By Bruce Day
The Bible is full of water illustrations and metaphors. Most are of the positive actions and attributes of God – cleansing, restoring, saving. Some of my favorites are:
• Psalm 1:3, “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers;”
•Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God;”
• Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream;”
• John 4:14, “[Jesus replied] whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
I believe it is important to preserve and conserve our water sources so that we can retain these natural images to which the Bible refers. These are not images of polluted streams, dried lakebeds or empty wells. These are references to abundant supplies of fresh, sparkling, safe water. This imagery is important to our spiritual well-being and must be preserved.
But in the last few days, a variety of water-woes have caught my attention.
The most reported of these threats is the severe drought in Southern California. Lack of rainfall at lower elevations has left farmland parched and reservoirs dry. In addition, lack of snow in the Sierra Nevada Range will result in water shortages from snow melt in the spring and summer. Ninety-five percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought.
However, the water problem in California is more complex than drought alone. On a recent trip to California, my family noticed signs in the Central Valley warning us not to drink the tap water. This valley, which produces vast quantities of produce for the nation, had extremely high levels of nitrates in its drinking water, a result of fertilizer and pesticide runoff.
Another water issue came from Florida and a report from WFSU. This article warned of the threat to Florida’s springs. The dangers to the springs and the streams they feed come from the over-extraction of groundwater and pollution. This pollution derives from agricultural and residential use of fertilizers and herbicides which make their way into groundwater through excessive runoff caused by poor watering methods.
I grew up in Florida and enjoyed tubing in a stream fed by a spring and dubbed “the blue-bottom trail.” On return trips my daughters have swum in springs and we have watched manatees grazing there. However, these idyllic founts are losing their animal life and natural plant life, now replaced by green and brown algae.
A third water issue hit closer to home. It was another report about the ongoing “water wars” being waged by Georgia, Alabama and Florida. For two decades the states have been disputing appropriate water flows from sources in North Georgia. Georgia demands the right to extract enough water to meet the needs of its residents and businesses, especially in the Atlanta metro area. Alabama claims that the volume of extraction that Georgia wants will have detrimental effects on agriculture, industry, recreation, power generation, and other vital interests. Florida is concerned primarily about the effect of reduced water flow on the multi-million dollar oyster, shrimping and fishing industry in Apalachicola Bay.
Most recently, an estimated 82,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River in North Carolina, near my wife’s home town. The residue of coal burned for power is often doused with water creating a slurry which can contain toxic elements such as arsenic, mercury and lead. Though this spill was small compared to a 2008 spill in Tennessee, it is a reminder that these containment units (676 in the U.S. according to the EPA) continue to pose a threat to our water.
I have to admit, each of these water issues sadden and worry me. Of course, these are only samples of water problems that face our nation. An internet search of “U.S. Water Problems” contained 629 million “results.” It is probably safe to say that no part of our nation is free of water threats.
When I think of water, I like to think of the beautiful mountain reservoir to which my wife and I hike on a regular basis. I think of the fascinating waterfalls my family has viewed in many national parks. And, though I prefer the mountains to the beach, I do love ocean views, especially as the sun rises or sets. To me these are all reminders of the creativity and love of God.
Of course, water is necessary to our physical well-being. Our bodies are dependent on a steady supply of water and on food that is reliant on water for its growth. If we cannot protect and conserve the gift of water, then we will perish with the water.
In the midst of many of these water threats, “giving a cup of water in Jesus name” may become more important than ever. Of course, to do so, Christians must be a part of the water solution and we must do so locally and globally. We must practice water preservation and conservation personally; we must take such actions as communities of faith and we must encourage and support those who are doing so worldwide.
Over 70 percent of the earth is covered by water. However, only 1 percent is suitable for human consumption. Let’s not waste it. Let us treasure it.