The World’s First International Water Heritage Site

Washington’s birthday, 2-22-2012, 2:22pm.  Citizens of Morgan County, West Virginia, gathered on the Morgan County Courthouse steps, corner of Fairfax and Washington Streets (U.S. 522), to celebrate the 22nd Annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting and to demonstrate against the international ecocrime of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas (fracking).

We proclaimed a reinstatement of rights that citizens of this country, and the many states that united to form it, were supposed to have been guaranteed by the founding fathers, through original documents forged by that elite gathering of privileged landowners (who pondered to create an enlightened system of government within the constraints and beliefs of their time) and thereafter added to, and slowly strengthened by, a Bill of Rights to The Constitution of The United States of America.

Realizing both the myth and history of our nation, and attempting to set our current condition within that context, two documents approved by the grassroots organization Morgan County Frack Ban were read by Charles E. Sullivan, Frack Ban orator, after co-member John C. Webster read the following excerpt from The Constitution of West Virginia:

Article 2, 2-2.   Powers of government in citizens.   

The powers of government reside in all the citizens of the state, and can be rightfully exercised only in accordance with their will and appointment.

Unfortunately, the citizens of West Virginia have not been allowed to exercise those rights.  We feel, therefore, that we must go around the current system as it now stands and to proclaim a line in the sand beyond which the corporate governance of this state, and of the United States, must not go in an attempt to destroy “the terrible beauty” of West Virginia and to poison its water and its people.

Preamble to A Declaration of Community Water Rights and Heritage / Charles E. Sullivan

The Republic of the United States of America was founded upon revolutionary principles. And while many would deny it today, these are again revolutionary times. It therefore seems appropriate to invoke the thoughts of one of America’s greatest thinkers and most conscientious citizens—Henry David Thoreau, who lived from 1817 to 1861.

For those of you who do not know the story, Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay his taxes. Had he chosen to pay them, Thoreau recognized that he would be supporting a war, the war against Mexico, to which he was morally opposed. So he went to jail rather than pay taxes that would, as he saw it, expand the territory of slavery. Thoreau was a fierce abolitionist.

Even our seemingly mundane lives are filled with such moral choices. Action and inaction, cooperation and non-compliance with the law have consequences. This is what gives our lives meaning; it is what defines who and what we are as human beings. Those who are most alive are passionate about everything they do.

Henry David Thoreau famously declared in his essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience:

Let every man make known the kind of government that would command his respect and that will be the first step toward obtaining it.

Thoreau was a man with a social conscience. He was, above all, a man who stood on, and acted upon, moral principle. This did not always enamor him to his fellow citizens. In a culture predicated upon exploitation and wasteful consumption, truth, particularly inconvenient truth, is rarely popular.

Thoreau also told us:

The fate of the country does not depend upon how you vote at the polls—the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.

He also said:

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

In essence, Thoreau tells us that by strictly adhering to the systems of power rather than working outside of them when necessary, we are treating the symptoms of disease rather than its underlying cause. One must think outside of the box and one must act according to the dictates of conscience. Or, as another author once said, “You must stand for something or you will fall for anything.”

It is in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau that I offer the following thoughts:

The citizens of Morgan County demand a government that represents working class people and the poor rather than corporate interests and the privileged elite. Its credo must be human need, not corporate greed. Furthermore, we recognize that capitalism is not democracy and that democracy is not capitalism. These are radically opposing ideas, and we must take care not to confuse them.

Our diverse forests are commodified, measured in board feet to be clearcut and off-shored at prodigious bargain rates like a liquidation sale. World class biodiversity is being turned into biological deserts and monoculture. Money changes hands. The few are getting rich at the expense of the many. The world and the people who live in it are treated like products to be exploited. We are told that nothing is sacred, save for the dollar and markets.

In reality, every political economy is underlain by ecology and by living, evolving, biological systems. Ecology is the only economy that really matters. One cannot make a living on a dead planet; and one cannot drink money. 

George Orwell, the author of a chilling novel called 1984, astutely observed, “In times of universal deceit, speaking truth is a revolutionary act.” Being here today is such an act. It is in that spirit that we offer A Declaration of Community Water Rights and Heritage.

A Declaration of Community Water Rights and Heritage / John C. Webster

When, in the course of human events, it is again necessary to reaffirm our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as the various governments of these United States of America  – at all levels – have become destructive to them, we must reestablish the proposition that governments derive their just powers from consent of the governed.

To these ends, and realizing that protection of our natural water sources, their courses, and the surrounding ecosystems that produce and support them, are essential to ensure and secure the future of Morgan County, West Virginia, and that of its citizens; we do, therefore, proclaim the following Declaration Of Community Water Rights and Heritage, in order to stop the insidious intrusion of corporate governance upon the very means of our existence in violation of the public trust:

Whereas 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water, of which only 3% is fresh water derived from all sources, and of which only 1% can be used as potable water; and,

Whereas the hills, hollows, mountains, and valleys of Morgan County, West Virginia, are 80% forested and must be protected as progenitor of the naturally fresh, clean, and potable water necessary to replenish two-thirds of all human bodies that is water; and,

Whereas we recognize the historic efforts made by citizens of this county to guarantee the future of its potable water supplies, even in the face of unchecked development, never-ending divisions to vast and interconnected areas of contiguous, protected ecosystem required to produce said natural water supplies, and on-going degradation of same; and,

Whereas corporate governance has led us to a situation where we have no rights as a people to community control, by way of ballot referenda, to redress grievances, a situation resulting from 135 years of corporate rule over West Virginia and its legislators by timbering, coal, oil and gas industries, the latter of which has begun the international ecocrime of hydraulic fracturing; and

Whereas hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is but the latest and most perfidious attempt to destroy, for profit, the very means of our existence, as well as unalienable rights set forth by the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and thereafter by federal and state Constitutions; and

Whereas, in that same year, George Washington, then-future President of the United States of America, did purchase an original lot in the newly chartered Town of Bath, this country’s first resort spa, surrounding the famous Berkeley Springs, around which the town was built, and which springs have been permanently protected within the 4.5 acre Berkeley Springs State Park; and

Whereas we must also protect – by a ban on hydraulic fracturing – the additional and various fresh water springs, wells, runs, creeks, rivers, and lakes of this county, including but not limited to Warm Springs Run, Sleepy Creek, the Cacapon and Potomac Rivers, and the Cacapon Resort State Park Lake;

We do, therefore, appeal to attendees at this year’s 22nd Annual Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, being held at the Country Inn adjacent to Berkeley Springs State Park, to join us in declaring the Town of Bath, the County of Morgan, West Virginia, and all watersheds arising within or flowing through or around them, to be the world’s first International Water Heritage Site.

Photos, summary, and a short film clip of the presentation, produced by Kay Ebeling, can be found here.

A 12 -minute ‘YouTube’ video of the complete 2-22-2012 proclamation, by Brent Walls, can be viewed here.

Charles E. Sullivan is a botanist, naturalist, nature photographer, writer, and a student of Henry David Thoreau. John C. Webster is a gardener, garden designer, horticulturist, plant breeder, and a student of Thomas Jefferson. John can be reached at Read other articles by Charles E. Sullivan and John C. Webster.