Water is Life

water is life

It began to rain while riding in the car with Iroquois Faith Keeper Oren Lyons of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nations. Responding to what some would consider an inconvenience, he said, “Never curse the rain. Bless the rain, bless the rain, bless the rain, bless the rain. Rain is life.” 

So it is. Rain is that crucial part that links water back to the earth in a way that makes clean, clear, potable drinking water available to every terrestrial living thing that depends upon it. Without it, we die. The rule of 3s attests that you can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 hours without shelter, 3 minutes without air.

One of the strange facts of Earth is that there is never more or less water than there ever has since the asteroids first brought it here. A static amount is released into the air from our breath with that of lakes and oceans, moves Westerly with the wind, precipitates to the ground, gravitates down through streams, rivers, lakes, caverns, pausing in aquifers and above in every living thing before being released again to run eventually to the sea. 

We never have a shortage of water. What we don’t have is access to quality water. We are losing that more quickly than we have ever in 15 million years. And it’s our fault.

Pretending we have the luxury of disbelief in ecosystem dynamics, we’re now committed to a new global trend of over 3.6 degrees (F) warmer than we’re used to (here). As a result we’ve already lost nearly all the freshwater repositories in the Arctic ice cap, we’re losing freshwater glaciers at 70 feet a year, currently rain is falling more and violently in areas that traditionally receive rain, causing flooding, and those areas that infrequently receive rain are receiving even less, causing unprecedented droughts. In the long term that trend will reverse localities, still causing flooding and droughts. In both cases the freshwater is unavailable to most of us because in either circumstance the soil cannot retain it. Climate change is building more and more water in ocean salinity where the rising levels are threatening our coastal societies.

For the last 200 years or so we’ve diverted freshwater through dams, reservoirs, factories in ways that return that water unusable or worse, toxic for living things. The combination is climate increasing deserts with industry increasing the number of people worldwide who have no access to freshwater because it was damned or polluted upstream and the rain doesn’t fall as it used to.

Then we found these terrific repositories of freshwater underground. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief. Here in the states, we’ve already used up the equivalent of twice that of Lake Erie.

As it happens , we’ve recently seen more effects here in the states than we used to as California continues its drought despite the recent rain (here) and mere moments of media integrity catch some of the 480,000 gallons of oil- or gas-related toxic chemicals that are spilled into our freshwater every year, on a ten-year average (here).

Mark Ruffalo, the founder of Water Defense, said in a recent interview with Huffington Post, “Our water is as important to this nation as their bottom line. …It does not become incumbent upon us to pay or to clean up that water to prove to people that it’s safe” (interview here). 

The Nature Conservancy and University of Virginia’s Brian Richter just posted on National Geographic, if we’re short on water, “Don’t blame it on the rain.” Don’t even blame it on climate change. We’re short on water because…

(1) [we] have been consuming their available water faster than it can be regularly replenished with rain and snow, 

(2) [we] lack sufficient restraint or regulatory controls to keep this from happening, and… 

(3) resource limitations or political lethargy cause reaction time to be too slow to avoid disaster (source here). 

Those of us who are dedicated to a free economy and believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps would be the first to counsel a sound ethic for handling money. Resources are money. Water is priceless. Rain is life. The corollary of Richter’s critique is a sound ethic: use less than you have, exhibit some self-discipline, and be willing to change …or go without.

2 Responses to “Water is Life

  • Good big picture thinking. I’ll see your big-picture, and raise you individual actions. The question is, what are some of those ‘next steps’ we can take to use less and exhibit self-discipline that demonstrate a willingness to change. I’m looking forward to this follow-up piece, Jamie! Good on ya for keeping the message about water conservation going! And if you don’t already follow Peter Gleick (https://twitter.com/PeterGleick) or Michael Campana (https://twitter.com/WaterWired), check them out!

    • Thanks, Jeremiah! Though I believe the ethic applies both to individual actions (i.e. not leaving faucet running, adjusting toilet flow down, taking shorter/fewer showers, xeriscaped lawns, etc.) and to structural actions (i.e. industry best practices & government regulation). As Mark Ruffalo suggested, while it is responsibility is shared by all, the onus must fall more heavily upon those whose pollution is greater in terms of impact. What do you think?

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