Kootenai River, Montana
Happy World Water Day! Today as we recognize and celebrate the vitality of water and the importance it plays in every facet of life, we also must face the grim reality that over 660 MILLION people worldwide lack healthy access to this most precious resource. That’s something easily overlooked in developed nations where we fight wars over oil, waste millions of gallons of water on carefully manicured lawns and give little thought to countless other practices that reflect how badly our priorities are askew. A change of course is imperative. Our practices are unsustainable, and a wholesale social refocusing needs to occur on several fronts.
First of all, we need to support both government and philanthropic efforts to address the issues of water access- at home and abroad. This includes well construction and sanitation projects in developing nations, where often people must forego schooling and other productive daily pursuits because of the inordinate amount of time devoted to gathering clean water. We also need to consider our aging infrastructure in developed nations. Crumbling, out-dated methods of conveyance not only leak (wasting freshwater and the energy used to pump it) but contaminates such as lead can also create public health emergencies as we’ve recently seen in Flint, Michigan. It’s very easy for us here in the United States to take clean water for granted, but without a concerted effort and investment in maintaining the systems that allow us access, Flint will merely be the writing on the wall.
Along those same lines of not taking water for granted, we must alter our consumption habits. Of course I’m not talking about drinking less water. The average American uses 80-100 gallons of water for household purposes each day, most of which is not ingested. Instead we take long showers, excessively flush toilets, and leave the faucets flowing while brushing our teeth. We’re obsessed with green grass and shiny dust free cars to the point of judgement toward anyone who dares deviate from this social standard. In these examples, it’s easy to come up with home remedy type solutions for how we can cut water usage; and in fact, we absolutely should! But in addition, people need to be more conscientious of other practices that are extremely water intensive, such as industry and agriculture, and alter consumption habits with this in mind as well. Consider all the plastics that we use. Massive amounts of water is needed to produce it. Think about how much food we throw out and the water that was irrigated to grow it. This is yet another case of how we can lessen our environmental impact by not being so damn wasteful.
Finally we need to do everything within our power to protect our natural water sources. We need to be mindful of chemical disposal, yard care applications, and what we allow to wash down storm drains. We need to support organic food production and responsible agricultural practices in order to limit the amount of nitrates and pesticides entering our waterways. We need to protect our aquifers, rivers, lakes and streams from contamination by mining and energy production. And we need to do away with corrupt politicians who are clearly in the pockets of big ag and big industry, working to invalidate safeguards such as the Clean Water Act.
Freshwater is not an infinite resource, but it is infinitely necessary. It’s time we act accordingly.