I’m sure by now you’ve read the reports about the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. Apparently the Flint River is so corrosive if not treated that it actually eroded iron and lead from the pipes leading to homes, which is how the water became not just filthy but toxic. Most will point to the state government in Michigan as the main antagonists here, since they knowingly put residents at serious risk, and lied about it several times, simply to scrimp on the budget. (The effects of lead poisoning, as is noted in the linked article, are long-term and irreversible.) And yes, this example does serve, along with countless others, as a testament to undemocratic institutions that routinely poison their own subjects (er, voting public) for even small profits. This practice is as old as Rome itself. But probably lost in this critique is the alarming fact that we have to treat rivers with chemicals, just so the chemicals in them don’t do more harm to other chemicals we have used in our entire infrastructure. The Flint River, now left to its own devices, can corrode lead pipes. What does it do to the soil, or to the fish? Can we even call it a “river” anymore?