We often take water for granted, but in summers like this in states like ours, the need is obvious and ever-present.
I have biked around Lake Hefner and along the Oklahoma River, and witnessed bodies of water shrunk to surprisingly low levels for early summer.
This drought is affecting agriculture in costly and destructive ways. The price of a bushel of corn is ever-increasing and will raise the cost of related food products.
Portions of the Mississippi River are falling to near historic lows. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend nearly $7 million dredging it to keep ports operational and the river open for barge traffic. River levels in and around Memphis, Tenn., have dropped to within 3 feet of their historic lows from the 1988 drought.
The current drought comes one year after a record-high crest along the Mississippi River, causing massive flooding. Today it’s 55 feet lower. Dilemmas facing water go far beyond our state, region or continent. Water is a global issue, perhaps like no other.
Water exists in several different forms. Water vapor, rivers, lakes, ice caps, glaciers, soil in the ground, moistures, aquifers and the atmosphere are all forms of water. Our bodies are made up largely of water. The foundation of life, its importance can’t be overstated.
About 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is water; 96 percent is found in the ocean. That means about 96 percent of the water contains saline, or is saltwater, and is not ready for human consumption. The U.S. Geological Survey says that if all of the Earth’s water were to be placed into a sphere, the diameter of that ball would be roughly 860 miles. That’s like going from Topeka to Salt Lake City. The majority of the world’s surface is covered with water, but if its volume were to be contained, it would not even cover half of the United States.
The water that we drink has to be freshwater. The vast majority of the world’s freshwater supply exists underneath the surface. Most rivers are formed by water underneath the surface that seeps out and gathers on the Earth’s surface into riverbeds.
Groundwater might be our most valuable resource and commodity. Most of the pores beneath the earth are filled with water. The varying levels of permeability affect how the water moves, creating challenges for easy extraction. So, when much of this underground water is readily flowing into wells or springs and can be pumped out, we get what is commonly referred to as an aquifer. This underground water, or the majority of our freshwater, is replenished by rain. This fact only highlights the important of rain. Extreme weather conditions can have huge implications on the sharing of water resources.
Nearly 1 billion people in the developing world don’t have access to clean drinking water. Our browning lawns and low-level, municipal water source lakes seem trivial in comparison to populations that suffer death each year because of unsustainable droughts or contaminated water sources. We must be thankful for our blessings and be mindful of our usage.
I live in a house, on a water well, without any irrigation system, and have the yellow summer lawn to prove it. There are still ways I can live to better respect the scarcity and importance of water. I plan to do so. Please consider ways you might help, too.
Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.