By Norma Kirkpatrick
Years ago, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a long poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The mariner and disgruntled crew were caught on a ship in the middle of the doldrums with no wind in the sails, as the mariner spoke these famous words: Water, water everywhere and all the boards do shrink; water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Though they were parched with thirst and surrounded by water; it would be death to drink the ocean water.
I have shared with you before that I lived in Arizona for over ten years. While living there I went with a group of friends to Lake Mead; the largest reservoir in the United States, with a surface area of 247 square miles. There was very little shoreline and places to put in a boat were scarce. The actual lake itself is in both the states of Nevada and Arizona. The Colorado River is held back by the great Hoover Dam, which is a spectacle within itself. That is what forms Lake Mead, with subsequent lakes and smaller dams downstream that provide water to several of the surrounding western states.
Recent pictures of Lake Mead on television revealed the once spectacular source of water now drained down to mud holes in the rocks and crags of the canyons and arroyos; they have always been totally covered with water since the building of Hoover Dam. Having not seen it for a long time; I was stunned. I know the farms and orchards out west have been desperate for water, as the growers are trying new techniques and new choices in crops in order to try to save their source of livelihood. Cattlemen are distressed at the high cost of feed, and are hauling in water for their animals where there is a water shortage. Many are cutting back on the size of their herds. We have to know the additional cost will be forwarded to the consumer; or else the providers cannot make a living.
Desalinization of ocean water has been tried on an experimental scale, and purification of sewage water is already being employed totally in one small California coastal town. The television reporter drank a glass of clear water and was guaranteed it was safe to drink; certainly not a palatable choice. Water, water everywhere; …and not a drop to drink.
We are so fortunate in Opelika to have a top notch water department and sources of water nearby. The water is checked often to assure that we are not exposed to polluted water as it is treated and sent to our homes to meet our needs. I always trust them to do the right thing, as I look at the reports they mail to us explaining their diligence to do so. We should not be wasteful, nor take for granted the luxury of pure, clean, water for our use, with the simple turn of a tap.
The polar ice caps are in flux, the water table is dropping, and weather patterns are changing. Perhaps we cannot imagine what our grandchildren will face in the future, but what we do today could be influential in keeping their water supply drinkable and safe. One thing we could do is encourage the protection of our natural sources of water from unnatural pollutants; and not become part of the problem ourselves. We must keep an eye on industry and manufacturing as they serve us, and hold them accountable for their disposal of side pollutants; it is a constant issue, and on a large scale. That does not excuse us as individuals to think that what one person does could not have an impact on water pollution. I was recently driving on a two lane blacktop road in our area and came to a little creek. The setting was beautiful; serene, with green trees and foliage encouraged by the water source. As I approached the small bridge, I was stunned to see a road sign in front of the little concrete abutment:No dumping allowed. How could anyone want to throw old tires, plastic bottles, crankcase oil, rusted cans, baby diapers and garbage into such a lovely, helpless little stream? As I drove on, I wondered where the rivulets were going; winding along and out of sight; past the property of various owners. I wondered if they threw trash into the water; or treasured it like a gift.
We won’t be here; but someday our descendents might say, “So little water anywhere, and none is fit to drink.” They will wish their predecessors had done a better job planning ahead, and had protected whatever sources of water that remain. We can do that in the present; before it is too late for the future.
Kirkpatrick is an occasional guest columnist for the Opelika Observer.