Did you know?
If the world's water supply is compared to one gallon, freshwater (found in streams, lakes, rivers, glaciers, icecaps and groundwater) would make up only 4 ounces, or about 3 percent, but the readily accessible freshwater upon which life depends would make up only about 2 drops!
A human could live without food for a month or more but could live without water for only about one week.
According to UNESCO, each day 6,000 children under the age of 5 die from a lack of safe drinking water - this is equivalent to about 46 large passenger jets crashing and killing everyone on board every day.
The average African lives with less than 2-5 gallons of water per day. In our country, we use about the same amount of water each time we flush the toilet (2-7 gallons).
It takes at least five times as much water to produce grain-fed beef than cereal, and nearly 20 times more water to supply 500 calories from beef than from rice.
If present consumption patterns continue, two out of every three persons on Earth will live in water-stressed conditions by the year 2025 (United Nations Environmental Program), and will face moderate to severe water scarcity. According to many, a crisis is looming.
Across the nation, 50 percent of our wetlands have been lost since colonial times, as wetlands have been drained for agriculture, converted to housing tracts, industrial parks and shopping malls, and rivers have been dredged and dammed.
Rivers have been so diverted and siphoned off to supply cities and farming regions that a number of them - including the Colorado, the Yellow and the Nile - have extended periods in which there is no water left to discharge into the sea.
Cities, farmers and others have over-drawn groundwater, depleting ancient aquifers and reducing river flows. Worldwide, 70 percent of water withdrawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used to irrigate one-fifth the world's cropland, yet 60 percent of that water is wasted and never reaches the targeted crops.
Increased pollution from fertilizer and pesticide runoff, industrial discharges of heavy metals and noxious chemicals, and the release of acid-precipitation forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx) from power plants have taken their toll, degrading water quality and safety of drinking water, reducing biodiversity, altering the chemistry of rivers and lakes harming fish and wildlife, increasing risks to human health, and leading to hypoxic dead zones. Worldwide, 300-500 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic wastes and other materials are generated each year.
A U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program revealed disturbing news: in agricultural areas, 95 percent of the tested streams and 60 percent of shallow wells contained herbicides, insecticides or both; in urban areas, 99 percent of tested streams and 50 percent of shallow wells had herbicides, especially those used on lawns and golf courses, and insecticides were more frequently found in urban streams than in rural ones.
One-fifth of the world's freshwater fish - 2,000 of the 10,000 known species - are endangered, vulnerable or extinct. In North America, 67 percent of mussels, 51 percent of crayfish, 40 percent of amphibia, 37 percent of fish and 75 percent of all freshwater molluscs are rare, imperiled or already gone.
Global climate change threatens the very hydrological water cycle itself. Conservative predictions forecast a 3-5 C increase in global temperature by the end of this century, which will melt glaciers, sea ice and snow packs, reduce future water supplies, lead to drought and desertification in some areas, and to flooding of coastlines and the loss of coral reefs, estuaries, mangroves and turtle grass beds around the world.
So where does all this lead us? Ben Franklin said "It is not until the well runs dry that we know the worth of water." But we cannot let the well run dry. We must become better stewards of the natural gifts all around us, including and especially the amazing gift of water in our own back yards. We can no longer claim ignorance - the data is too compelling. Let us develop a new ethic, and join the "blue revolution" which seeks to reduce water demand by using water more wisely and efficiently, recognize and conserve natural waters to protect wildlife and ecological processes, and stabilize our human population and its impacts on the earth. Education is the key for building more environmentally sustainable and just societies, and each of us can make a difference in our own local worlds. Individuals do matter, and the journey begins with our lifestyle choices in our own backyards and communities. Think about making some changes in what you do, what you buy, what you eat and how you spend your time. Think about where your water comes from, and where it goes.
Our watery world needs your help - and the time is now or never!
Becky Nystrom is a professor of biology at Jamestown Community College, a long-time CWC supporter and volunteer, and a founding trustee of the CWC. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.