When the toilet doesn’t flush properly, the faucet leaks or the hot water heater malfunctions, we call in the experts to fix the problem ASAP. Our concern for the steady flow of water centers on what’s happening in our houses and on our farms. We should be appalled to learn that 748 million people around the world have no clean water to drink (www.wateraid.org); that one in 10 people lack sufficient access to water; one in three people lack sufficient access to sanitation and 1.5 million children die from a lack of clean water and safe sanitation every year (www.actionagainsthunger.org).
The United Nations reports that the responsibility for collecting water in developing nations falls largely on women and girls. That deprives them of the opportunity to work or go to school. It’s also something to think about when we leave water running while brushing our teeth or fill our coffee pot with water at the kitchen sink. Gratitude should translate into financial support for water projects in those counties.
Organizers of the annual World Water Day (held March 22 this year) called on all people to work towards a world where everyone has clean water, toilets and hygiene by 2030. “Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability,” according to www.wateraid.org.
Pope Francis, who plans to publish an encyclical on human ecology this year, speaks often of the obligation to ensure that the least among us are able to access resources that many of us take for granted. That means each of us advocating for policies that foster development efforts in developing countries.
Meanwhile, water crises are lapping closer and closer to our frame of reference. The state of California continues to be impacted by a drought so severe that the State Water Resources Control Board on March 17 expanded emergency regulations to safeguard the state’s remaining water supplies. The impact of the drought weighs heaviest on those with limited incomes. Farm workers have or are losing their jobs because land that once produced crops goes fallow due to the water crisis.
California grew out of a desert. We’re attempting to grow crops in a region never intended to produce 25 percent of America’s food. We need to summon the very best minds for solutions to the problem all of us have created in our demand for an abundant variety of fruits and vegetables year round.
In Iowa, Des Moines Water Works filed a citizen lawsuit this month under the Clean Water Act against three counties’ board of supervisors upstream. The regional water utility claims the county boards in Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties, in their capacity as trustees of 10 drainage districts, are responsible for discharge of nitrate pollutants into the Raccoon River.
Des Moines Water Works provides drinking water to about 500,000 Iowans and draws most of its raw water supply from the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers. Nitrate pollution adds to the cost of making the water safe to drink, Des Moines Water Works says. Furthermore, nitrate contamination contributes to development of hypoxic conditions in public waters, including the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone” (www.dsmh2o.com/).
This is another challenge without easy answers. Agriculture is seen as the source of the problem because fertilizer and manure residue drain into underground drainage tiles that empty into the waterways. Do farmers need to consider other, more expensive and labor-intensive options to avoid wet fields? Are we willing to pay more at the grocery store for the food the farmers produce?
Fifty-five percent of Iowa’s waterways are impaired, meaning that a waterway is not suitable for its designated use for fishing, swimming, drinking water, etc., according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ last assessment (2012).
Whether or not we agree on the causes of water shortages and pollution, we can agree on one certain fact: water is essential to life. The challenge is recognizing the fundamental moral and ethical dimensions of our duties as stewards of God’s creation. And thank God for a toilet that flushes.