Members of the Corpus Christi community gathered on March 18 to interact with five water experts: Tannie Eshenaur from the MDH, Kirk Enzenauer, a science educator, Tom Hovey from the DNR, Deacon Glen from the MPCA and Dwayne Stenlund from the MnDOT. We learned how precious the gift of water is both spiritually and physically. We It is used in the sacraments, as well as being essential to life. It is also a very vulnerable resource, subject to pollution, misuse and overuse. While we pride ourselves on our water resources, enjoying fishing, boating and swimming in our over 10,000 lakes and 70,000 miles of rivers and streams, we need to be a better stewards, since many of our lakes fail to meet water quality standards, especially those in southwestern Minnesota.
The quality of Minnesota waters is important, since it is our source of drinking water. Unfortunately many communities are facing the unfortunate reality of having wells that are contaminated by nitrates and other industrial pollutants. Because removing these contaminants from the water is costly, it becomes a challenge to meet community needs. As Tannie pointed out, it is better to keep the contaminants out of the water in the first place. Both the MPCA, https://www.pca.state.mn.us/, and Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, https://www.rwmwd.org/, have information about Minnesota’s waters and how to protect them.
Consumers (which means each of us) play an important role in keeping our waters clean, which is why I avoid most commercial cleaning products, opting to use baking soda and vinegar to clean my house, keeping questionable chemicals out of my home and the sewer system. I also avoid most skin care products and carefully check shampoos and conditioners, because anything that goes on my skin will eventually go down the drain. Don’t dispose of unused drugs or other products down the drain. They end up in the sewage treatment facility, which isn’t equipped to remove them, so they enter our waterways. The Environmental Working Group (https://www.ewg.org/) is a valuable resource, which can help you determine whether the products you are using pose a risk to you and our waters.
Each of us has a water footprint. To calculate yours and learn ways to reduce it there are several calculators available: https://www.watercalculator.org/ and waterfootprint.org/en/resources/interactive-tools/personal-water-footprint-calculator/. One of the main things you find is that food is a largest part of your water footprint, especially meat. The average consumer “eats” about 1000 gallons of water per day, which accounts for 92% of our water consumption (http://thewaterweeat.com/). The biggest share of that goes toward raising beef, so eating less meat could dramatically drop your footprint. Kudos to all your vegetarians out there!
Unfortunately, wasted food is also a big problem. We’ve all found that kiwi or avocado mushed in the bottom of the refrigerator or last week’s casserole behind the milk, and had to toss it. In fact, almost 40 percent of food produced worldwide is wasted. Most of us wouldn’t run the shower for 104 minutes, but that’s how much water is wasted when we toss a pound of chicken. According to “WASTE,” a video produced by the World Wildlife Federation and the UN, the amount of water used to produce wasted food is equivalent to the annual flow of the Mississippi River! So try monitoring how much food you waste by using a food waste diary to see if you can reduce your food waste. (http://humsci.auburn.edu/campusfoodwaste/files/foodwastediary.pdf)
Energy use and consumer goods also impact our water footprint. I never really thought about the connection between water and energy, but it takes energy to get water to our homes and producing that energy requires water, about seven gallons per gallon of gas. Reducing your carbon footprint will also reduce your water footprint, and vice versa! Ways to do that can include buying secondhand, sharing or renting tools, using the library, repairing items, bringing bags to the grocery store (just ask Dwayne about my bag of bags!), using a reusable mug at work and your favorite coffee shop. There are many ways. Challenge yourself to see how you can use less, like fasting from buying something new for a week or two.
On a final, and perhaps the important note, we all need to advocate for safe, clean water. There are many pieces of legislation being introduced in the Minnesota state legislature, as well as the federal level, which threaten our waters. Many organizations, including https://environmentminnesota.org/, https://www.5gyres.org/, https://www.conservationminnesota.org/, and https://www.mepartnership.org, advocate for clean water. Take some time to connect with your legislators asking them to protect our waters. And if you are available on May 2, join with water advocates at the Minnesota State Capitol for Minnesota Water Action Day.