Ground rules for clean water

As the Flint, Michigan, water scandal and resulting health crisis sludges on, a new Dutch study has found that four billion people, or 66 percent of the world’s population, lack access to fresh water for at least one month out of the year. This is many more people than previously thought. A new computer model led to more precise and comprehensive numbers, according to the researchers at the Netherlands’ University of Twente.

Severe water scarcity is identified by falling groundwater levels, lakes drying up and lower-flowing rivers. Water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened. Dr. Arjen Hoekstra, who led the study, notes that The World Economic Forum places the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism, Nature World News reported.

The study cites growing populations, increased agricultural irrigation, higher living standards, consumption practices and climate change as the leading causes of severe scarcity and decreased water quality. Consequently, half of those without access to water are in the world’s two most populous countries — India and China. Other problem areas include northern and southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and Australia. It all sounds so far away until Mexico and the Western U.S. pop up on the list.

Economic losses due to crop failure, limited food availability, loss of environmental biodiversity and heightened global conflict are all outcomes of water scarcity, according to the report. The threat can be reduced by placing limits on water consumption, boosting water use efficiency, and improving sharing of fresh water resources, the researchers said.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s difficult not to take our abundant, clean water for granted. The fact that our drinking water is so clean and good makes it easy to assume all our waters are clean. But the polluted rivers, streams and groundwater that feed the polluted Puget and Possession sounds, threaten all sea life, and the fish Northwesterners consume with gusto.

One factor contributing to the water pollution is un-monitored septic systems, according the King County Board of Health, which will discuss this week a plan to charge a $40 annual fee on septic system users to help pay for more monitoring because it currently doesn’t have the funds to do so, KING-TV, Channel 5 reported.

Darrell Rodgers with King County Public Health told the station that 192 of the area’s rivers, streams and other waterways have some form of pollution connected to untreated contamination that gets into the groundwater from septic systems. As one of the worst examples, septic system pollution into Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon Island has prevented shellfishing for nearly 20 years, Rogers said.

King County estimates it has 40,000 septic systems; Snohomish County, on its website, reports that more than 78,000 homes rely on septic systems.

Keeping our water clean requires protection and action. Our most precious resource needs nurturing, or it won’t be precious for long. Since this is a regional problem, which is part of a global crisis, perhaps the state, or consortium of counties from Thurston to Whatcom, can come up with universal rules, regulations and fees that apply to all, in addition to a mapping of all septic systems, in order to streamline inspections, improvements, and the ability to identify and fine polluters.

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