10/02/2012 12:02

When everything is working the way we think it should we barely notice. That’s true about the availability of water. Where we live we use it routinely. Then comes a drought and we notice.  Without rain (and snow) our fresh water supply diminishes.

            A reminder: fresh water on which all plant and animal life depends is less than three percent of the earth’s supply of water. 97% of the water on earth is salt water and not available for our use as it is. And two-thirds of freshwater is not available to us because it is frozen in the polar caps. Water molecules are not being created or destroyed only recycled – evaporated, condensed, and precipitated as pure water molecules that we know chemically as H2O.

            “As fetuses, we gestate in bags of water. As adults, we are bags of water: roughly 60 percent of our body weight comes from water, the fluidic equivalent of 45 quarts. Our cells need water to operate, and because we lose traces of internal stores with every sweat we break, every breath and excretion we out-take, we must constantly consume more water, or we will die in three days.

            “Thirstiness is a universal hallmark of life. Sure, camels can forgo drinking water for five or six months and desert tortoises for that many years, and some bacterial and plant spores seem able to survive for centuries in a state of dehydrated, suspended animation. Yet sooner or later, if an organism plans to move, eat or multiply, it must find a solution of the aqueous kind.

            “Scientists observe that when two atoms of hydrogen conjoin with one of oxygen, the resulting molecule displays a spectacular range of powers, gaining the mightiness of a molecular giant while retaining the speed and convenience of a molecular mite.” (Angier) Other molecules might have similar properties but they are larger and more complex without the advantages of water.

            “We rely in myriad ways on water’s fluid forbearance, its willingness to take the heat without blinking. Earth’s oceans and lakes soak up huge quantities of solar radiation and help moderate the climate.  As sweat evaporates from our skin, it wicks away large amounts of excess heat.

            “Water also serves as a nearly universal solvent, able to dissolve more substances than any other liquid. It can act as an acid, it can act as a base, and with a pinch of salt it is the solution in which the cell’s thousands of chemical reactions take place.” (Angier)

            Water is common and precious. Freshwater has been renewed from the beginning – restored to its purest form. Human activity often changes the quality and the quantity. Let’s pay more attention.


Thanks to Natalie Angier for the quotes from “Small, Yes, but Mighty: The Molecule Called Water”, found at www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/science/


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 09/26/12 (for publication on 09/29/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org