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Sunday, May 18, 2003

Dam Bad Idea. This article from the Ann Arbor News describes how the Huron River, the reason Ann Arbor is here, will likely once again be reduced to a trickle this summer. This is due in large part to numerous dams upstream. Most of these dams only serve the purpose of maintaining water levels in artificial lakes around which the wealthier area residents have cottages. Allowing them to continue to enjoy their high-energy-consumption and polluting recreations of motor boating and jet skiing comes not only at the expense of environmentally-friendly canoeists, but with the risk of damaging the entire river ecosystem. With reduced river flows, the water reaching Ann Arbor is more polluted, and the river bed silts up behind the dams. The river is one of Ann Arbor's sources of drinking water, and with the ground water supply threatened by the Gelman-Pall toxic chemical spill, the river becomes that much more important.

As with so many of the issues facing this country, this has money written all over it. The general welfare of the people would be best served by removing most or all of the dams from the Huron. This would come at the expense of drastically reduced property values for the wealthy people's second homes, as well as redistributing the money among stores selling watercraft (motorboats and jet skis down, canoes and kayaks up). Unfortunately, our form of government responds much more strongly to the intense interest of a small group of rich people than it does to the general interest, and it will probably require a catastrophe before sense is restored to the Huron watershed. This issue compares directly to the sprawl issue: If the general welfare were represented, it would be much more expensive to develop new land, and gasoline would cost enough that it would be uneconomical to live way outside of town. Instead, the intense interest in getting richer of the developers who buy up all of the farmland outweighs the diffuse interest of the rest of us.