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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

September 26, 1997

Air Date: September 26, 1997


Return of the Grizzlies? / Jyl Hoyt

After a decade of research, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that the best way to ensure a stable grizzly bear population in the lower forty-eight states is to reintroduce the bears to remote wilderness areas in central Idaho. Like the reintroduction of the wolf, the plan to reestablish grizzlies is facing opposition from some rural residents, but this time around the government is enlisting the local community to help manage the bears' survival. From member station KBSU in Boise, Jyl Hoyt reports. (08:05)

Community Supported Agriculture Grows Up / Nancy Cohen

About ten years ago a form of direct marketing for small farmers evolved called Community Supported Agriculture; or CSA. CSA's are based on a commitment between farmers, and consumers who put money up front for a share of the harvest. The model developed as a way to create a viable market for organic food, and to strengthen the link between the grower and the eater. From member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts, Nancy Cohen reports that CSA farmers are learning long term sustainability also depends on operating a lot like any other business. (05:30)

Corkscrew Living Machine: Where does it go? / Alexis Muellner

In southwest Florida, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has become one of the state's hottest tourists destinations. This ancient cypress swamp is a favorite with birdwatchers who flock there year round to see rare birds. A sharp increase in tourists has demanded changes at the Sanctuary, including a need for more toilets at the Visitor's Center. But, instead of constructing a traditional wastewater treatment facility, Corkscrew staff decided to try something new. They built what's called a "Living Machine" to deal with the wastewater. Alexis Muellner explains. (05:45)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... ways people get rid of unwanted zucchini. (01:15)

Shrimp Ban

In 1995, the U-S banned the import of all shrimp caught without turtle excluder devices. But, the ban might be in violation of international trade laws in the view of Thailand, Malaysia, India and Pakistan. They’ve appealed to the World Trade Organization to force the U-S to rescind the ban. Thailand already requires its shrimpers to use turtle excluder devices, so Steve Curwood asked Harvard Law Professor William Alford why the Thais joined in the case. (04:25)

Middle East Troubled Waters: Mountain Aquifer / Sandy Tolan

Water is a source of conflict between Isreal and nearly all its neighbors. The struggle over land could just as easily be called a struggle over water, for without water, land produces little. In part one of our special series examining water in the Middle East, "Troubled Waters", Living On Earth's Sandy Tolan examines how water inequities are fueling tensions between the Palestianians and the Israelis. (21:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript


HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jyl Hoyt, Nancy Cohen, Alexis Muellner, Sandy Tolan
GUESTS: William Alford

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service wants to release some big grizzly bears in the wilds of Idaho, but the plan is sparking some big fears among area residents.

SERVHEEEN: The ironic part about bears is they appear to be big and aggressive and powerful above all else. And yet, their fate and their future is totally in our hands.

CURWOOD: Also, the farmer and cooperative movement that's called community- supported agriculture is struggling to meet marketing realities. Today's consumers want plenty of variety.

KAPLAN: It's one thing to say well, I'm going to give you 400 pounds of food for $280 and then give them all kale. And then they eat the kale, they hate it, and they don't come back again.

CURWOOD: Those stories and a living machine in a Florida swamp this week on Living on Earth, But first, this round-up of the news.

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(Music up and under)

Return of the Grizzlies?

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
If you've ever met a grizzly bear in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains, you were lucky and probably more than a little bit scared. Lucky, because these magnificent beasts with their silver-tipped and chocolate-colored fur are rare and usually only found in national parks and wilderness areas. And scared, perhaps because, well, these are very, very big bears. Early settlers in the West were happy to hunt grizzlies to the edge of extinction. Now, in an effort to stabilize the remaining grizzly population, the US Fish and Wildlife Service wants to expand their range to remote wilderness areas in central Idaho. Like the programs to bring back wolves, this plan faces opposition from some rural residents, but this time the government is taking a different tack. It's enlisting the local community to help manage the bears' survival. From member station KBSU in Boise, Jyl Hoyt reports.

HOYT: Grizzly bears were wiped out of most of Idaho and Montana years ago. And that's fine with many local people, who consider grizzlies a threat and a nuisance.

(Voices in a crowded bar)

MAN 1: As far as being a sportsman, I don't think that bringing them back in is going to do any good for me. All it's going to do is close me out of someplace.

HOYT: How is that?

MAN 1: Well, they're going to have to shut down a section of the forest protect the damn things.

MAN 2: I think people are probably more important than grizzly bears.

HOYT: These patrons of the Silver Dollar Bar in Stites, a lumber mill town in central Idaho, say they're afraid of grizzlies and don't like the tighter Federal regulation of logging and other activities that often comes with protected species. Biologists estimate that 50,000 grizzly bears once roamed the American West before they were nearly wiped out by white settlers. Today, barely a thousand survive, most in remote regions of the northern Rockies. Now, though, scientists recognize the bear's value to a healthy ecosystem and say grizzlies can and should live in a broader area.

(Bird song)

HOYT: Grizzlies once thrived in the Bitterroot, an ecosystem that begins in Montana with knife-edged mountain ranges, then descends like a series of waterfalls into central Idaho. Huckleberries and glacier lilies carpet forest floors in the wilderness areas and national forests. Chris Servheen is a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

SERVHEEEN: We did a 5-year habitat evaluation to look at the available foods in the area. Keep in mind that about 90% of their diet is vegetation and insects. And we found that indeed, all the foods that bears need are available in this area.

HOYT: During the next quarter century, Federal biologists plan to move 25 grizzlies from the US and Canada to the Idaho wilderness. They hope that these slowly-reproducing behemoths will eventually repopulate a wide area. But Federal wildlife officials say they've learned from the recent experience of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park in central Idaho. Then, many local residents dug in their heels against what they saw as the Federal Government forcing unpopular actions on local people. So this time, officials worked with residents, businesses, and environmentalists on a plan to put the reintroduction under local control.

FISCHER: At some level, people in these local communities know the territory. They know the land better than people who live far away.

HOYT: Hank Fischer is with Defenders of Wildlife.

FISCHER: And so they have a better opportunity to create more imaginative solutions, to resolve conflicts more effectively, than people who live far away.

HOYT: Under what's called the Citizen Management Plan, a local committee would be responsible for the grizzly's survival. The committee would decide what sort of activities to allow or prohibit in actual or potential bear habitat, and would manage any interaction between bears and livestock. If a grizzly threatens people, the committee would even decide whether to shoot or relocate the bear. All of these decisions would be monitored by the Interior Secretary, who could intervene if the goals of the reintroduction aren't being met. This new approach has won a lot of support. As he makes the rounds of the Organized Labor Hall in Lewiston, Idaho, Council Leader Phil Church explains that people in central Idaho, worried about restrictions on logging, hunting, and outfitting, ultimately realized that the bear project was going to go ahead with or without them.

CHURCH: The majority of the people understand that we do need to reintroduce the bear, understand that we do need to be involved with these kinds of issues, and that we're going to continue to be involved if we're going to protect our jobs and our future and our way of life here in Idaho.

HOYT: Mr. Church says it was Idaho's way of life, a reverence for the outdoors, hunting and fishing, hiking and boating, that formed a common bond among timber workers like himself, industry, and environmentalists.

CHURCH: I"m proud to say that I can actually call these people friends. We've worked real well together.

HOYT: But to gain the acceptance of enough local people, officials had to make one significant concession: that they wouldn't restrict activity in the national forests around the wilderness areas where the bears will be released. In particular, there would be no new restrictions on logging to accommodate the bears. Environmental activist Mike Bader, Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, unfolds a large map showing the area his group says would be necessary to support a healthy grizzly population.

(Rustling paper)

HOYT: The territory spills out beyond the designated wilderness areas, far into unprotected national forests. He says the Citizen Management Plan concedes too much.

BADER: It's fine to have bears in the wilderness areas, but the wilderness areas aren't big enough. And that's an easy concession for the timber industry to agree to. So what? We'll have grizzlies in the wilderness. We can't log there anyway. So they give up nothing, and they get a lot in return. They get access to these roadless areas of the national forests that are currently unprotected, and they're really the stronghold of central Idaho.

HOYT: Mr. Bader and many other biologists would rather the government close roadless areas of the national forest to logging, restore damage already done by previous logging, and take no direct action on the bears, than to adopt a scientifically weak compromise.

BADER: You know, it's better to protect that land and wait for a better time to do this.

HOYT: The Fish and Wildlife Service will choose next spring among the Citizen Management Plan; Mr. Bader's conservation alternative; allowing bears to slowly return on their own; or actually preventing their return. If Citizen Management is chosen, it would face immediate challenges. Idaho Governor Phil Batt would appoint half the committee members, but he's adamantly opposed to reintroduction. So bear advocates worry his appointees might work against recovery. And then, there's the still very real fear of grizzlies themselves. The wilderness areas here draw thousands of hikers, campers, and fishers each year. Many of these people say they have a reverence for bears, and a keen desire to see them. But others are apprehensive about encountering bears, and that could create problems with any reintroduction plan. So efforts are underway to counter these fears, including one at Rattlesnake Middle School in Missoula, Montana, where computer students make web pages about how to camp safely in bear country.

GIRL: We just want to make sure that people who don't live in Montana know that lots of the animals and wildlife that are surrounding us are really not so vicious, you know? I mean, they have good sides to them.

HOYT: Ultimately, says US Fish and Wildlife biologist Chris Servheen, the main requirement for bringing grizzlies back to the Idaho wild lands is tolerance.

SERVHEEEN: The ironic part about bears is they appear to be big and aggressive and powerful above all else. And yet, their fate and their future is totally in our hands.

HOYT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho

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(Music up and under)

Community Supported Agriculture Grows Up

CURWOOD: A few years back some folks in the food co-op movement thought it was time to bring the farmer into the cooperative equation. They wanted consumers to bear some of the risk for the farmer in exchange for a lot of good, fresh food. The idea is called community supported agriculture, and it works like this. At the beginning of the season, consumers pay in advance for a share of the harvest. In return, the farmer gets an assured market and the consumer gets food at a bargain price. As community supported agriculture has spread to hundreds of small farms, practitioners are learning how to convert this idea from theory into sustainable businesses. Nancy Cohen has our story from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts.

(Sounds of cutting basil)

COHEN: For most CSA members the commitment they've made to a farm buys them a whole lot more than a steady supply of fresh produce.

PETIT: You know, you're a member, you belong. Part of it's yours, and you take what you want from it and give what you want from it.

COHEN: Donna Petit and her family are one of 375 households who have shares at the Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts. Today Donna and her husband Phil are harvesting basil, carefully snipping off just the top of the plants.

P. PETIT: If you don't know how to do it, Dan will come out and show you the first time you ever need to do it. And the basil, it's like a lot of plants. When you thin it down and trim it down, the plants get bushier.

COHEN: The relationship between shareholder and farmer is one of the key elements to the CSA's success. Brookfield's farmer Dan Kaplan says you can't be a tight-lipped Yankee farmer and expect to build a community of shareholders.

KAPLAN: They're coming to the farm where their farmer is. A lot of this is very personal, very personality-based, and you know, a cucumber is a cucumber. You've got to make it stand out somehow.

COHEN: Although a cucumber may just be a cucumber, growing enough of them efficiently while also growing a wide variety of other vegetables takes more than personality.

(Crunching sounds underfoot; vegetables tumbling onto wood)

COHEN: Dan Kaplan and 2 apprentices are picking sweet corn, a variety known as Burgundy Delight, named for its dark red tassels. But the farm crew isn't taking time to admire their crop. In about a minute and a half, 2 of them have picked about 8 dozen.

KAPLAN: Hard work is hard work. There is no organic way to, you know, harvest a head of lettuce. There is just a fast way to harvest a head of lettuce. And if you can't do it fast, you're going to fail.

COHEN: Sometimes the fastest way is to use machinery. But for smaller farms, it isn't practical to use large, costly tools that are designed for traditional operations. Brookfield, for example, uses a single-row potato harvester that dates back to the 50s.

(The harvester clanks, metal on metal)

COHEN: About 10 miles from Brookfield is Lampson Brook, a CSA which started as a school for organic growers. Miranda Smith says she wanted her students to understand soil, and that meant no tractors.

SMITH: When I start people out I want them nose to the ground and I want them working by hand, because I want them to develop a color sensitivity that they can't develop from the seat of a tractor.

COHEN: But Smith and new manager Sarah Weil say the farm needs to change if it's going to survive. They've started by mechanizing and would like to increase their acreage, their membership, and the farm manager's salary. Sarah Weil.

WEIL: I live very meagerly. Let's put it that way. And my feeling is that it has to change, so that's where I'm headed.

COHEN: Valuing labor accurately is a big challenge to CSA farmers, just as it is to most farmers. Dan Last teaches resource economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and is doing a long-term study of CSAs.

LAST: Farmers tend not to pay themselves appropriately. And so that's a cost that's being ignored in calculating their budget. And they can't continue to work for free.

COHEN: Dan Last says CSAs can be economically viable if their budgets reflect all costs: capital investments such as equipment and land. Many CSA farmers say the cost of land is one of their biggest hurdles. They also need to outdo supermarkets in quality and offer variety all season long. Dan Kaplan.

KAPLAN: It's one thing to say well, I'm going to give you 400 pounds of food for $280 and then give them all kale. And then they eat the kale, they hate it, and they don't come back again.

COHEN: When community-supported agriculture started, idealistic farmers thought consumers would change to accommodate the farm. But now CSAs are doing what they can to give customers more of what they want. Many farms deliver to urban neighborhoods, and some provide items from other farms, such as fruit, milk, beef, or even wild salmon.

DOCTOR: The CSA, to be successful, really has to be defined as a consumer- producer relationship.

COHEN: Michael Doctor, a CSA farmer in Hadley, Massachusetts, who consults on farm business practices, says the basis for that relationship should be skilled farming.

DOCTOR: There's a tremendous amount of education and social change that happens within the context of any CSA, even if you don't wear that on your forehead. It's just important that you shouldn't be wearing that on a forehead. We need to become good farmers at first.

(Milling people, squeaking plastic, footfalls on wood)

WOMAN 1: So we're allowed 2 bags of this stuff, right?

WOMAN 2: You should get some of those carrots; that's the best.

COHEN: In the end the key to a CSA's success is still the relationship between the grower and the community. Running a good business that meets the needs of both parties strengthens that bond. For Living on Earth, I'm Nancy Cohen in Amherst, Massachusetts.

(Voices and milling continue; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Natural recycling of human waste at a nature preserve. That's just ahead, right here on Living on Earth.

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(Music up and under)

Corkscrew Living Machine: Where does it go?

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
In southwest Florida, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has become one of the state's hottest tourist destinations. The Audubon Society site features a boardwalk through miles of an ancient cypress swamp. The spot is favored by birders, who flock there year-round to search for blue heron, red-shouldered hawks, wood storks, and barred owls. The growth in tourism put pressure on the sanitary facilities, but instead of constructing a traditional sewage treatment system, the Corkscrew staff decided to try something different. Taking a page from the pioneering work of John Todd and others, they built what's called a Living Machine to deal with the wastewater. Alexis Muellner explains.

(Children's voices)

MUELLNER: A group of 25 youngsters from a Fort Myers nature camp has just arrived at Corkscrew Swamp. They're here to explore the sanctuary's 2-mile boardwalk and scout birds, gators, and snakes. But first things first.

MAN: Anybody need to use the restroom?


WOMAN: Everybody head on in there.

MAN: Let's go, we're all heading there.

MUELLNER: The kids are led through a 70-foot-long greenhouse lined with large plastic tanks. They think that they're going to the bathroom, but they soon learn that their tour has just begun. Corkscrew's environmental educator is Brooke Langston.

LANGSTON: Well, good morning, and welcome to Corkscrew Swamp. So what's going on in this building? Why do we have what looks like a greenhouse attached to the restrooms, and why do we have fish outside the restrooms? Tell me what's going on here. Start us off.

MUELLNER: This lesson is taking place in what's called a Living Machine, a system that tries to mimic nature. In this case by cleaning and recycling wastewater without mechanical filtration and with few if any chemicals. Ms. Langston tells her young audience that waste from the building's toilets is being sent to 2 underground septic tanks. It's then channeled into 5 huge tubs bulging with plant life and other swamp critters.

LANGSTON: Also in those holding tanks are something called microbes, or microbiotic animals. Anybody want to take a guess on what those are in those tanks for?

CHILD: Eating bacteria?

LANGSTON: You are so exactly right. Those microbiotic animals that are in there are not only eating bacteria but they're eating everything that you've just flushed. How's that for a fun thought?

CHILD: Oh, yucko! (Others echo.)

MUELLNER: From the tanks the children follow the wastewater as it flows into 2 artificial marshes filled with wetland plants. Like alligator flag, swamp lily, and pickerel weed. The roots of those plants remove nitrogen from the water before it's fed into 3 tall fish tanks containing a black bass and some mosquito-eating gambusia.

(Running water; ambient children's voices)

LANGSTON: Well that's a good question. Is that water or is that pee?

CHILD: Both.

(Running water continues)

LANGSTON: It's water. There may be slight tiny minute traces of biotic matter in it, but is it killing the fish?


LANGSTON: No. Does it smell? Kennedy, stick your nose up on top of that tank and take a deep breath.

(Running water continues)

MUELLNER: From here, the treated water is sent back to the restrooms where it's used again for flushing.

(Running water; fade to footfalls)

MUELLNER: This Living Machine is more than a sophisticated teaching tool. It's a model for the way entire cities might treat and recycle their wastewater in the future. That's why Florida environmental compliance officer Tom Jackson is here today, testing the waters, so to speak.

(A door opens.)

JACKSON: At the very back end of the system, whoo, you can smell the chlorine. And what I'm doing here is just taking a chlorine measurement to make sure that the level is what's required by their permit.

MUELLNER: State officials are intrigued by the Living Machine, but they worry the system doesn't meet health codes. So they require that the water be treated with chlorine before it's sent to the toilets. They also say the Living Machine needs a stronger test. They want to send more sewage directly to the system, bypassing the septic tanks.

(Swirling water)

JACKSON: You can see the clarity of that water. The suspended material and the BOD removal is just excellent, and a lot of that's being done in the pretreatment, in the septic tanks. And what we hope we see them do as their flow increases is to put less of that through the septic tank system and more of it into the Living Machine to actually kind of stress it, get out on the highway and open the throttle up and see how it does.

MUELLNER: For the Audubon Society, that means retrofitting the Living Machine with costly additional equipment. But Neil Harden says it should easily pass all tests. He's a wastewater specialist hired by Audubon to monitor the system.

HARDEN: This was cheaper to build than a conventional plant of the same capacity. It does at least as good a job in treating the water if not better. It requires less electricity. It generates less sludge. It does all this without the nasty side effects of a conventional wastewater plant, that of being loud, smelly, and unsightly.

MUELLNER: Corkscrew's waste treatment machine was built by the Burlington, Vermont, company Living Technologies. There are 18 similar facilities around the country. One treats the waste of 2,000 people in a Vermont community. There's another at a chocolate plant in Nevada. Most recently, a brewery in Sonoma, California, installed one.

(Children's voices and footfalls)

MUELLNER: At Corkscrew, the Living Machine fits the Audubon Society's mission and its pocketbook. And for educator Brooke Langston, it's been a lesson in how much interest can generate from a newfangled toilet using old- fashioned principles.

LANGSTON: You can teach environmental education everywhere you go. You can teach it inside a dirty subway station or out on the most beautiful mountain.

MUELLNER: Or even in a bathroom. For Living on Earth, I'm Alexis Muellner at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, east of Naples, Florida.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1- 800-PROCOWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: The Israelis control it. The Palestinians need it. And tensions over it make peace even harder to achieve in the Middle East. The problem of water coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Fall frosts have started to arrive, and for gardeners that means one thing: no more zukes! Yes, somehow zucchinis almost always produce an abundant harvest. And inexperienced growers are left wondering what to do with it all. In Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania, there's a holiday, which consists of dumping your extra zucchini on a neighbor's porch -- in the middle of the night of course. And in some communities, leaving your car doors unlocked? That guarantees a carful of the squash. Zucchinis have also been known to bring out the worst in people. A New York City man once stuck up a bar by stuffing a zucchini in a paper bag and saying it was a gun. The jury at his trial was dismissed for laughing whenever the issue of the weapon came up. A second jury didn't do much better; it couldn't agree on whether a zucchini was a weapon. Another jury did finally convict the zucchini bandit, who went to jail. The lesson here, I guess: don't be too aggressive about serving zucchini or you could serve time. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Shrimp Ban

CURWOOD: Shrimpers dredge up more than just shrimp. Turtles can get ensnarled in trawl nets and drown. Shrimp farmers in the US are required to fit their nets with turtle excluder devices, which allow turtles trapped in a trawl net to swim free. In 1995, the US banned the import of all shrimp caught without these devices, but the ban might be in violation of international trade laws. At least that's the view of Thailand, Malaysia, India, and Pakistan. They've appealed to the World Trade Organization to force the US to rescind the ban. Thailand already requires its shrimpers to use turtle excluder devices, so I asked Harvard Professor William Alford why the Thais joined in the case.

ALFORD: In the late 1980s the US brought a case to the GATT involving the Thai cigarette market, and we argued that the Thai market discriminated against foreign and in particular US cigarette exports. The US won that case. So there is the possibility that the Thai government here is bringing this in a tit for tat way to say to the US: You brought the GATT down upon us and we're bringing it down on you. The Thais haven't said that, but they do say we are doing this as a matter of principle under international trade.

CURWOOD: And the principle being?

ALFORD: The principle being that one country cannot reach out unilaterally to protect the global commons. If it wishes to protect the global commons, it should negotiate an international environmental agreement.

CURWOOD: How does this case compare to the brouhaha over tuna that we had a few years ago with Mexico? We wanted dolphin-safe tuna. The Mexicans said no, you can't require that, and took us in front of GATT.

ALFORD: In some ways it's quite similar to the tuna-dolphin cases. The GATT panel said that the United States could not block the importation of tuna caught by the Mexican fleet, and the argument there was there is nothing harmful about the tuna coming into the US. And therefore the United States had no authority, no jurisdiction, no right to reach beyond its borders to endeavor to control a harm that was happening far away. And there's something of an analogy, the people bringing this case would say, to the shrimp case. There's nothing in the shrimp themselves that is harmful; it's the way they're caught. It's the by-product, an effect of catching them without turtle excluder devices.

CURWOOD: So we could exclude the shrimp if we said that they were toxic and that some inappropriate pesticide or something had been used around them, and that it would be poisonous for us to consume them.

ALFORD: Yes, that's right. And I think we'd have a pretty good GATT argument there.

CURWOOD: How much is this shrimp issue a stalking horse for any larger issues? Are people looking here, at India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Thailand? Are they looking to get an international precedent on a fairly small case for a bigger item on the agenda?

ALFORD: At some level I think that is the case. There is much talk about making the environment a focal point of the next major set of international trade liberalization negotiations. The US and the Europeans principally are behind this. And I think there's concern on the part of many of our developing country trading partners as to how sincere the US is about this. Partly concerns about crimping their development, and partly a sense that the US may be hiding a protectionist agenda in the rhetoric of the environment.

CURWOOD: Assuming the US loses this case, and it sounds like the rules say that the US is going to lose, what kind of precedent will it set?

ALFORD: The panels that are established under the World Trade Organization pursuant to the GATT rules do not themselves have a binding impact. Ultimately to change US law, the US government has to come back; in this particular case the Congress would most likely have to amend the Endangered Species Act. So we haven't sacrificed our sovereignty in that important sense, Steve; we still have this second bite at the apple, or at the shrimp if you will. But there is the broader, non-legal message that is sent if the US loses here, and that is that individual countries that are seeking to protect the global commons are going to get their hands slapped.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us.

ALFORD: Thank you very much, Steve. It's been a pleasure to talk with you.

CURWOOD: Bill Alford teaches international law at Harvard University Law School.

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(Music up and under)

(Running water)

Middle East Troubled Waters: Mountain Aquifer

CURWOOD: Since civilization began, men and women have gathered at the well. For at the well is the source of life: water. And so it still is here at the edge of a field of squash and cucumbers near the town of Hebron in the West Bank.

(A man speaks in Arabic)

CURWOOD: Water is also the source of conflict between Israel and nearly all its neighbors. Just one example: in April 1967, when Syria began construction to divert the Jordan River across the Golan Heights, Israel bombed the project. Two months later, during the 6-day war, Israel captured the Golan Heights, thwarting any future plans to capture the River Jordan. Today, we continue our special series examining water in the Middle East. In this installment of Troubled Waters, Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan examines how water is fueling tension between the Palestinians who need it and the Israelis who control it.

(A beeper goes off. Several voices on site and over radio, in Hebrew)

TOLAN: In a cool, carpeted, softly-lit room, a young engineer named Moshe sits in a swivel chair in front of a control panel and a pair of computer screens. We're in Israel's Water Control Station outside of Tel Aviv. The powerful computers in front of Moshe link him to hundreds of miles of pipeline.

MOSHE: We control here something like 70, 75% of the pipes and the reservoir.

(More voices)

TOLAN: This is the nerve center of a dream, a dream to capture the River Jordan and other Middle East waters and make the land of Israel bloom. The flow begins at the Sea of Galilee and courses south through pipelines on its way to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and farms in the desert. If there's a problem along the way, Moshe is likely to know about it. His computers receive messages from hundreds of pumping stations along the pipeline. It's one of the most sophisticated water delivery systems in the world.

MOSHE: Well, all the sides are connected to this control center, and they get the information here every 20 minutes.

MAN: Hello, Shamati, Shamati, Shamati!

TOLAN: This morning a vegetable farmer's pipes are dry. He's irate.

MOSHE: If I can't solve the problem from here, I solve it from here.

TOLAN: So you hit a couple of keys? What do you do to solve the problem?

MOSHE: Usually we use the mouse, yeah like this. I show you.

TOLAN: Moshe zooms in on the pipeline, locates the pump, and with the click of the mouse turns it back on.

(Beepers sound)

TOLAN: In a few minutes water will be flowing again.

(More voices, on site and over radio. Fade to a woman shouting)

TOLAN: Bhutta Aziz walks barefoot on a roof in the tiny West Bank village of Bidu. The roof is concrete, flat with a slight incline and a drain at the end. When it rains, water runs down a pipe and into an old stone cistern. Just west is an Israeli settlement, its orange roofs sloping toward the ground.

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: One Israeli settlement gets as much as 7 Palestinian villages here.

TOLAN: The family's had no running water for 2 months. They can't afford the water trucks. The price of a tankful is half a day's wage for Mr. Aziz, who paints houses for the Israelis. So this morning Bhutta dips into the cistern, pouring water into a small row of 3-gallon jugs.

(Water pours)

TOLAN: She says that's all the family of 9 will use today.

(A pail hits the ground)

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: This season I haven't been able to wash my curtains or rugs or the windows because I have other priorities. I do dishwashing but I don't allow my daughter to help me because I'm afraid she would waste the water.

(Liquid pours)

TOLAN: Bhutta serves us Tang in a glass of rainwater, and then she and her husband and sisters invite us inside.

(Many voices, children)

TOLAN: In the verandah a vine grows from a coffee cup, spreading out across the ceiling. It gets one cup of water a week. We can see our reflections in the black faux marble floors.

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: We clean our houses every day, and as Moslems we have to wash up 5 times a day before we pray.

(More voices and children)

TOLAN: In the kitchen there is a sink and a water spout, but nothing in the pipes.

Fish. Fish means nothing?

(More voices)

TOLAN: It's not as if the region is dry. Beneath the family's feet there is a huge underground lake. It's called the Mountain Aquifer because it comes from rain falling in the mountains of the West Bank. Nearly all the aquifer lies beneath the West Bank, with a small tip extending below Israel. But during 3 decades of Israeli occupation, Palestinians have not been allowed to drill a well without permission from military authorities, and that's rarely been granted. Under the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel has allowed a few new wells, but little has changed across the West Bank. And nothing here in the village of Bidu.

(A motor revs up)

AZIZ: [Speaks in Arabic]
TRANSLATOR: We've sent protests and letters to the water authority, but Israel is deaf to all complaints. The Israelis fly reconnaissance planes, and if they discover a new well, they come and close it. Even if you want a new modern toilet, they can close it down if you don't have a permit. We were hoping the Palestinian authority would solve our problems, but they're powerless. We scream and nobody answers. There's no life. Maybe we have to defeat Israel to live like human beings. We have God. That's all we have.

(Motor continues)

TOLAN: Clouds of dust rise up in the wake of the water truck rumbling by. The family watches it pass, moving south toward Jerusalem. In many parts of the West Bank now, the simple dignities of life a bath, a freshly-mopped floor, a cold glass of water are more and more like luxuries.

(Voices speaking in Arabic)

TOLAN: In Hebron, south of Jerusalem, many people are down to one bath a week.

(Voices continue)

TOLAN: As part of the peace process, Hebron was divided in two: one Palestinian-controlled area, and one under Israeli military control. One afternoon we find ourselves in the remnants of Hebron's old Arab market. Israeli soldiers walk a slow, deliberate patrol, protecting the settlers and their homes behind guard posts and fluttering plastic flags of Israel. Arab fruit vendors do a grim business, their faces sour and weary. Business is down sharply. No rocks or rubber bullets are flying today, yet you can feel the tension. In January an Israeli soldier went crazy here and started shooting Palestinians.

(Voices in Arabic)

TOLAN: Suddenly an Arab man grabs a watermelon and smashes it on the ground.

(Sound of watermelon smashing. Voices continue.)

TOLAN: He takes some bananas he's bought and stomps on them, and stalks off in anger.

(Stomping and squishing sounds)

TOLAN: Pink juice from the melon trickles down the asphalt and gathers in a pool.

(Voices continue)

ISAAC: Water for us is becoming thicker than blood, you know?

TOLAN: Jad Isaac is an analyst with the Applied Research Institute, a private think tank in Bethlehem. He says rage is building from inequities over water.

ISAAC: They see swimming pools in the settlements, lawns and sprinklers going during the hot days, while they do not have water to give to their children to drink. There's no justice, that a settler can enjoy all the water that he needs, and this water is not his water. It's Palestinian water, and he is a settler, a colonialist, while the native Palestinian who has been for centuries, he's not allowed to have his own water.

(Voices speaking in Hebrew)

TOLAN: Ten miles and a world away, in his office in the Israeli Knesset, I ask Agriculture Minister Rafael EItan about these accusations. Are Israelis stealing Palestinian water? EItan jabs his finger toward me, fixing me in his gaze.

EITAN: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: You are perhaps a naive person who has been sucked into a culture that may be based on lies and deception. There are 3 aspects of Arab culture that meet you in this story: deception, lies, and pretentiousness.

TOLAN: Minister EItan is hard line even for the ruling Likud government. He once called Palestinians "cockroaches in a bottle." He was instrumental in supporting early settlers in the West Bank. Today he has a few simple words about land and water in the mountainous West Bank.

EITAN: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: He says it's ours. This is ours. Our whole connection to the land of Israel is on the mountain region. That is what it is based on. He says I have no doubt about Israel's right to be there, and to rule that area.

TOLAN: In 1990 the Agriculture Ministry under Rafael Eitan's direction published a full-page ad in the Jerusalem Post warning of the mortal danger of giving up control of the water lying beneath the West Bank. But it's not just Israeli hard-liners who lay claim to the mountain aquifer. Hillel Shuval is a strong supporter of the Oslo peace process and of accommodation with the Palestinians. He's a professor of environmental science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He says Israel's rights to use that water began long before the occupation.

SHUVAL: Going back 80 years, Jewish farmers in the Jordan Valley and the Jezreel Valley and the lowlands started pumping water from the Mountain Aquifer, and Palestinians pumped water from the Mountain Aquifer, and there were no constraints. But in effect, the Israeli water companies, the Israeli farmers, use modern drilling techniques, invested a lot of money, they thought water was very important. And de facto, before 1967, some 80% of the water of the Mountain Aquifer was pumped by Israelis within the boundaries of Israel, and that was the status quo at the time of the occupation. This water was not stolen from the Palestinians. They were not cheated out of the water. It's just a historic fact that the Israelis used it first. Now, according to international law, international law recognizes the right of prior use.

TOLAN: Israelis say it's not fair to compare our water lifestyles. We're a developed nation and you're still developing. Palestinians counter: who was it that kept us down during 3 decades of occupation, using soldiers to prevent us from drilling wells? Both sides say they have international law on their side. Both sides say they simply want to realize their dreams. It's an endless argument full of claims and counter-claims. Whatever the truth amidst the invective, it's clear that with a blend of technological prowess and military force, Israel now controls vast amounts of water beyond its borders. That control allows it to use more than 3 times as much water per capita. It's allowed Israel to absorb massive waves of Russian Jews. And it's helped fulfill a dream that's survived for centuries in the Jewish diaspora.

BASKIN: It has to do with the ethos of Zionism, of the national liberation movement and the Jewish people, was to turn the Jewish people from non- landowners to landowners. To turn them into farmers, to dig their hands into the soil, to reconnect them to the land of Israel.

TOLAN: Gershon Baskin is co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, a Jerusalem thinktank.

BASKIN: The most connected people to land are people who work the soil. So it has a lot to do with the whole national mythology of who we are, of where we are, of our connection to the place that we live. Jews for 2,000 years wandered. They weren't connected to any one place. Here in the land of Israel, all the historical heritage, planting the roots was more than a metaphor. It meant to plant people physically in the earth.

(A water sprinkler)

TOLAN: It's here in the Negev Desert, where some Israelis are playing out the Zionist dream.

DINSEN: As we speak, I get goosebumps. I've been here for 25 years. I can say that with my hands I made the desert bloom.

TOLAN: At 17, Seymour Dinsen didn't quite picture himself as an Israeli farmer. His parents owned a grocery shop in the Bronx. The neighborhood was in transition, he says. His parents wanted him to have some Jewish friends. So Seymour joined a Zionist youth movement.

DINSEN: I fell in love with Israel. Today I can't imagine myself not being a farmer.

(Sprinklers continue)

TOLAN: Now Seymour grows vegetables in desert sand. We stand before rows of potato plants stretching nearly to the horizon. Each acre gets about 2,000 gallons a day: part Jordan River water, part from the Mountain Aquifer, part from aquifers in Israel. It arrives via pipeline to this desert kibbutz not far from the Egyptian border. When combined with healthy doses of chemical and organic fertilizer, this sweet water makes the desert come alive.

DINSEN: Without that water, we wouldn't be able to grow potatoes. We wouldn't be able to grow anything.

(Traffic sounds in the background)

DINSEN: I mean you can see, there's green all around, whether it's potatoes or watermelons or onion seed.

(Traffic sounds continue)

DINSEN: All of this without water, it wouldn't be here. There would be sand. Just sand and sand.

TOLAN: Israel is famous for its water-saving drip irrigation, and many crops now grow in treated wastewater. Yet water is still cheap, so there's little incentive for conservation. In many Israeli towns, lush greenery adorns the boulevards. On the kibbutz, Seymour doesn't pay full cost for water, so he's not forced to save. The fresh water on the fields of this single kibbutz would supply 40 average-sized Palestinian villages that currently have no running water. Even in their homes kibbutzers here use 10 times the water of an average Palestinian.

You know, one might also say, look, why should this kibbutz be using fresh water when there's such a water shortage very close by?

DINSEN: I have to make a living.

(Water sprinklers continue)

DINSEN: The State of Israel gave me my allotment of water to make a living as an agricultural community. I want to make a living. If I can't make a living because the water prices are too high, if we're talking again about the water, I won't use the water. I feel for people who are in a worse economical state than I am. Question is, how responsible am I? It's unfair. It's unfair. But life is unfair. Life is unfair, what can you do?

(Traffic sounds continue. Fade to a door opening and closing, bird song)

TOLAN: At a farm near the West Bank town of Jenin, Mohammad Tershon, a young hydrologist just out of university, says like his Israeli counterparts Palestinian farmers have their own dreams.

TERSHON: Until now, as a Palestinian, we haven't our key for our house. How can you feel secure without having any key to open your house? And as Palestinians, until now we haven't our key. Our key is water and land, and also the control of our borders.

TOLAN: A half-mile from Israel's border, we stand by a patchwork of vegetable fields interspersed with fallow land. Fallow, Mohammad says, because since the Israeli village to the west sunk a thousand-meter well back in 1973, many of the old Palestinian wells here have gone dry.

TERSHON: You see, that land was irrigated. But after drilling the Israeli wells, it become rain-fed agriculture, wheat and barley and some forages, which depend on rainfall to survive. Financial situation become very low. The Palestinian farmers are searching for new jobs in Israel, mainly in agriculture, and in very low salaries. Most of the farmers now frustrated.

ISAAC: Our land has become desert, while Israel has been taking our water resources in order to make the desert bloom.

TOLAN: Palestinian policy analyst and water expert Jad Isaac

ISAAC: We need all the water resources of Palestinian people in order to promote real economic growth and to move from the occupation and charity, dependent and donors community to like every other nation in the world. Israel is currently taking 85% of our water resources. Israel agriculture is a very marginal sector in the Israeli economy. They have the technology, they have the GNP per capita which can let them give us our water rights without really suffering. In fact, it would be such a very cheap price for peace.

TOLAN: Agriculture represents only 3% of Israel's GNP. It's more important to the Zionist dream than it is to Israel's economy. In light of that, some Israeli policy analysts say Israel should give the Mountain Aquifer to the Palestinians and turn to desalinization of the Mediterranean. Gershon Baskin of the Israel- Palestine Center for Research and Information.

BASKIN: Let's say that over the next 10 to 15 years Israel turns the entire Mountain Aquifer over to the Palestinians. We're talking about a loss factor to Israel of about $400 million. That's about half a percent of Israel's growth. What we're arguing about is minuscule. Israel's economy is now $90 billion a year. Now, I would propose to Israel, and I have, that Israel be generous to the Palestinians and water. Work out a schedule over the next 15 years in which all the water of the Mountain Aquifer will be turned over to the Palestinians. In return for Israel's generosity, the international community should help to establish an international research and development fund whose goal would be to bring the cost of desalinization technology down.

TOLAN: But these proposals are getting a cold reception from the Likud government, including Meir Ben Meir, Israel's water commissioner.

BEN MEIR: This (laughs) is an absurd, of course. We are not going to give up our resources and turn to the Mediterranean to fulfill our needs.

TOLAN: Israel's latest proposal, made informally through press leaks, is designed to maintain full Israeli control over water. They'd be willing to give more drinking water to the Palestinians in the process, but only if they're in charge of the system. Commissioner Ben Meir says the Palestinians cannot be trusted to control any share of the water. But if the future is simply Israeli control, Palestinian Water Authority Chief Nabil Sharif says there will be no peace. Peace, he says, can only come with a sovereign state of Palestine in control of its own water.

SHARIF: I don't know what will be in the future. They will give the Palestinian a state, then a state should have its own sources and still cooperate with Israel. If they want the control they have earlier, this is another thing. Nobody will accept that.

TOLAN: And thus, water remains a central obstacle to Middle East peace. In water each side sees the refection of its own national agenda. The weaker side speaks of cooperation. The strong side speaks of control. And the future to many, like Israeli agriculture minister Rafael Eitan, looks more and more like the past.

ITAN: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: We live here 100, 200 years. We know them better than people who come naive from a Western culture. In our struggle, in our fight, in our war, the war is not over a well in Hebron or a water hole in Gaza. It's between 2 cultures. The question is which culture is going to win? That's how it begins and that's how it ends.

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Next week we go to the Gaza Strip, where problems with water scarcity and quality threaten social and environmental collapse.

PALESTINIAN: If this situation prevails for much longer, the people here will not keep quiet. They cannot. They'll have to go out seeking food, seeking water. The Israelis are not even heeding this thing now.

CURWOOD: To obtain a tape or transcript of this program, call 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Jeff Martini engineered the program. Michael Aharon composed the theme. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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