Tuesday, July 7, 2009

'Alternative' festival needs to practice what it promotes

The rutted dirt driveway seemed to go on forever and we shifted uncomfortably on our hay-bale seats as a man on a tractor pulled the makeshift shuttle up the road. Uncomfortably jostled by ruts in the roadway, I was relieved to disembark at journey's end.

We arrived at the Rainbow Bridge Festival during the midday heat. A stage occupied a field that was ringed with vendors' tents. The event was between acts and a stage crew was setting up for whomever was next to perform.

Within moments of our arrival, we saw people we knew from our church. A short while later, we greeted radio announcers from KPFZ 88.1 FM.

There were few of us present but among those who were, there appeared to be many common values. We congregated in what shade we could find beneath the sparse cover provided by some trees.

Back at work I compared impressions with photographer Bob Minenna, who had taken photographs during the night before when things had been much livelier. Live music, keynote speakers and hands-on explorations in sustainable technologies were included in the three-day event.

Bob told me that organizers have begun planning for next year's event.

I hope so; something like this could be an asset to Lake County. The organizers deserve a lot of credit for taking on this responsibility, particularly for the goals  in its mission statement: ecological restoration and planet-wide land stewardship. You can read more about the event at www.rainbowbridgefest.com.

Along with its emphasis on "green" technology, healthy life choices and renewable energy, this event could also showcase Lake County's natural beauty. I genuinely hope that it improves with each successive year.

But despite its emphasis upon sustainable alternatives, I am concerned that this event may contribute to an ecological deficit, due to its reliance upon unsustainable technologies.

To begin with, the nearest bus route, along Highway 20 between Lakeport and Ukiah, was approximately two miles  from the site. Assuming that passengers could safely board and disembark at the Bachelor Valley Road turnoff, they would face a considerable trek in the midday summer heat. Which meant that traveling by car was the only option available for feasibly reaching this event.

Web site publicity made no mention of  alternatives to auto travel. No word about Lake Transit or any neighboring bus connections. No ride-share message board. Only an invitation on the home page to "Click here for driving directions."

Once visitors arrived at the check-in tent (one mile down Bachelor Valley Road), they faced nearly another mile's walk up the steep dirt driveway unless they rode on the tractor-pulled shuttle.

In order to combat the dust that was raised by the dirt-road traffic, a water truck traveled back and forth along the length of the mile-long driveway, dousing it and each shoulder of the roadway.

Bob told me the water was non-potable, meaning it wasn't suitable to drink. It seems frivolous enough to me, however, that in the middle of a drought, even non-potable water should be spilled on a dirt roadway. If the water truck's capacity was 2,000 gallons, that was 2,000 less gallons available to water community gardens.

The Pittsburg Post-Gazette calculated that a 9-ounce bottle of spring water, at $1.49, would cost $21 a gallon ("The pumped up price of water," www.post-gazette.com/). Would that water have been so cavalierly wasted if it had cost $21 per gallon to fill the water truck?

I learned from Bob that there had been challenges to hosting this event, including a last-minute scramble for a site. Next year's event, however, will have the luxury of year-long planning. I hope as its organizers move forward, they will implement practical alternatives rather than again structuring the event to inescapably depend upon the unsustainable technologies that it proposes alternatives to.

Published July 7, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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