Every year 1.8 million children die from lack of water or from diseases they got from tainted drinking water. That’s 5,000 children a day. It’s as if the number of Maine 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten died — every day.
That’s just one of many shocking things I learned from an article titled “The Revenge of Water,” distributed to students in Anne Richardson’s Kents Hill School class a couple of weeks ago on the day I spoke to the class about water issues in Maine. The students are studying water issues from the local to the global level.
Students at a school in India have joined them in this study, a good thing considering I also learned, from that same article, that “Across India, millions of girls are literally trapped by having to walk and fetch water each day; they don’t go to school as a result.”
At least 40 percent of the world doesn’t have good access to water or has to walk to get it. Meanwhile, here in the United States, we use 5.7 billion gallons of water per day — to flush our toilets.
And we’ve got water problems right here in River City. You must have heard about the severe droughts in the western states. I told the students about a trip Linda and I took to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, where I thought the Rio Grande River wasn’t all that grand. Turns out before it crosses the border from the U.S. into Mexico, every bit of its water has been used.
I talked to the students about four water issues. One is the impact of climate change — especially warming ocean temperatures that are diminishing our coastal fisheries and increased water temperatures in brooks, streams and rivers where our native trout depend on cold water. Maine has 97 percent of the country’s remaining native brook trout habitat, so this is a big issue for many of us.
We had an interesting discussion about the ownership of water, and I suggested a visit to Poland Spring’s headquarters and museum. While a group of Mainers have for years been trying to change the current situation where we own the water under our land, mostly so we can tax commercial extractions by Poland Spring and others, many of us in rural areas resist that change because we get our water from wells.
We talked about protection of water. I had just fished on one of our very best trout rivers and seen an atrocious forest cut done on steep slopes right to the edge of the river. Our protection regulations around bodies of water are terribly inadequate.
And we spent a lot of the class time discussing pollution and clean-ups. I told them how proud we were of Sen. Ed Muskie’s leadership on cleaning up our rivers. When I was a kid, the Kennebec River was so polluted that I couldn’t fish there; today it’s one of my favorite fishing spots. I told them about the amazing work being at the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and encouraged them to pay it a visit to learn more.
I hauled out an article that appeared in the July 29 Portland Forecaster that reported on the city of Portland’s project to clean up Capisic Brook, which meanders around and through the city. I asked them how much they thought that clean-up project will cost. The highest guess was $2 million. The cost is actually a staggering $18.5 million. It’s cheaper to keep the water clean than to clean it up after it’s been polluted.
And I had to let them know that we had a long way to go to fix the many ways we’ve polluted and exploited our water supply, never mind solving the world’s water problems. For example, our Fish and Wildlife Department allows fishing tournaments to be held each year in Belgrade Stream, choked full of invasive plants including milfoil. That needs to end.
Which brings me back to “The Revenge of Water.” As the author reported, “The golden age of water is rapidly coming to an end. The last century had conditioned us to think that water is naturally abundant, safe, and cheap — that it should be, that it will be. We’re in for a rude shock. … The three things that we have taken to be the natural state of our water supply — abundant, cheap and safe — will not be present together in the decades ahead.”
There is so much to learn about this necessary resource. So let’s wish the best of luck to those Kents Hill students.