Clean Water

My favorite way to recover after a hot afternoon’s hard work has always been to chug down a quart of ice cold water from a Mason jar and then jump into a clear mountain brook or a neighbor’s pond.

It refreshes me both inside and out and reminds me that water is a healer – as well as one of our most fragile natural resources.

In the ‘50s, my family had a camp on Lake Willoughby and every spring we’d run one end of a pipe into the lake to feed the camp’s drinking supply. As kids, we drank from mountain streams when hunting and fishing. And we swam in Lake Elmore, even though it was effectively the local septic system.

Usually, there wasn’t any visible evidence of that.

Seventy per cent of the earth’s surface is water, but only 2.5% of that is fresh water and only one percent is accessible to human, animal, and plant life. All earth’s species depend on access to potable water. And yet throughout history we’ve acted as if the water on which we depend is pollution proof.

In 1969, when the Cuyahoga River caught fire, public outrage did as well over the dumping of industrial chemicals and raw sewage into a principal Lake Erie feeder.

Better living through chemistry was a popular slogan in my childhood. And that sunny promise – along with “black water” from coal mining – still poisons many aquifers and farmlands. Chemicals used to extract natural gas in fracking operations and pesticides applied in support of mono-cropping are now present in our land, our breast milk, our bloodstreams and have lowered the average male sperm count.

For a species entirely dependent on potable water, we’ve shown precious little regard for protecting it. Both here and elsewhere, the dilemma is always how to balance the interests of business and agriculture with the basic need for water that’s safe for personal use.

Now the two are intersecting in our recreational water resources – witness the toxic algae blooms in Lake Champlain and Lake Carmi and their combined impact on tourism revenue.

Hopefully, our new-found sense of responsibility isn’t too little too late – and that measures to protect these resources aren’t discriminatory. Because the wealthy can afford to pay for clean water to drink or play in – while the world’s poor can’t.

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