Water Facts and Human Society

Mundane are the myriad of truths about water.  Still, that does not change the fact that water is essential, nor that death is an immediate consequence to life without water.  We see the results of our failed relationship with water in the news every day; and every day that we ignore the fact that our relationship with this vital resource must change, we come closer to extinction.  According to the World Health Organization, at least 2 billion people drink from contaminated water in 2019 and by 2025 half of the world’s population will be living in water stressed areas.  Eighty percent of all diseases in the developing world are water-related.

As third world countries develop, land becomes a commodity rather than a resource for all.  Farms are turned under and communities laid waste for profit.  Numbers become more important than quality and therefore population becomes its own worst outcome… because, there is money to make from the many.  When lives come cheaply, the rich make profit from the destitution.  In desperation, people have limited choices and those who would use their desperation do.  Facts speak for themselves and this is nothing new.  Human civilization, as we know it, needs to make some vital changes and much sooner than we have planned.  The truth is what it has always been and will remain.

These are the cold hard facts of winner take all.  This kind of struggle will be the end of us; the problem compounded by our short sightedness as a species in our relationship to water.  We use it, and since approximately 70% of the earth is covered by water it appears to be abundantly available, except when it isn’t.  A common known statistic is that only 2.5% of this water is fresh and only 1% of that is available.

Minnesota is at the heart of three of the greatest rivers systems in the North American continent, the Mississippi River, the St Louis River and the Rainy River, draining into the Gulf, into the Great Lakes at Lake Superior, and Hudson Bay respectively.  Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water by surface in the world (Lake Bakail the largest by volume) lies at the mouth of the St Louis River, which is the largest river to drain into Superior.  The volume of fresh water in the Great Lakes runs second only to Lake Bakail and contains 21% of the world’s freshwater.

As you can imagine, the area covered by the three river systems sourced in Minnesota is enormous; and so, the importance of keeping these systems healthy and, in effect, the world secure.   The Hudson Bay drainage basin is estimated at 1,490,00 square miles.  The St Louis river, at 3,634 square miles and flowing into an irreplaceable estuary and the Great Lakes.  The Mississippi drainage basin at 1,151,000 square miles is only exceeded by the Hudson Bay drainage basin.  At the same time that organizations abound proposing to clean up and make sustainable the systems in place, most are ignoring the “elephant in the room” in Minnesota.

As Minnesotans debate tirelessly over the past almost 50 years concerning mining in the Laurentian Divide, mining continues.  It pollutes our precious water reserves in the ground, the air and waterways, lakes and wetlands.  The facts of this toxic pollution abound with acid rain destroying the forests, waste from waste ponds seeping into the ground and into Lake Superior and throughout the region reducing the quality of life and making the St Louis River and its estuary into an “area of concern”.  None of this, though, prevents consideration of the area for the most toxic mining proposals, opening up this area surrounding the BWCA and the BWCA to copper mining, all while declaring that copper is needed for a sustainable new energy future.  What future can we have without fresh water?  How secure is a country without potable reserves of freshwater?

There are 260 species of fish that must imbide the waters of the Mississippi as its pollution runs downstream.  What of the 326 some species of birds, 60% of those of North America, that use the Mississippi River basin?  Forty percent of migratory waterfowl on this continent rely on the Mississippi River corridor.  If we hold these creatures lives cheaply, how cheap do we hold our own then?  These are the very lives that our lives depend upon.

I offer Minnesota as only one example of the way in which our thinking needs to change.  If one thinks of the “whole” of an activity, the costs of that activity will become clear.  Mining and other like activities cannot be thought of as solutions when these are, in themselves, the problem.  The human species is tireless in its search for “newer and better”; but have we forgotten the things we’ve left behind?  Millions of years cannot be discounted in a moment; and this “moment” of the last two hundred years does not a nuanced progression make.

We are called on to rethink our assessment of the substance of water and the amount that we actually use in any given activity.  We need to call on the past for enlightenment in the effort.  We are not in opposition to the nature surrounding us, we are at its core.  We destroy and treat thoughtlessly the very thing that we need for our survival.  For instance, in Professor Tony Allen’s conceptualization of water, using the phrase “virtual water,” we are provided with a more truthful view of actual water consumption.  Each plateful of food, each activity, whether single or as a company, a community … takes on a broader impact in our minds.  We are not simply eating a steak, we are consuming the water that it took to produce that steak.  We are not only driving an automobile, we are responsible for the water it took to mine the steel and other components for that car, the pollution of water caused by its production, as well as the gasoline it takes to run.

The bottom line should never be money, which most of us will never see.  The bottom line is, for a fact, water.  Without it, there is no life.  It will be the cause of future wars and great distress if we choose to ignore the facts.

For so many, survival means making money and success is counted rather than lived.  We match our worth with worth in quantity rather than quality.  How big are our houses, how fancy our cars, our lifestyles….  As a society, we judge others by the beauty of their surface rather than the content of their character.  Is it any wonder that the wealth of this Earth is being lost and degraded with this point of view?  Is a beautiful wild place but a place to exploit for profit or recreation?  Does our current outlook on our own happiness make for one that runs deep and creates long lasting futures for any of us?  Have we forgotten the very things we need for true happiness?

Our bodies contain up to 70% water and some organisms contain up to 90% water.  It is the first building material of a cell, regulating temperature, transporting and making available the food we eat through the blood stream.  Water flushes waste, it lubricates joints, acts as a shock absorber throughout the body and, importantly, the brain and spinal cord, and among so many other things it enhances mental function.  The brain contains 73-75% water.  Adults need at least 2.3 to 3.2 quarts of water each day in their food or otherwise, for survival.  Perhaps education, so dearly needed, will make the change?

I fear that humans will do as humans do, so often, thoughtlessly.  We live in the moment.  Most of us don’t plan well for our futures.  We love, we hate, we dance, we sing, we make war, love, and work for the ones we love.  We are often controlled by passions of the moment; and this makes us all the more susceptible to the ones who don’t.  What will make the difference?  Perhaps we need to love ourselves better and more fully? What could be more important in that effort than water?

I have included a few of the links visited for this paper, below:

USGS  Watersheds and Drainage Basins:



Visually understanding the amount of water compared to our planet size:


Water uses and percentages in our bodies …:


Up to minute stats on usage amounts. Envisioning “virtual water”:


Quick Wikipedia facts on water:


For love of wilderness and the health of our waters.

Anita  Dedman-Tillemans

August 2019