Imagine a Day Without Water
Stop for a moment and think about the many times each day that you rely on clean, readily available water. As you go about your daily routine, how many times are you turning the knob on a faucet, flushing the toilet, or using water to cook or clean? Quite a bit, I expect! Now imagine an entire day in which water was unavailable to you. How would you take care of yourself and your family? By taking personal responsibility for the quality of our lake, we can ensure that days without swimmable, fishable and drinkable water remain limited.
On September 15th, the Value of Water Coalition is asking all of us to “imagine a day without water.” This day of recognition aims to raise awareness about the conveniences of clean water and to remind us not to take this valuable resource for granted. Lake Champlain is the primary source of drinking water for over 150,000 people. This same waterbody also receives our treated wastewater. For those who rely on municipal water systems, such as most of Chittenden County in Vermont, and people in Vergennes, Willsboro or Rouse’s Point, every time you turn on your tap to fill a glass, bathe, or run your sprinkler to water your lawn, you are using water from Lake Champlain. This water has, of course, been pumped from the Lake, run through a treatment system, and then pumped through an extensive network of underground infrastructure to be delivered to you on-demand, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Imagine what it would be like to turn on your faucet – and to NOT have clean water come out of your tap. We have been fortunate that these systems in the Champlain Valley have not been compromised. Residents of Flint, Michigan do not need to imagine a day without water – they have been experiencing it for over two years. Closer to home, in Bennington, just south of the Champlain Valley, many families have also experienced this reality as a result of wells contaminated with PFOA, while others experienced supply interruptions in the weeks following Tropical Storm Irene.
While we have been fortunate to benefit from a clean and reliable drinking water supply, residents and tourists in the Lake Champlain watershed have experienced other frustrations associated with clean water. Each summer, public beaches in urban and rural areas alike are occasionally closed because of health risks associated with E. coli bacteria or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms. Some of us don’t need to imagine. We have experienced first-hand the act of packing up your kids, beach gear, and picnic supplies to head to Lake Champlain only to arrive and find out that access is closed because of health risks.
It is tempting to assume that our federal, state, and local governments must take full responsibility for providing clean water for all of our needs, but we also must accept individual responsibility as citizens who live within and impact this watershed. Each of us can take action to ensure that we have a clean lake to enjoy – one that provides clean water to drink, offers countless recreational opportunities, and drives our regional economy. Achieving these goals will require adjustments to the way of life to which we have become accustomed, but will be well worth the investment.
Residents in the Lake Champlain watershed can take a number of steps to help improve water quality, from making simple changes to our home and landscaping habits to significant investments in our properties and communities. We can stop fertilizing our lawns and raise the blade height of our lawnmowers to increase the length of roots which hold soil in place. We can divert rainfall running off our rooftops and driveways to a rain garden rather than to a nearby storm drain. We can clean up after our pets. We can support agricultural producers who don’t import fertilizers into our watershed and encourage producers to take measures to reduce their impacts on our Lake. We can support our towns when they need to upgrade aging sewer and storm water infrastructure to reduce sewage spills and runoff events. We can acknowledge that clean water comes at a cost, and will not be achieved without substantial investments by our governments, nor will it be achieved if we all don’t pitch in ourselves. In the long run, the cost is worth it. For an expanded list of priorities and action steps, visit: www.lcbp.org
In short, clean water should be a priority that we all are willing to support through our daily actions and decisions. By taking ownership of the quality of our Lake, we can ensure that a day without water remains a day we can only imagine and will no longer experience in reality.
LCBP Director Eric Howe wrote this commentary to mark this day of recognition.