Water is worth it

World Water Day was March 22, and I meant to write a post that, you know, actually coincided with the event — but better late than never, right?

Water is important to me, not just because of its essential life-giving properties, but without getting into too much detail, it also happens to be my bread and butter.  So a lot of thoughts were rolling around in my head last Thursday, but here is what seemed to hit me the most:

It wasn’t too long ago that this was reality:

Our waterways were seen as a free-for-all dumping ground for industrial waste, sewage, and untreated stormwater.  Swimmable? Fishable?  Ha.   Coming into contact with the Potomac could have been grounds for a prescription for antibiotics!

Today, most of our rivers — at least the ones I’m familiar with — look a little more like this:

Bald eagles now soar at an astonishingly common rate, fisheries are rebounding, and we no longer have to worry about things like rivers catching on fire.  But underneath this pristine facade is a new (old) reality:

The reality that we’ve captured all the low-hanging fruit and it’s time to tackle the hard stuff.

To the Boomer generation, the state of the environment probably seems like a vast improvement to the one they once knew.  To their children and grandchildren, there’s not much else to compare it to.  My grandparents possibly remember a time where you could actually see to the bottom of the Chesapeake, where expansive beds of submerged seagrasses grew, where oysters were a significant source of protein to residents of the Bay watershed, rather than an expensive hors d’oeuvre.

But there are not many left alive who may remember this.  We’re shifting to a new definition of “normal,” a diminished, weakened goal.  It becomes a downward sliding scale as our point of reference is gradually slipping.

When the Clean Water Act was first written, the goal was to eliminate all water pollution by 1985.  This obviously hasn’t happened, and I worry that we as a country will begin to accept things, such as raw sewage pumping into our rivers after heavy rainfalls, as a fact of life.  But everyone deserves clean water for drinking, fishing, swimming, recreation, beauty, life…

It will take some major investments in aging, outdated infrastructure.  It may take a willingness on the part of industries to commit to controlling pollution and transparency.  And we consumers and taxpayers will need to demand that clean water is a right we deserve.

It won’t be easy, but it’s only going to get harder.  Will you stand up for clean water?

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