Sunday, June 12, 2016
New Deal Sanitation: Clean Waterways
Above: WPA workers sealing an old mine in Garrett County, Maryland, 1937. Old and abandoned mines pollute waterways, so New Deal policymakers hired unemployed workers to seal them. In Ohio and Pennsylvania alone, about 187,000 mines were sealed by the WPA. Across the nation, it was estimated that about half the stream pollution from mines was eliminated by this New Deal program. Today, abandoned mines are once again causing major pollution problems (see, e.g., here). Unfortunately though, we don't have many policymakers today with the vision and courage that New Deal policymakers had. Hence, you won't find the federal government hiring and training unemployed workers to seal mines, or addressing any other infrastructure problem. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistical information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 54.
Above: WPA workers planting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, 1936. Oysters filter water, so New Deal policymakers hired unemployed workers to replenish dwindling numbers. Across the nation, WPA laborers planted about 8 million bushels of oysters. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistical information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132.
Above: WPA workers clearing debris from the Pocomoke River in Wicomico County, Maryland, 1935. New Deal policymakers thought it was wise to keep our waterways free from junk, pollution, and man-made erosion. For example, between 1935 and 1943, the WPA utilized the labor of jobless Americans to improve nearly 13,000 miles of shoreline, river banks, and stream beds. Might we do the same today? No, that would be socialism. Better to let our waterways become foul, anoxic, and radiated, in service to Corporate America, cut-throat capitalism, and American exceptionalism. That's how we become great again. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives. Statistical information from the Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, 1946, p. 132.
Clean waterways are essential to clean drinking water, clean swimming areas, clean fish, and so on. And jobs are important to the preservation of dignity, hope, and skills of the unemployed. New Deal policymakers understood this much better than policymakers today, so they put the two together. For example, a 1935 report from the Work Division of Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA, a precursor to the WPA) highlighted the value of hiring jobless workers to seal mines:
"The waters of the Ohio River and its tributaries in the vicinity of the abandoned mines of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia have been polluted annually with three million tons of sulphuric acid, causing an annual damage of ten million dollars [about $180 million today]... through corrosion of metal parts of dams, locks, boats, boiler tubes and other industrial equipment. Water seepage [from abandoned mines] carries the acid into the rivers, making them unfit for stock watering and bathing, and fatal to fish and other aquatic life... The only remedy is to seal such mines... [as of] June 30, 1935, some 10,000 openings had been closed... and many small streams rendered wholly or partially alkaline again" (The Emergency Work Relief Program of the FERA, April 1, 1934 - July 1, 1935, pp. 54-55).
Today, we have many water problems. This was recently highlighted in Flint, Michigan, when the city was switched to a foul water supply - so foul, in fact, that it damaged water pipes, caused lead to leech out, and poisoned thousands of people. And this type of thing is happening, to one degree or another, all across the country. Furthermore, we lose about two trillion gallons of water, through a quarter-of-a-million water main breaks, every single year. These breaks also cause water contamination, service interruptions, flooded basements, closed businesses, sinkholes, traffic congestion, etc.
Given these facts, wouldn't it be great if we hired and trained some of the millions of unemployed Americans to help improve our waterways and infrastructure? I say, let's do it! Oh wait, I forgot; American exceptionalism forbids this type of evil socialism. Never mind. Let's just keep poisoning ourselves - that's how we become the best servants to capitalism.
So drink your leaded water with a smile, and become a REAL Patriot!