Editor’s Note: This is a column on area watersheds by Blyden Potts and guest columnists to spread awareness of the area’s tributaries and the efforts of area volunteers to keep them clean.
Between the morning rain and evening thunderstorm on Sunday, there was a beautiful spring day with pleasant temperatures and plenty of sun. Riding as a passenger in a car, I looked up at the cottony cumulus clouds with their soft grey undersides, contrasted so beautifully against the backdrop of azure blue skies. My usual cynicism melted a bit and I thought what a blessing those clouds are, both visually and for the water they contain.
Those clouds told a story of how water-rich the eastern United States is. Their water brings us many nice things.
It is why we have so many streams and rivers, and the abundant opportunities for fishing, boating, and other water recreational activities they provide. It is why we have so much forest, in contrast to the tree-deprived Plains. Why our agriculture is not dependent on nearly constant irrigation. Why we can grow green grass lawns, or let our children play in a sprinkler on a hot summer day, and take longer showers, without feeling we are
wasting precious water. Why we do not routinely have government restrictions on our water usage. In the Eastern U.S., we rarely think of water as precious.
Water is abundant globally, but most of the world’s water is salt water. Only about 3 percent is freshwater. Less than 1 percent is accessible freshwater. That water is distributed very unevenly around the globe. Our part of the world is swimming in it, literally, while it is scarce in much of the world.
Counting one’s blessings is practice in appreciating what one has; what one would miss if it was gone. It helps us recognize what we have received in life from sources external to ourselves, and reminds us of the value of those things, so as not to take them for granted. It is easy to take for granted things that are abundant and easily renewable, as water is in Pennsylvania. How often do we think of rain as a blessing? How often do we list for ourselves the good things in life that depend upon it?
Except in localities damaged by mining, fracking, or industrial pollution, we lack the experience of insufficient water. Where there is less water than demand, including many parts of the West, having a green lawn is a wasteful luxury, agriculture must be efficient with every drop, and “yellow, let it mellow; brown, flush it down” is standard toilet practice, to conserve water.
Areas where water use exceeds what the local climate can sustain.
In these areas, our nation is drawing down aquifers that are not being replenished by rainfall. What will happen as those aquifers go dry?
We lack the experience of living in an arid region. In those regions, water is valued and rain is undoubtedly a blessing. If we experienced greater scarcity of water, would we have more respect for our waterways? Would we treat them better?
As the thunderstorm approached Sunday night, I turned off my computer and all the lights in the house, and stood on my porch, in the dark. Protected from the rain, I enjoyed the cool moisture the wind blew against my face. I watched the lightning. It was impressive, a real spectacle, nature’s fireworks. Sometime later, as the storm drifted off to the northeast, I thought again how wonderfully blessed we are.