Water is truly a wondrous, amazing substance - a priceless gift of profound significance to all of life, to which we are intimately and intricately bound. Earth is the ''Water Planet,'' a shimmering blue jewel spinning in the blackness of space, and it is blue because of the precious film of water - mostly sea water - that covers about 71 percent of the Earth's surface. But every living thing also carries a miniature ocean within each cell, so critical it is for the very biochemistry that fuels our physical being. Humans are about 65 percent water (or put another way, there are about 43 quarts of water in a 150-pound person), our blood is 83 percent water, our brain is 75 percent water, and even our bones are 25 percent water. The water in each of us is ancient, cycled for millennia through the sun-driven hydrologic cycle of evaporation, precipitation, infiltration and purification, and ultimately enters us as we drink, eat and breathe. The water molecules now in your bloodstream may well have quenched the thirst of dinosaurs millions of years ago or have even been part of a 3-billion-year-old sea that sustained Earth's early life.
Think of the countless other ways water influences, benefits, and serves our world:
rivers, lakes, streams, freshwater wetlands, estuaries, and oceans provide critical habitat to innumerable creatures, many of which have yet to be discovered;
Water is not only necessary for life on planet Earth, but it is also exquisitely beautiful.
the Earth's waters have sculpted and shaped the land for millennia, whether cutting through rock to create the Grand Canyon or moving in huge masses of ice a half mile overhead to create our local hills, valleys, lakes (including Chautauqua Lake), and our fertile soils;
rivers, lakes, and aquifers directly provide more than 99 percent of the world's irrigation, industrial, municipal and household water supplies;
wetlands and floodplains regulate and recharge ground water supplies, filter out and detoxify many man-made pollutants, and absorb incredible quantities of heavy metals, organic wastes, and sediments. Their presence minimizes flooding and stabilizes water flow, buffers shorelines, renews the fertility of the soil, and protects agricultural lands, reservoirs, and navigational channels by slowing water velocity and reducing erosion;
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy presently has its 2011-12 membership drive under way and is seeking donations to conserve the Wells Bay Lakeshore. To support these efforts, visit our website at www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.
hydroelectric dams provide 19 percent of the world's electricity, while dams, reservoirs, canals and millions of groundwater wells bring life-supporting water to farms, industry and cities around the world;
water in its many expressions - whether shimmering dewdrops on a spider web, morning fog rising over the lake, the intricate beauty of a snowflake, the rushing of a mighty river, the mesmerizing sounds of the seashore surf, the soothing sound of rain on the windowpane, and even, at times, our tears - can evoke in those private, personal moments, the mysterious and sacred, affecting the human psyche in ways science cannot explain.
Yet our species has been so reckless with the gifts we've been given. According to Sandra Postel, in her State of the World 2006 article entitled ''Safeguarding Freshwater Ecosystems,''
''(H)uman impacts on freshwater systems have reached global proportions and have disrupted a wide range of valuable ecological services. Signs of overstressed and deteriorating ecosystems take many forms - disappearing species, decimated fish populations, falling water tables, altered river flows, shrinking lakes, diminishing wetlands, declining water quality, and pollution-induced 'dead zones.'''
We have relentlessly wasted it, degraded it, diverted it and polluted it, in ignorance and sometimes in arrogance. But there are things we can do. As each of us strives for greater understanding and appreciation of this wondrous stuff called water, there is hope for wiser stewardship of the Earth and its gifts, and for a better future for us all.
Becky Nystrom is a professor of biology at Jamestown Community College, a longtime CWC supporter and volunteer and founding trustee of the CWC.