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Water, Water, Nowhere


ONE BIG PART OF THE MISSION of this magazine is to keep you apprised about what’s happening on the food front in the Hudson Valley. That includes, of course, reporting on new restaurants, products, agribusinesses and, well, all the good stuff that we find. Sometimes, though, the news is not good—an environmental crisis here, a product recall there, and our favorite topic of concern, GMOs. These items generally get lumped into a sub-department we call “Not-So-Good Stuff,” because that‘s exactly what they are. You’ll notice there aren’t any not-so-good stuff articles in this issue—no stories about dark clouds threatening our otherwise blue-sky outlook.

Actually, we had scheduled an update on the GMO labeling controversy (or debacle, debate, argument, battle—you choose) but, if you haven’t noticed, things have been a little quiet on that front lately. It could be because we’re approaching the silly season (i.e., the presidential election) and most of the economic and political attention is pointed in that direction. Or it could be because Monsanto is the target of a takeover bid by the giant Bayer corporation of Germany. (The merger would create a monster—literally. It would give Bayer nearly global monopolistic control over GMO crops and severely limit farmers’ negotiating power over seed costs, which analysts predict will inevitably rise, causing increased costs across the board at the grocery store. This is not good news.) Then there’s Vermont’s GMO-labeling law, set to go into effect July 1. Expect a deluge of lawsuits on the state and federal levels that could take the controversy to the Supreme Court.

But there I go, digressing again even before I get started. All the good stuff in this issue reinforces just how lucky we are to be in the Hudson Valley, with its abundance of local products, an active and aware consumer base and an equally aware core of agribusinesses and food services. If there’s one thing we have plenty of, it’s choices. Except that our water supply is rapidly going down the tubes. Recent serious, system-wide contamination in Newburgh and Yonkers, as well as lead contamination in a growing number of municipalities, underscore the most critical issues we’ll face in the next decade—sourcing, treating and delivering clean water. What does this have to do with the food we eat? Absolutely everything.

Water obviously is necessary to grow our food, but it’s also the main ingredient in almost everything we cook and eat. For years, municipalities in the valley touted the quality of their water (New York City’s water, which comes from the Catskill and Ramapo Mountains, for example, often has been cited as among of the best municipal water in the world.) Misuse, mismanagement, neglect and (as in Flint, Michigan) greed and fraud threaten many aspects of our water delivery systems. Development in parts of Orange, Rockland and Dutchess Counties is seriously straining the limits of the aquifers to supply water to the increasing population. (What’s being done behind the scenes and under the table to assure water will be available to some communities could be the stuff of a John Grisham novel.)

Many of us have lived here long enough to have experienced a water emergency— usually caused by a temporary drought. At worst, it’s only an annoyance to have to ask for water at a restaurant, and perhaps we’re headed toward the time when a water list is offered along with the wine list. That’s pale in comparison to the number of children who could suffer arrested development, learning disabilities and serious health problems from drinking bad water.

Overdevelopment and overpopulation right here in the southern Hudson Valley already is straining the few remaining aquifers. Some years ago, we suggested the single most important economic, political and environmental issue facing us would be about water—how much is left, where it is, how to get it and how to keep it clean. You’ll be hearing more about this from us because that’s no longer just a prediction.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!