The Gift of Water

by Marie Barry

“Clean water, the essence of life and a birthright for everyone,

must become available to all people now.”

— Jean Michael Cousteau

Raised in the Upper Peninsula, I found myself living years ago in a rural area in Southern Illinois. I was land locked—a thousand miles from my beloved Lake Superior. The nearest moving body of water was the Mississippi River, at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, which was a 100-mile round trip drive over bad roads and a really scary bridge. But every few weeks, when the need to be near water became too strong to ignore, I would make the drive over those bad roads just to spend a few hours sitting on a bench near the riverbank. Each trip, as I neared the water, I could feel the energy changing. Objects became clearer, colors sharper. The ragged cries of the gulls as they followed the barges and tugs winding their way downriver, the sight of that broad expanse of living, moving water, all brought an almost unfathomable sense of well being. Sitting there on that river bench, a comforting peace would come over me. My heart—my spirit—had rediscovered a deep and mysterious truth: undeniably, I was connected to water, the always moving water. Then, after a few hours, I would make the long drive back home, over the same bad roads, over the same scary bridge, carrying with me a profound sense of gratitude for this gift of water.

We all know—don’t we?—the precious necessity of water? It affects every aspect of our individual physical and spiritual wellbeing. Indeed, it affects the very existence of our planet. The human body is 65 percent water. Water in our blood nourishes our cells and flushes out waste; water cushions our joints and tissues; water allows us to absorb and digest our food. We can survive up to five weeks without food, but only a few days without water.

Fresh water for most of us in the U.P. is easily and effortlessly available. A turn of the tap and a flick of the switch, and our morning coffee begins to brew. Another turn of the tap, and we have instant hot water for a morning shower. A push on the toilet handle, and our body wastes swirl tidily away.

In other cultures, the story is different. The bathroom may be an open trench behind your shack, and you might have to walk, maybe for miles, for your water. Often this is the work of women and children. Such work can be back breaking, exhausting and endless—a jerry can of water weighs about 55 pounds.

Worldwide, one in 10 people lack access to safe water; one in three lack access to a toilet. Every country in the world, including the United States, is affected by these limitations. Worldwide, our situation is not improving. In the United States, despite passage of the federal Clean Water Act over 40 years ago, water pollutants are steadily on the rise. Changes in land use, diversion of surface water, elimination of wetlands, and contamination from industry have all compromised the sustainability of our delicate ecological balance. And now, perhaps more than any time in recent history, the threat to that balance has become even more worrisome. Recently the present administration, claiming “wasteful regulation,” voided the Stream Protection Rule. The rivers and streams protected by such rules are home to more than 100 species of aquatic life that are now considered endangered. The repeal of this regulation means that mining companies are no longer environmentally accountable for their actions.

While facts and statistics and data are all necessary tools for helping us understand how truly vital water is to our well being, we must go even deeper and cultivate a strong inner awareness of how absolutely vital water is to every aspect of all life on planet Earth. This is an awareness of the heart—every fiber of our being depends upon water.

A friend once told me the story of her mother, who had grown up in a little house a stone’s throw from Lake Huron. As a child she would fall asleep at night lulled by the sounds of the waves washing against the shore. Decades later, after she had raised a family of her own, my friend’s mother would visit her childhood home, which was still in the family, and during these visits, she would often settle herself on the couch and once again fall asleep, soothed by the ebb and flow of lake water.

Decades later, she was still sustained by her connection with the water. These are the moments water plays in our lives; sometimes great, sometimes simple, but always important. We must nourish such connections as these and bow in gratitude for the gifts of water bestowed upon us here on the Great Lakes. And we must work tirelessly to insure that all life is allotted rightful access to the gift of water.

Water stewardship tips

• Cotton is one of our most water intensive crops. It takes 244 gallons of water to produce a single pair of socks and 569 gallons for a T-shirt. To reduce our water use, look for fabric blends with flax and hemp fibers.

• Eat less meat. Raising animals for meat and dairy is extremely water intensive. By reducing our consumption of meat, we can slash our water use.

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