Stop for a moment and think about the many times each day you rely on clean water. Think how frequently you turn the knob on a faucet, flush the toilet or use water to cook or clean — and drink. Now imagine an entire day in which clean water was unavailable to you. Think of the difficulties just to take care of yourself and your family.
By taking personal responsibility for the quality of our lakes and streams, and in particular Lake Champlain, we can ensure that days without swimmable, fishable and drinkable water remain limited.
On September 15, the Value of Water Coalition is asking all of us to “imagine a day without water.” This day of recognition aims to raise awareness about the conveniences of clean water and to remind us not to take this valuable resource for granted.
Lake Champlain is the primary source of drinking water for more than 150,000 people. This same water body also receives our treated wastewater. For those who rely on municipal water systems, such as most of Chittenden County, and people in Vergennes, Willsboro (N.Y.) or Rouse’s Point, every time you turn on your tap to fill a glass, bathe or run your sprinkler to water your lawn, you are using water from Lake Champlain. This water has been pumped from the lake, run through a treatment system and then pumped to you on-demand, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
Imagine what it would be like to turn on your faucet – and to not have clean water come out of your tap. Residents of Flint, Mich. have been experiencing unsafe water for over two years. Closer to home, in Bennington, many families have also experienced that reality as a result of wells contaminated with PFOA.
Although residents of the Champlain Valley have been fortunate to benefit from a clean and reliable drinking water supply, residents and tourists in the Lake Champlain watershed have experienced other frustrations. Each summer, public in Chittenden and St. Albans are occasionally closed because of health risks associated with E. coli bacteria or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms.
It is tempting to assume that our federal, state and local governments must take full responsibility for providing clean water for all of our needs, but we also must accept individual responsibility to protect this valuable watershed. Each of us can take action to improve the water quality — from making simple changes to our home and landscaping habits, to significant investments in our properties and communities.
Here are a few specific steps to take.
We can stop fertilizing our lawns and raise the blade height of our lawnmowers to strengthen roots, which hold soil in place.
We can divert rainfall running off our rooftops and driveways to a rain garden rather than to a nearby storm drain.
We can clean up after our pets.
We can support agricultural producers who don’t import fertilizers into our watershed and encourage producers to take measures to reduce their impacts on the watershed.
We can support our towns when they need to upgrade aging sewer and storm water infrastructure to reduce sewage spills and runoff events.
We can acknowledge that clean water comes at a cost and will not be achieved without substantial investments by our governments, nor will it be achieved if we all don’t pitch in ourselves.
For an expanded list of priorities and action steps, visit www.lcbp.org.
In short, clean water should be a priority that we all are willing to support through our daily actions and decisions. By taking ownership of the quality of our lake, we can ensure that a day without water remains a day we can only imagine and will no longer experience in reality.
Eric Howe is the NEIWPCC program director for the Lake Champlain Basin Program & Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership in Grand Isle.