Oil in Water

Many of us saw the photo of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his family on an enormous yacht in New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee. In the same series, we saw Mitt and Ann Romney zipping across the water on a jet ski followed by boats containing a security detail. Not only were the images ostentatious, but they also raised other concerns.

As Romney boated freely in the fresh water lake, several Midwestern states reached drought conditions. Great Lake states including Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois declared drought emergencies following a week that hovered in the 100s as well as a summer with very little rain. Many farmers face ruined crops and economic devastation and the effects will soon be felt in markets and restaurants across the country. There simply isn't enough water to maintain corn and soybean crops or grass for animal feed. Farmers, dairy producers, and others will have to turn to fresh water stores in rivers and lakes, themselves at record low levels.

This seems the perfect moment to address one of the more wasteful American pastimes -- burning gasoline in fresh water. Yachts, jet skis, and other powerboats release oil into dwindling sources of water necessary for irrigation, cleaning, and human survival. There is justification for boats used for the transport of people and goods, but none that I can think of for power boating as recreation during a drought. I have never quite seen the fun of driving over land to reach a beach in order to drive in water, but I am a swimmer who is saddened by the difficulty of enjoying quiet times or peaceful swims at most beaches. The smell of oil permeates the water and the threat of being run over is as present as it would be if I tried to cross a freeway on foot.

Mostly, I cannot imagine why we are not preserving the most necessary resource at this precarious time or stepping away from oil dependence in our leisure time. The idea first came to me at a Lake Michigan beach during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Everyone at the time expressed concern about the ecological impact of the spill and saw tragedy in the images of oil soaked marine and bird life. As we watched the burning oil in the Gulf of Mexico, I spoke against the burning of unnecessary oil in the Great Lakes. By unnecessary oil I mean that spewed by yachts, jet skis and powerboats in the name of a fun summer day. Now that drought is at our doorstep, I think that this is the very summer to curb the burning of oil in water and preserve the resource on which our current and future survival depends.

I am disturbed by the privatization of beaches -- long stretches cordoned off to local residents and visitors by home owners who want a spot of sand all to themselves -- and I was upset to learn that the Romney clan luxuriated on a private shoreline stretching 768 feet, more than double the length of a football field, while most of us sat on our towels on reduced public beaches. I find the Romney yacht/jet-ski photo shoot absolutely chilling during this summer of drought. If the candidate for the presidency and former governor wishes to lead, then I hope it would be by example: to refrain from excess energy use and pollution of the water. Another publicized aspect of the Romney Fourth of July vacation is the "Romney Olympics" in which all generations engage in sport and competition. Perhaps biking or taking the bus could make a future Olympic heat.

I now ask the Romneys and all others to please stop burning oil in water.