Originally from the St. Louis area, Anna Chott is participating in the 2014 water resources summer internship program with Water Rocks!.
Each of us Water Rocks! interns has our own story about what motivates us to spend a summer working on water quality research and environmental education. I personally developed a passion for water quality issues while traveling in Nicaragua. In the city of Granada, a friend and I took a bike tour that ended at Lake Nicaragua. My friend and I did not have swimsuits, so she fell asleep next to me while I sat with my feet in the water. “Bañase!” our tour guide urged us. “Swim!” The waterfalls and natural beaches of Central America had forever ruined me for swimming pools, so without further encouragement, I dove in. Afterwards I learned that the city of Granada dumps its untreated sewage into that lake. The level of fecal bacteria was probably much too high to be safe for swimming.
Lack of wastewater treatment is a serious water quality issue in developing countries like Nicaragua. In fact, waterborne illnesses, which are spread through drinking water contaminated with infected feces, are the leading cause of disease and death worldwide. Clean drinking water is a vital resource that only 60% of the global population has access to (1).
Here in Iowa, the city of Des Moines was rated the best U.S. city for clean drinking water in 2008. This rating was based on the fact that Des Moines tap water has low levels of lead and turbidity, as well as the second lowest bacteria level in the nation (2). In Central America, I had to drink only bottled water or use a hand pumped filter to remove potentially harmful contaminants from tap water. While working on my internship research project on international water quality regulations, I have found that many other areas of the world still struggle to fund systems that can adequately treat their wastewater. In Iowa, we still buy bottled water when some of the world’s safest water is available for free at the nearest drinking fountain. In fact, it is estimated that 40% of bottled water is actually municipal tap water (2).
This is not to say that drinking water in Iowa is unaffected by pollution. A 2009 report by the Environmental Working Group found that water suppliers across the U.S. had identified 86 urban pollutants, 97 agricultural pollutants, and 204 industrial pollutants in treated tap water (3). If we want to continue to enjoy safe drinking water, we must take steps to prevent water pollution. Water Rocks! promotes a variety of ways that citizens can help keep their water clean. Water conservation practices range from big projects such as rain gardens or constructed wetlands to small actions such as taking shorter showers or using cleaning products with fewer harsh chemicals. We should be proud to have some of the world’s safest drinking water and get involved to help keep it that way.
(1) Berman, J. 29 Oct 2009. “WHO: Waterborne disease is world’s leading killer.” Voice of America. 22 Apr 2014. Web. 16 June 2014.
(2) Van Dusen, A. “Best cities for clean drinking water.” Forbes.com. 14 Apr 2008. Web. 16 June 2014.
(3) "National Drinking Water Database." Environmental Working Group. Dec 2009. Web. 16 June 2014.