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Oil spills and droughts how are we protecting our waters? 

Lucas Corbin reporter 

In December, the Keystone Pipeline ruptured in Washington County KS., leaking over half a million gallons of oil into a creek in what was the past decade’s largest onshore pipeline spill. The spill flooded Kansas farmland and drained into Mill Creek. While the creek was dammed and the oil cleaned before it could flow to a larger body, the effects of the spill will plague the area for years to come. 

“All of that precious topsoil, which is critical to the agriculture, is now destroyed and will be destroyed forever,” Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Alliance, a nonprofit that works to protect land and water, told NPR days after the spill. 

Earlier this month, a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, dumping five cars worth of vinyl chloride and other chemicals into the Ohio River, which flows into the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. Following the derailment, officials decided to burn the remaining cargo, releasing toxic gas into the town and surrounding areas. 

“The county’s air quality monitors do detect several of the pollutants like benzene and vinyl chloride. With more than 25 miles from East Palestine to the county border, any emissions would likely disperse before reaching the county, but will still continue to be monitored,” said the Allegheny County Health Department in a tweet on Feb. 16. 

The spill has already caused significant damage to wildlife. Reports from the New York Times suggest that more than five thousand fish local to the area have died due to the spill and are now floating through the river. Locals have also reported illness among their chickens, dogs, and farm animals due to the inhalation of hazardous gasses. 

“Our release site that’s been impacted is in state forest and nature preserve,” said Gregory Lipps, a herpetologist at Ohio State University. “You look around and think, ‘boy, this is a nice protected area,’ but you can’t control what comes down the stream, can you?” 

Meanwhile outside Tuscon, two thousand residents of the Rio Verde Foothills began their eighth week without reliable access to clean water. The Foothills, which is an unincorporated community in Maricopa County, Arizona, were barred from purchasing water from Scottsdale, plunging the community into a drought that only affects the non-city residents.  

At the beginning of the crisis, the Maricopa County government argued that it had no power in securing water for Foothills residents and rejected proposals for the residents to levy a tax on themselves to pay to import water. But the county quickly changed its mind following the State Attorney General’s remarks regarding the situation. 

“Counties have the power to preserve public health and sanitation by contracting with a utility or another government entity to provide water on an emergency basis,” said Kris Mayes in a legal statement earlier this month. 

The community has now begun working with Scottsdale, the nearest city, to amend the zoning ordinances for a three-year period to allow the sale of water outside city limits as the Rio Verde Foothills work to reevaluate their drought management plan. 

Reliable access to clean water is vital to us as individuals and as a community. While potential threats continue to arise and threaten our well-being, communities and organizations must continue encouraging collaboration within themselves to ensure a healthy and securely protected environment for current and future generations. 

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