Our water works

The glass might be half full, but what is it really filled with? Take note the next time you stop to wash your hands or take a sip from a bubbler.

Kelsey Kudak

So you have a couple of hydrogen molecules attached to a little bit of oxygen. But what’s the big deal? The stuff is everywhere.

Especially in our Land of 10,000 Lakes, we are not prone to thinking about water. You can drive 10 minutes and hit another fresh-watered friend. Whoop-de-do. Right?

As a native Minnesotan, one is shocked to meet an individual who has never laid eyes on the mighty Mississippi. One grows up going to the lake, even if only for a swim. However, most of us have also discovered that when you bail out of a jet ski at 35 mph, generally speaking, you swallow a mouthful of lake.

The truth is, in addition to well-known statistics about our bodies being comprised of 70 percent water and the earth being covered by sea, our country, too, is spilling excess water. We are accustomed to opening the faucet and water gushing out. We put water on the stove to boil. The toilet flushes. The shower functions, runs hot and stays so (thus yielding no excuse for greasiness). We pull ice out of the freezer. Steam powers machinery and equipment. Drinking fountains provide something to refresh parched lips on the way to class. A glass of water is expected upon entering a restaurant, and if you don’t want to pay for soda, it has always been an economical option for dinner. We feed the plants in our apartments and fill the dog’s dish. Our pet fish swim in castles and embellished aquariums. Fountains adorn malls and plazas solely as decorative elements.

Of course this goes without mentioning that most of the water seen above is safe to drink. If we are really paranoid we can run our drinking water through a purifier, but hypothetically we could all drink from the tap. If we become dehydrated, we cannot blame government. Yet, we do not realize just how great our water systems are. They are a reflection of ease and efficiency, and therefore of our instantly gratified culture. Our abundance of water just is.

We apparently require the natural world to see that the simple molecule we wake up to each day is essential. The rain of these past few weeks cannot reverse damage to the state’s staple crops of sweet corn, sugar beets and beans. The fall harvest, for many farmers, will scarcely yield produce in grocery stores as drought disasters were declared in 50 of 87 Minnesota counties in early August. Our governor took the time to visit these areas and request federal aid in the form of low-interest loans to Minnesota farmers.

When water flows the other direction, that is, in a deluge, floods create equal disaster. For the second time at the end of this summer, water has run lives askew as 1,500 homes were destroyed by floodwaters. To support those in Southern Minnesota, our government is chipping in some $10 million dollars in aid. Yet as the flooding subsides, it seems we easily return to our regularly watered lives.

But water, especially fresh, drinkable water is delicate. We do not live in a place that requires the shipment of safely consumable water to our homes and cities. We do not receive, nor do we pay for bottles of water when we request a glass at restaurants. But much of the rest of the world is in short supply of potable water. When there is no money to afford purified bottles, the result is 1.1 billion of earth’s citizens drinking unhealthy water. Unmentioned are the parasites that live in the water with which people bathe and cook vegetables. Directing feces into streams and rivers typically solves the issue of human waste when governments lack resources to create a better system. As a result, five million people die every year. Engineers and nonprofits are scrambling to create apt water filters and proper sanitation for those who share our human condition. But one billion is an immense number of lives to affect.

There is no excuse for the lack of the basics in other parts of the world. Water comes out of everything from everywhere here. Take note the next time you stop to wash your hands or take a sip from a bubbler. Be aware of afternoon rain as it freshens what is green and does not merely make walking a wet predicament. Consider the water we have and the privilege we have to drink it.

Kelsey Kudak welcomes comments at [email protected]