Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Wet Stuff

One of the most basic needs for living a whole life -- or any life at all -- is water. It plays a role in every facet of our lives, and yet clean drinking water is one of the most threatened resources on our planet. In today's post, guest blogger Liz Morgan shares some thoughts about the wet stuff.

Water. The wet stuff.
Water is the most quintessential molecule for human life. When we think about a planet besides earth sustaining life, we question, “Does it have water?” When we think of earth, we think of it being a “blue planet.” And when we think of ourselves, as humans, we think of our supremely aqueous bodies. We have been taught, from a young age, that there is no life for humans without water. 

What we may not realize is that water is necessary for human existence beyond biological terms. Take, for example, the economy. The American economic system depends on strong, thriving markets, which rely on consumerism. What do most Americans consume on a mass scale? Technological toys. But many of us are not aware of the vast amounts of water necessary for these toys to function. An IBM plant in Burlington, Vermont works on creating microchips for said toys. A delicate process, the water required to clean these microchips has to be “ ultra pure.” So pure, in fact, the water goes through 18 steps to remove any sediment, or ions, that may compromise the microchips. National drinking water, on average, goes through 8 steps to be clean.

This is not to say that drinking water is not clean. On the contrary, if a person were to drink this “ultra pure” water meant for microchips, they would become sick, as water is a polar molecule and would travel through the human, grasping essential minerals and molecules. This is merely an example of one industry that relies heavily on water that we may not be aware of. But there are several industries that we are aware of: agriculture, livestock, and energy development. Beyond industrial use, there is the most direct use of water, which is domestic. We use water to wash our clothes, wash our bodies, wash our dishes, swim in at the local pool, play in at the local creek. Water is in the makeup we put on our face, we use water to rinse the shaving cream after we shave our beard. We drink it, which is the most essential function of water.


At this point, it is clear that water has many uses. So the most pertinent question may be – how do I know my drinking water is safe? How do I know it is clean? Though the EPA passed the Clean Water Act in 1979, there are many rising concerns (often sensationalized by the media, and proliferated by soft drink companies) about water purity. The American public is often led to believe that tap water is not clean. How could it be? It contains hormones, feces, and other harmful particulate matter. 
I am not here to contest the fact that these things have found their way into drinking water. But I know that scientists and city managers alike are working diligently to remove them, and find ways to keep them out of the water supply; that Americans have some of the cleanest water in the world, and laws to protect it; that our water is good water. 
But here lays the quandary: how do we keep it that way?
Our population is, to put it mildly, exploding. This is not a phenomenon that is confined to the states, but is a global issue. But unlike the Sahara, or West Africa, water issues are confined to a geographic area. Las Vegas is not going to have the same water issues that Appalachia does.

That being said, there are things that every American can do if they are concerned about water, and answer the question posed above:

1. Be willing to Pay.
Water is something no person should live without. It is a right, but it is becoming a necessity that water be managed. This works when people accept their civic duty and understand how a water utility bill works. You are not paying for physical water itself. You are paying for the machinery and means to clean it. It is still cheaper than electricity, and certainly more essential. Here’s what it boils down to: if you don’t want to boil your water for every shower or load of laundry, understand your water bill and then pay it.

2. Use a Filter.
The consumption of bottled water, in the past two decades, has skyrocketed. Soft drink companies used headlines revolving around water to manipulate the American public into buying bottled water. Next time you pay your water bill, think of how many bottles of water you could buy with it. 50? Maybe 30? This need for supposedly “cleaner” water (which bottled is often not) is, again, a marketing tool that plays on our deep concern that water is dirty. The best solution: buy a water filter. It will save the earth and your billfold. 

3. Take a BPA free bottle.
In the same vein as the previous point, many citizens buy water out of convenience. What to do when you’re out running errands and get thirsty? Make sure you bring a BPA free bottle with you. Glass bottles are best because, unlike plastic, they will not release chemicals into your water when left in the car on a hot, sunny day. 

4. Be an active citizen.
Concerned about taxation? Want to know more about how your city cleans water? Think the pond next to your house may be toxic? All of these, and many more, are reasons to become involved in a city or statewide initiative to get citizens involved with water. You can go to public hearings or simply read up on programs happening around you. The government (at any level) is desperate for the public to become involved.

5. Reduce use at home.
As the population continues to grow, and we all need water, more measures will be implemented to restrict use. Some of these are already popular in arid areas, but they are ideas we can all adopt. Don’t let the sprinklers run, and only water during non-peak times of the day. Reduce length of shower time, and cut off the water when shaving. Fix leaks! This is one of the leading causes of domestic water misuse. 

The list of things we can do, as citizens, is extensive.And that is what is really important -- that we can take the steps to lessen the effects of water scarcity amid a growing population, and that we are capable of managing our water and keeping the world wet.

Liz Morgan is currently studying environmental health as an undergraduate at East Tennessee State University, with the aspiration of studying land and water management. An avid environmentalist, Liz enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors with her daughter. She also enjoys reading, volunteering, and writing. If you enjoyed this article and water issues tickle your pickle, she would encourage you to read The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman.

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