Sunday, March 28, 2010

Water, Holidays and Other Thoughts

After I wrote about bottled water the other day, I went to the grocery store. I had a lot of shopping to do in preparation for the upcoming Passover holiday, so I went to one of the larger stores in my area. As I entered, right in the front of the store were huge palettes of bottled water. Cheap bottled water. Or so it seems. Those bottles are filled with hidden costs for both the consumer and our planet.

I didn’t stop to give the store manager a piece of my mind on this issue, but I am thinking of sending him this link to a YouTube link that is a real eye opener on the topic.

The Story of Bottled Water is a short (8-minute) video, done in an entertaining cartoon style, that presents multiple arguments against bottled water. My favorite line in it says, “Carrying bottled water around is becoming as uncool as smoking while pregnant”. I hope so, and think I will tell the grocery store manager, too.

Today, I plan to spend the whole day getting ready for two Seders. I have already thought about the connection between water and Passover. If you are interested you can see an article I wrote for the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle this month called Passover Water and Wine. It explores the symbolism of water in our Passover rituals. What I didn’t think about when I wrote that was how much water I use in preparation for the holiday. Between cleaning and cooking, I am sure my water consumption increases this week, and it’s one use of water I am not yet ready to give up. Well, on second thought, maybe I could cut back on the cleaning part.

I don’t know much about the connection between water and Easter but I am sure there is one. Water is essential for life, and that means it is also essential for the celebrations of our lives. Happy Holiday season to all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Water: Bottled or Bubbled?

It is blustery today, typical late March weather for this part of the country. But we have had a few nice days already and so even today’s strong winds hold the promise of warmer days. With better weather comes more outdoor activities, which means more people walking around with water bottles in hand. In my neighborhood, close to walking paths and parks, unfortunately that also means more litter from plastic bottles and cans.

But trash is only one reason to be concerned about bottled water. I was reminded of others last week in an email from Noah Hall. Hall is an environmental attorney who has a blog called Great Lakes Law. Hall's emails are always relevant and timely – he doesn’t post on his website just to post.

Last week Hall announced that an article he had written was chosen as the lead story in the University of Denver’s Water Law Review. It is called “Protecting Freshwater Resources in the Era of Global Water Markets: Lessons Learned from Bottled Water

Quoting from the announcement -

The article covers a brief history of bottled water, the business of bottled water, and opposition to bottled water, along with a short summary of international trade law and federal food law as applied to the bottled water market. It then provides a detailed analysis of bottled water issues in the courts, legislatures, and politics – providing case studies of the good, the bad, and the ugly results of bottled water controversies. The article concludes with an analysis of two recent strategies for addressing bottled water – expansion of the public trust doctrine and taxing water bottlers, strategies with significant legal and political weaknesses.

Hall goes on to explain two reasons for opposing bottled water – one legal and environmental, the other social. To learn more you can read what Hall says on his website or in the article, but even if you don’t read it, I think you get the idea. If you want to pursue the topic even further you could also read Bottled and Sold by Peter H. Gleick. The subtitle of this book is The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. I guess that tell you where the author stands on the issue right up front.

I encourage you to stop buying bottled water. If you need to carry water, buy a refillable bottle, or even better, encourage your parks to activate water fountains. It’s frustrating to see a water fountain (or what Wisconsin natives call bubblers*) and want to drink from it only to find that it doesn’t work, or that it’s gunked up with garbage. Yuk.

I have never understood the attraction of bottled water anyway. In most places, it doesn’t taste any better than tap water, and why pay for water. I realize that shows that I am not just concerned about water but also that I am frugal (a better word than cheap), but in this case it’s a good thing. Read Hall’s review if you don’t believe me.

* I told you why folks in Wisconsin call it a bubbler in a post about a year ago on Wisconsin Trivia

Monday, March 22, 2010

Clean Water for a Healthy World

March has many special days on the calendar. Maybe the best known is St Patrick’s Day, but there are others, including the ominous Ides of March. March also has a day set aside for National Pig Day (March 1), Dentist’s Day (March 6), National Napping Day (March 9) and Save the Florida Panther Day (March 21). School calendars delight in having these days for craft projects and the like.

I wonder if the schools will also acknowledge that March 22 is World Water Day, a day sponsored by the United Nations Water Group that has been set aside since 1993 to celebrate and raise awareness about water in our world. The theme of World Water Day 2010 is Clean Water for a Healthy World, and many organizations are planning events around this day. I checked to see if there were any local ones that I could attend, and I didn’t see one close by although I would have loved to attend one of the ones planned in San Diego, Sacramento, or Mexico. Check out the list of places that are having events – and maybe next year Kenosha Wisconsin will be added to the list (Yes, I understand that might mean me).

It is never my intention just to repeat here what others are saying, so I won't do a "rewrite" on this important topic either. You can read what's on line as well as I can, but the highlighted text in this post will provide links so that you will be able to learn more for yourself. I hope you will click on a few of them to better understand the importance of this day set aside to think about water. If you check out the FAQ here are a few of the questions that will be answered in a brief and informative way.
  • What defines the quality of water?
  • What is the state of water quality on our planet?
  • How does water quality affect human health?
  • How does climate change influence water quality?
  • How can water quality be sustained?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Vanished Sea

Three hundred million years ago is a long time ago. A long, long time ago. Living here in the Midwest, I don’t often have reminders that our planet has been around that long. The geological features that form my daily landscape are not that old. The Great Lakes, according to most experts, were formed about 13,000 years ago following the last Ice Age. As the ice retreated, it left the bodies of water that we know as the Great Lakes.

I was out west this past weekend, in Nevada, where the landscape is much more dramatic and reminders of the age and history of our planet are all around. I visited Valley of Fire State Park, about an hour outside of Las Vegas, where the red sandstone that gives the park its name is an amazing – and very dry - site.

As you gaze out over the landscape from the park’s Visitors Center, you are reminded that millions of years ago there was a vast inland sea here. You can imagine it. Mountains and rocks rim a valley where the shallow sea contained all kinds of ancient plant and animal life, remnants of which still remain.

I came back to my own inland sea, and gazed out at it, trying to imagine what this land will look like if the water retreats and leaves behind only the dry, flat bottom. Will that happen? I could prophesize that it will, if we don’t take care of our lakes, but the truth may be that even if we do, they will vanish in a hundred million years or so anyway. Change is constant on this planet.

Still, like the arguments about climate change, we have to ask what the effect of our modern civilization is on this change. Three hundred million years ago when the Nevada inland sea was warm and teeming with life, there were no human beings to accelerate the demise of that sea. Maybe that's why it survived as long as it did.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Water and Me

This post isn’t about invasive species, sick lakes, or the lack of drinking water in earthquake zones. It is not about the climate or the weather. It is not about how people in the Great Lakes think or talk or behave, nor about land formations in the Great Lakes Basin. Today I am not paying attention to diverted water, polluted water or the water cycle. The topic of the day is water and me.

About a year ago, I wrote about my ecosystem and reported how I watch the water near my house on a daily basis. I still do that, but recently I have added another dimension to my relationship with water. I started to swim again. Today’s thoughts about water have more to do with that immersion.

I learned to swim at summer camp when I was nine years. My greatest pleasure in the summer was that I could go swimming, either in the neighborhood pool or at Lake Erie beaches. But as I got older, I didn’t swim much, and more recently, there probably have been summers when I didn’t swim at all. Remember, Lake Michigan stays cold well into August and whereas the water doesn’t have to be Caribbean warm, I don’t like it cold, either. So swimming was relegated to brief dips in hotel pools or an occasional lake.

But our local YMCA built a new pool, and I decided to get back into the swim of things. The first time I went in, I was only able to do a quarter of a mile, but did that 17 lengths ever feel good. I felt like a kid again, and if you look at reasons that swimming is good for you, it isn’t hard to understand why. Swimming uses many muscles, but doesn’t put stress on joints and bones the way other activities do. It is good for your heart and lungs, and that it burns a fair number of calories per mile (one source I saw quoted 3cal/mile/pound of bodyweight) is a definite plus.

Here’s an odd thing. There is actually an entry in Wikipedia on swimming pools. It tells you what a swimming pool is, that a pool open to the public is called a public swimming pool and one closed to the public is called private. Imagine that! It also provides a history of the swimming pool, describes the several variations of them such as a whirlpool or infinity pool, where to find the biggest pool, and how to care for your pool. If you are interested check it out.

Me? I am more interested on how I feel after a half hour in water - a little desiccated but a lot relaxed. I feel healthier and more energetic. It doesn’t have to be the Hot Springs or Baden Baden for water to be curative. Water is restorative, whether gazing out over a body of water or immersing yourself in it. It is a joy to swim, dive, splash, or just bob up and down in it. The whirlpool that I sit in following my swim is a pleasure, too.

By the way, a Google search for “Water and Me” led me to a site with water trivia facts and a lot of other good information about water. It’s designed for kids but adults might enjoy it, too.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another Invasive Species?

When my children were young, they used to like to go to the DuPage River and catch crayfish. My recollection is that these critters were small. The kids had a good time getting their feet wet, plucking the tiny lobster-like crawlers from the water, examining them and the throwing them right back in the river. I thought they were ugly (the crayfish, not the kids) but never really thought much of them otherwise.

Today I read in the local newspaper that a non-native species of crayfish has gotten into one of the ponds in a nearby nature preserve. The Wisconsin DNR is planning to treat the pond with a toxic bleach-like chemical, which will destroy the creepy critters as well as anything else in the water. WDNR wants to rid the pond of these invaders, which are not hazardous to people but have the potential to destroy other native plants and animals.

The newspaper article said that this small pond is one of the first places in Wisconsin that the species has been found and that it may have gotten there because someone who had it as a pet dumped it there. In southern states, they are farmed as seafood, and they are also sold as pets or for educational purposes.

I did some snooping around and learned that the invaders, officially called a red swamp crayfish, were first discovered and then confirmed here in Wisconsin last summer. They are native to the Southeastern U.S, can grow to about 8 inches long, and like to eat plants, snails, and especially the eggs and young of fish and amphibians. If they move from ponds to streams and rivers, they could then get into Lake Michigan, and although I did not find much about what that would mean, they like to eat fish eggs and young fish so it cannot be good news.

Asian carp may get all the press and be the superstars of invasive species, but they are by no means the only invasive species we have to worry about. Now in addition to various mussel species and carp, we can add crayfish to the list of horrible things that can get into the lakes. Methods to contain unwelcome visitors range from electric barriers to poisoning the waters. Which is worse – the invaders or the methods to prevent the invasions? Somebody help me out here. I don’t know the answer, and although I am not suggesting we don’t try as hard as possible to maintain the ecosystem of our freshwater, it seems like there is always some creature that is smarter than we are.

Aggressive eight-inch crayfish that like to eat fish eggs probably like to eat the toes of little children, too. Why do I think we are going to hear more about them is in the future? (I mean the crayfish, but maybe the children, too.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Waiting for Spring

Sixteen days until spring. This morning when I was out at 9 AM walking the dog, it wasn’t hard to believe. The sun was shining; temperatures were already over 32 degrees. The skies were clear and blue; no winds were blowing off the lake. I took my hat off and let the sun warm my face. I could almost feel the Vitamin D percolating into my bones.

I am not the only one waiting for spring. These pictures were taken on my walk. Godot may never come, but this morning I am confident that spring will.