Why should we strive to conserve and protect the local water supplies?
By Jennifer Russell
By Jennifer Russell
Generally these days, when a person has a choice between their own convenience and doing what might be considered “the right thing to do” in a certain situation, people have a bad tendency of choosing convenience. They do not always consider that this decision might affect other people further down the road, including their own children. When you brush your teeth, you might not think immediately of water conservation. Did you know that turning off the water while you brush your teeth can save up to 2.5 gallons per minute? This is not just a simple case of saving water. This issue might affect generations of people who may already have little to no chance of getting the proper, clean water supplies that we take for granted today. If we do not act now to ensure that this extremely important, but often overlooked, resource is protected, our apathy might be dooming future generations to go to great lengths and cost to import or cleanse their water supplies.
The water supply for the city of Memphis originates from a huge underground source called the Mississippi Embayment, which underlies 48,000 square miles of land. It stretches from the southern tip of Illinois, through west Tennessee, Mississippi and southern Alabama, and into eastern Texas. The quantity of water available for use in the Mississippi Embayment is yet to be fully estimated, but is currently under study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The quality of the water pulled from the wells here in Memphis and in the many surrounding areas is considered very high in comparison to other areas of the United States. Our water was ranked number six in the nation for overall quality in 2008.
Scientists are just beginning to fully understand how this aquifer produces such high-quality water. It is a complicated process that takes many years. First, gravity pulls rain water down through the soil, to what is called a saturated zone, where water “saturates” this area rather than air. Over time, water moves from high-pressure zones that contain rock or clay, down into lower-pressured chambers within the crust of the earth. This water continues to travel further down these chambers, and is eventually stored in the aquifer. Studies show that it can take up to two thousand years for this process to occur. In Memphis and Shelby County alone, between 250 and 300 million gallons of water are pumped from this aquifer each day for public use. There are also over 500 private industrial wells that rely heavily on this high-quality supply of water.
It is not unreasonable to think that we might one day exhaust this important resource. For example, the High Plains aquifer is located under eight states from South Dakota to Texas, covering an area of 174,000 square miles. This aquifer is over three times the size of the Mississippi Embayment, and was mainly used for farming irrigation. Between 1987 and 1999 alone, it was depleted so badly that it was deemed unreliable as a water source in many areas. It was estimated by the USGS that over 270 cubic kilometers of water was removed from over 7,000 wells. Government-funded monitoring programs were started to reduce over-draining of the High Plains aquifer. Much work is left to be done to ensure that future generations will have proper water supplies in this area, but some progress has been made to reduce the rate of decline.
This example demonstrates that proper management is crucial to maintaining a long term water supply. Unfortunately for some areas, over-depletion may be unavoidable. When we build cities as populated and spread out as the Memphis area, we are assuredly pumping out more water than is supplied to the aquifer naturally. Considering this, it is possible to assume that eventual depletion in some areas may be inevitable. We simply cannot predict the future, and therefore should take as many precautions as possible to ensure that this resource is not abused. If the Mississippi Embayment’s resources can be managed properly, it is reasonable to believe that we have an answer to our long-term water supplies right here below our feet.
Depletion is not our only worry. We must also focus on taking better care of our resources. Pollution is the number one threat to ground water supplies. Many pollutants such as bacteria, parasites, chemicals, and metals have been recorded in ground water supplies across the country. Cryptosporidium is a parasite that has gotten quite a bit of press over the last few years for infecting water sources and making hundreds sick. Two inorganic chemical pollutants that have been recorded are asbestos, which comes mainly from the decay of cement in old water mains, and barium, a toxic pollutant which usually comes from metal refineries. An organic chemical called dichlorobenzene finds its way into the water table by runoff from industrial chemical factories. Aluminum is found in many water supplies around the country and has been associated with memory loss.
All of these contaminants can be dangerous if allowed to slowly seep into the water table. It has been a common belief among scientists for years that a thick layer of hard clay covered the top of the Mississippi Embayment, protecting the groundwater from pollution runoff. Recent research has shown that in some areas this layer of clay is non-existent, and many of the water samples in those areas have shown signs of contamination. We must push for the drafting and enacting of more conservation laws to ensure that our water supplies are protected from substances that could be detrimental to our health. It will take many years for pollutants to reach the aquifers deep beneath the surface, but we must keep in mind that our action or inaction may decide the fate of future generations’ water supply. This is a very important reason to be mindful in how you use water in your everyday life.
Consider for a moment what the world might be like in one hundred or even five hundred years from now. Most people refuse to connect with that on a real level that impacts them the same way as, for instance, not actually having water to drink or with which to cook their food. Now consider what it is like today for someone in an impoverished country, where not having this simple but vital resource is an everyday occurrence. Unfortunately, consideration and conservation is usually set to the side for the sake of convenience in nations with access to abundance. You might at this point, ask yourself, “What could I possibly do to help?” It’s as simple as paying more attention to how much water you use. The Tennessee Valley Authority has a list of simple suggestions that can help you to save thousands of gallons per year! Just visit their website at: http://www.tva.gov/river/watersupply/help.htm
Memphis politicians have much to do in working toward conservation and protection of our water supplies. Personally, I believe that we as a city should spearhead this movement, considering the already raging battles over water rights between West Tennessee and Mississippi over the huge amounts of water that Memphis pumps out of the aquifers on a daily basis. Mississippi has gone so far as to rewrite statutes that declare and reaffirm ownership of the water resources contained underground within their state. It seems that posturing for ownership of the most valuable resource of all has already begun.
We are lucky enough to have a vast, high-quality supply of a vital resource right below our feet. We cannot allow simple ignorance or apathy to eat away, little by little, something so important to everyday life. We must take the necessary steps now to ensure that future generations can enjoy the purity and abundance of water that we enjoy today.
It took me forever to write this. I kept getting tied up in how exactly I wanted to come across to the reader. I had alot of facts, but I wanted to be convincing without sounding too condescending or naggy. haha Overall, I think I did a good job. I'm actually surprised at how it sounds.
WELL, what do YOU think?
Aaron also found THIS sliding scale of cell size and scale today. It was really neat to see it all represented in that way.
Currently playing on JennyRadio:
OH and BTW, don't even think about stealing my paper!