On World Water Day, Take a Sip, Take a Moment

World Water Day reminds us of our most valuable resource of all: clean water.

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It’s World Water Day, a day that reminds us of our most valuable resource of all: clean water.

Some of us may not think twice about a glass of clean water, a swimmable lake, or a fishable river, but clean water is not an accident. All the world over, clean water is something that people and governments have to work hard to protect and deliver safely to populations. And it is a resource that much of the world’s population still does not have access to.

Here are some quick facts to put access to safe, clean water into perspective:

  • One billion people around the world don’t even have access at all to clean, safe water. Matt Damon joins Water.org for a message on this today.
  • One out of every eight people in the world lack safe drinking water—that’s 884 million people—three times the U.S. population.
  • Two out of every five people lack adequate sanitation.
  • Nearly 2 million people die each year from preventable waterborne disease.
  • 6,000 children die every day from waterbourne illness.
  • Every $1 invested in water, sanitation and hygiene improvements returns on average $8 in increased economic productivity and averted healthcare costs.
  • On average, women walk 3.7 miles a day for water around the globe.
  • Women and girls spend 200 million hours a day seeking water. That’s time that could be spent going to school and earning money for their families.
  • More people on our planet have a mobile phone than a toilet.

This fantastic Atlantic World Water Day photo essay bares the role of water in our lives—”how we use it, abuse it, and depend on it.” And this video by the United Nations shows the link between the food we eat and water, highlighting the interconnection between our food security and our water resources.

Here in the United States, clean water is not a given, either. Despite all of the progress we have made as a nation to clean up pollution in our waters, we still have a long way to go. Many of our fellow Americans and many communities here are living with contaminated and dangerously polluted waters. Here is a quick glimpse of the problems we face today in the United States:

  • According to the EPA, 218 million Americans live within 10 miles of a dangerously polluted waterway. The New York Times “Toxic Waters” series takes a deep dive into the worsening pollution in America’s waters.
  • A recent report by Environment America reports that pollution from industrial facilities is responsible for threatening or fouling water quality in more than 14,000 miles of rivers and more than 220,000 acres of lakes, ponds, and estuaries nationwide. Industrial facilities dumped 226 million pounds of toxic chemicals into American waterways in 2010.
  • In recent years, 20 million acres of wetlands and over 2 million miles of streams lost their protections under the Clean Water Act, thanks to two confusing Supreme Court opinions and Bush-era policies. These waters provide drinking water for 118 million Americans, and now they are vulnerable to loss and in danger of deadly pollution. Take action now by telling President Obama to restore these clean water protections.
  • Fertilizers, inadequate sewage treatment, and agricultural runoff are contaminating millions of mile of streams, rivers, lakes, and beaches across the country. These waters, which Americans rely on for drinking water, fishing, tourism, and recreation, are being covered with a toxic green slime, or algae, caused by the pollution. In addition to posing a heath threat, these pollutants cause “dead zones” in waters across the country. An EPA Water Task Group reports that this green slime problem, caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, has the potential to become one of the costliest and the most challenging environmental problems we face.
  • In 2008 in Florida alone, over 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, 350,000 acres of Florida’s lakes, and 900 square miles of its estuaries were contaminated by sewage, fertilizer or manure pollution.
  • Last summer, the Great Lakes experienced the worst toxic algae outbreaks since the ‘60s. This problem continues to threaten recreation and local economies across the northern waters of our country.
  • Across the country, gas companies are “fracking” away clean water resources, and communities across Pennsylvania, as well Colorado, New York, and numerous other states, are having to fight for their right to clean water. Along with our nation’s fracking-fueled gas rush have come troubling reports of poisoned drinking water, and a myriad of other harms.
  • In Appalachia, Illinois, Wyoming, and Montana communities near coal mining are threatened with dangerous water pollution from mountaintop removal mining, open-pit mining, and other forms of coal mining. Appalachian communities especially are facing the fight of their lives for clean water because of coal mining. Studies show that communities near mountaintop removal mining suffer significantly higher birth defect and cancer rates than elsewhere in the country.
  • Coal ash, a byproduct of the burning of coal, is contaminating waters across the nation with dangerous heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, lead, selenium and much more. Living near some unlined coal ash ponds puts nearby communities at a 1 in 50 risk of developing cancer—2,000 times greater than what is deemed acceptable. Every year, 140 million tons of coal ash are generated, but today, our household garbage is better regulated than toxic coal ash.
  • In Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado, and Michigan, some of the cleanest and freshest waters in the country are being contaminated and dirtied by hard-rock mineral mining, putting communities in harm’s way and exposing them to carcinogens at unsafe levels.

These are just some of the threats that Americans face as they fight for clean water for their families to drink.

And the challenges we face are not getting any easier. As global citizens we face climate change, an ever-growing global population, increased pollution, industrialized agriculture, and the over-extraction and contamination of ground water supplies. Lester Brown digs into the strains on our water in this changing world.

As world’s population mushrooms—we have 7 billion today, but by 2050, another 2 billion will join us on this planet—demand for clean water increases rapidly. But our clean water supplies aren’t growing, they are shrinking—this great L.A. Times map visualizes the globe’s water scarcity problems.

Many organizations and groups are working to offer hope to those who live without clean water, change to those who live with polluted waters, and promise to the world, that together we may overcome these problems and challenges.

New solutions are put forth every day, and more people are joining the efforts to protect our precious water resources. Much should give us hope, Water for People CEO Ned Breslin argues. So by the end of today, World Water Day, we will hopefully be reminded that a sip of clean water is not to be taken for granted. It’s a battle worth fighting, and one that we can win together.

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.