize that our mission is flood control, navigation, and aquatic ecosystem restoration, but in building a dam or creating a reservoir, you're also creating a recreational opportunity as well," said Darcy who, in her role, provides supervision of all aspects of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works program, including conservation and development of the nation's water and wetland resources, flood control, navigation, and shore protection.
The U.S. Army's role as a leader in environmental stewardship has been expanding since the early 1970s.
So, after decades of dumping, we're all finally getting the idea that cleaning up is even better
"Rocky Mountain Arsenal, one of the Army's bigger cleanup projects, will wrap up this spring," said Jim Daniels, chief of Army Environment Command's Cleanup Division.
There's still going to be some groundwater treatment and monitoring, he says, but the last remedies will be complete this spring allowing the site to come off the national priorities list.
The result' Most of the property has become the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.
And our farm in Pennsylvania'
We no longer dump our oil or gas on the gravel or grass, but the cows and sheep are long gone. The home construction, which started with that post-war development, has grown into malls and paved over parking lots, causing even more run-off of water, changing our fields into flood plains.
But the trees are growing bigger, and the deer, muskrat, birds and trout enjoy themselves.
This can mean just one thing: the water we all need to survive will be around for our children, too.