August 19, 2014

NATIONAL WATER QUALITY MONTH

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

It’s August, and you know what that means – it’s hot!  And during this hot summer month, while we’re enjoying cooling off in the clean lakes and rivers, it is the perfect time to appreciate having access to clean water.  Happy National Water Quality Month!

Access to clean water is often something that’s taken for granted.  While safe water sources may seem abundant, they are not endless.  Less than 1% of the water on Earth is actually usable by humans.  That means if all of the Earth’s water fit into a bucket, only a small teaspoon would be drinkable.  Clean water is limited and it must be conserved.  In 1993, the National Geographic quoted that “All the water that will ever be is, right now.”  That was 20 years ago, and it still rings true today – water doesn’t grow on trees, as they say.  Our water sources are not increasing, and if we don’t at least maintain the quality sources that we have, then our access to clean water will continue to shrink.

Milwaukee, however, acts as a role model on water quality and conservation.  While the average U.S. citizen uses 80-100 gallons of water per day, the average Milwaukee resident uses only 43 gallons of water per day.  In 1993, a tragic water contamination outbreak forever changed the way Milwaukee handles water purification.  When a parasite called Cryptosporidium passed through a Milwaukee water treatment plant, 69 people were killed and thousands of others became extremely sick.  Since the horrible accident, Milwaukee has made vast improvements in monitoring and treating their water supply from Lake Michigan.  Today, Milwaukee leads the nation in water quality.  I applaud the hard work and effort to keep our water pure, clean, and safe.

Clean, safe water is important because water sustains all life.  Water pollution is not something to be taken lightly.  Each year, more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence.  Unclean drinking water leads to illness and disease that can potentially be deadly.  1.8 million people die each year from diarrheal diseases such as cholera caused by unsafe water.  Unfortunately, “dirty” water cannot simply be “washed.”  Our quality of life is directly linked to the quality of our water, and we use water for everything.  Clean water allows us to cook, bathe, water our plants and lawns, and simply have something clean and safe to drink.  The United Nations considers access to safe water a basic human right, and it is time to rededicate ourselves to the protection and preservation of clean water.

There are many helpful and important steps that you, personally, can take to aid in the conservation of clean water.  Clean Water Action offers a fact sheet on how to keep our water clean: http://www.cleanwateraction.org/files/publications/ca/10_Ways_to_Protect_Our_Water.pdf.  Their suggestions include picking up after your pets, avoiding the use of antibacterial soaps and pesticides, and disposing of medicines properly instead of flushing them down the drain or toilet.  Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency provides a database (http://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm) where you can look up your residential area, how polluted the bodies of water near you are, and what you can do to keep them clean.  Prevention is better than a cure, and every small action helps.  To celebrate National Water Quality Month this August, start by simply shortening your shower time or using organic fertilizers.  Make a conscious effort to ensure the availability of clean and safe water for yourself, your family, and your community.