Philippe Cousteau, Jr., Founder, EarthEcho International
Katelyn Higgins, EarthEcho Youth Leadership Council Member
Devastating natural disasters like recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma make us think differently about basic necessities such as food, shelter and water. Clean water in particular becomes critically important leading up to and in the wake of severe weather events. Securing fresh water for drinking and daily use is a priority for both survival and recovery for the individuals and communities impacted. There are steps we can take to protect our vital community water resources so that they remain healthy and resilient in the face of threats both natural and man-made.
At EarthEcho International, we work with individuals, youth, partners and organizations around the globe to help protect these resources through programs like the EarthEcho Water Challenge. As we recognize World Water Monitoring Day on September 18, we have the opportunity to explore the simple actions all of us can take to help ensure the safety and sustainability of our water. The first step is to understand where the water we drink and use every day originates. We all live in something called a watershed; vast areas of land that drain into rivers, lakes, estuaries, wetlands, aquifers and even the ocean. These waterways literally provide the lifeblood of our communities by supplying the water we drink and use in our daily lives. Severe storms and hurricanes like Harvey and Irma cause flooding and can compromise these important waterways through stormwater runoff, which carry debris and contaminants including sewage and toxic chemicals from a variety of sources.
One of the easiest ways to protect our community’s water resources is to conduct simple water quality testing on an ongoing basis. Testing local waterways helps us understand how ecosystems change after natural disasters or pollution contamination and ensure proper steps are taken to keep the water clean. The EarthEcho Water Challenge test kit allows us to test for the following four key indicators of water quality: temperature, turbidity (how clear or how cloudy water is), dissolved oxygen and pH. For example, the summer after Hurricane Matthew, Katelyn Higgins, a member of the EarthEcho Youth Leadership Council, conducted water testing with a group of students at a local lake in North Carolina that registered abnormal levels of phosphates. Hurricane Matthew caused a river, less than a mile away, to flood the lake and change the chemical makeup of its water to resemble river water rather than that of a healthy lake. Continued monitoring will help to determine when the lake’s ecosystem returns to a healthy balance and inform if any additional steps need to be taken.
In addition to monitoring local water resources, we can also take steps to strengthen and restore their natural borders. Planting native plants in coastal areas creates natural barriers to help lessen the impacts of storm surge which cause flooding and destruction to both local waterways and property. For inland rivers, lakes and streams, planting native trees and other plant species along waterways reduces erosion, which can degrade water quality, creates natural water filtering systems and provides for wildlife; all components of a healthy fresh water ecosystem.
As Texas, Florida and other states work to recover from the devastation of Harvey and Irma, EarthEcho is working with local partners, groups and individuals to help them restore the natural water resources that sustain their communities. Local organizations like Miami Waterkeeper and Miami Dade County Public Schools are addressing the ongoing issues facing South Florida’s waters through monitoring and restoration efforts. EarthEcho partner Living Lands & Waters and EarthEcho Water Challenge sponsor Xylem, Inc. are assisting in restoration and rebuilding efforts in the Houston area. Citizen groups including the FIRST LEGO League in Puerto Rico are using EarthEcho Water Challenge kits to test their local waters impacted by Irma. The communities impacted by these natural disasters will need all of our support for many months to come.
The lesson here is a simple one: our watersheds and the bodies of water that comprise them benefit greatly from ongoing citizen involvement to monitor their health and provide protection. It’s a need and a responsibility that can also help empower and unite communities, even in the most trying of times.
EarthEcho invites everyone to become part of a global movement for healthy and sustainable water by learning more at www.monitorwater.org.