WATER CLOSET for March 21, 2014

      A sad and disturbing book entitled A Time to Die by Robert Moore1 was passed on by a friend to the Water Closet.  It is about a submarine accident.  For some readers, however, its larger subject is of poison- containing ships bumbling about in and on precious water.  We are reminded again of the film of water between the rock of our planet, the air above it, and then on out forever.  The liquid and solid rock below the hydrosphere extends about 4000 miles out from the center; the water covering over three-quarters of the planet’s surface averages about three miles deep.  That’s 3/4000 of the planet’s radius so we guess the word film is in order, we now know the adjective “fragile” applies also.  Visualize one sheet of copy paper, representing the water, in a stack of 1333 sheets, the radius of the Earth.

[pullquote]”The oceans are also becoming more acid and warmer thanks in part to our carelessness”[/pullquote]

The people of the world have long been well aware of the finite amount of this essential stuff, yet they continue to jeopardize it and its denizens’ health in a thousand ways.  In the Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, and elsewhere holes are being poked down into ancient oil; further plans are being made for greatly expanding drilling through the continental shelves of the arctic; gases and particles pour into the air and eventually into the water from thousands of cities’ chimneys and tail pipes.  Cities encircling the oceans now even add human hormones in addition to more traditional wastes, and tens of thousands of boats and ships dump garbage every hour.  In the last few decades country-size gyres of plastic particles have been found in the Pacific.  These are growing.  The oceans are also becoming more acid and warmer thanks in part to our carelessness.  Oh, we care for the ocean and its creatures all right, yet not as much as for short term money, ease and comfort.

Mississippi River delta

The Mississippi River Delta and surrounds as seen from a satellite are beautiful, seemingly unspoiled. Modern man’s numerous oil rigs, ships, canals, levees, streets and buildings, cancers metastasizing in some of the world’s richest wildlife habitats, are unseen here. Their tumors are growing; the healthy tissue has long been shrinking. – Internet photo

The title “A Time to Die” is from a line in a Russian submariner’s poem given to his wife before he went to sea on his last voyage.He was trapped in the nuclear submarine Kurst when it sank in 2000.  A poorly maintained torpedo blew up before launch and took off the 505-foot-long behemoth’s bow.  Moore gives a detailed account of events leading to the Naval exercise in which this happened, of the accident itself, and of the aftermath when experts of several nations tried desperately and without success to save 23 survivors of the blast trapped in the after compartments.  What we learn from this is that men with all their genius, science and skill are prone to error in a medium where errors shouldn’t occur.  In our unwise shenanigans we not only kill ourselves but poison the water so very necessary to all life.  Fukushima’s poisons leak into the Pacific and may for decades.  Are the power plants near the ocean at Plymouth, Seabrook, and Wiscasset safe?  Are submarines that can no longer easily detect each other safe from collisions, and human error and folly?

President Vladimir Putin, so much in the news of late, was rookie president when the Kurst went to the bottom of the Barents Sea with all hands.  Putin was vacationing in Sochi near the Black Sea Russian Fleet based at Sevastopol.  He finally visited Northern Fleet Headquarters to face the widows and family members of the Kurst’s crew.  He cleverly survived that very tough confrontation.  Putin and the underfunded and poorly maintained Russian navy vessels sail on; would that they did “sail on” rather than “nuke on”.  Russia’s navy and ours continue to be dangers to the oceans of the world.  When Kurst went down, nearby spying American subs heard the explosions.  There are scores of nuclear vessels out there with radioactive fuel and warheads.  If you want to see some of our submarine fleet go to Groton, Connecticut, and take the ferry to Long Island.  You’ll probably see a couple of our giants in the ship yard to port.   Most of the others are at sea protecting us, yet in the long run threatening the world.  In the hotter parts of the Cold War we often heard talk of the Soviet-American policy called Mutually Assured Destruction which was more accurately called by its acronym MAD.  What we are doing to our oceans is clearly madness.

With these sad thoughts still lingering in our minds, we recently watched on public TV a prize winning documentary entitled “My Louisiana Love”.Monique Verdin is followed by camera as she returns to her Louisiana home in the Mississippi River Delta south of New Orleans.  There her Houma Indian family and tribal friends try to continue the old ways of fishing, hunting and trapping as they’d been doing for centuries. Verdin follows her much loved old grandmother from chore to chore.  Looming over all the scenes of this informal, rambling story is the oil industry.  The Houma fled President Jackson’s cruel evictions almost two centuries ago to the rich marshes and swamps of the delta.  Then last century, oil barons invaded for off shore black gold.  Their front men fooled the natives into selling off any claims they had to the land for peanuts.  Soon thousands of miles of pipes and canals cut through some of the richest estuarine habitat on Earth.  A recent map shows the web of pipes in red, background greens are barely visible.  Other environmentally unwise projects done last century and before were the construction of dams and levees upriver for flood control.  After built much delta-feeding-sediment from the continent never makes it to the delta.  As we’ve known for a long time the protective delta is retreating due to more erosion and seawater invasion than buildup.  Hurricanes Rita and Katrina rolled in on New Orleans no longer protected by cypress swamps and canal free marshes.  The mainland lost its soft shield and the Houma and other delta dwellers much of their wetlands and livelihoods.  Verdin, family, and friends’ dismay and helplessness in the face of big oil’s and before that big lumber’s desecrations are now seen by watchers of such documentaries across the world.  Here the all important edges of ocean were and are being purposely harmed.  It happened here with our salt marshes.  We read somewhere that an estimated 80% of Connecticut’s were filled or altered from the 1600s to the middle 1900s.  One old Closeteer remembers acres of salt marsh along Route 1 in Salisbury being filled for businesses in his lifetime.  Our coastal reefs, marshes, mangroves and deltas are nurseries for the seas, and buffers for our coastal plains.

Enough whining about the obvious.  The stories pour in of such abuses from around the world.  We disagree with the brave young Russian submariner3 who died in the dark cold compartment.  It was not his “time to die”.  It is not the delta’s time to die.  The people of the world must team up and stop this Man Assisted Destruction of the oceans.  Like Mutually Assured Destruction, it is MAD.


1   Moore, Robert.  A Time to Die: The Untold Story of the Kurst Tragedy (Crown Publishers, New York) 2002

2  Documentary “My Louisiana Love” directed by Sharon Linezo Hong”, 2013.  Shown recently on PBS stations.

3  Dimitri Kolnesnikov, from first line of poem to wife before tragedy: Translated –

    When there is A Time to Die/Although I try not to think about this,/I would like time to say:/ I love you.




Precipitation Data* for Month of: Dec Jan Feb March
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.12 3.40 3.25 4.65
 2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual 5.30 3.47 4.34 1.20 as of 3/18**

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

For March 18, 2014:         Normal . . . 136 CFS         Current Rate . . . 125 CFS

*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Feb. Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

**Updated March precipitation data is from MST gage.

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584