FROM ZOO TO YOU What to know about H2O

By Kristi Newland

We drink it; we cook with it; we wash in it; we swim in it. Water plays a big role in our lives. Actually, it is essential for our lives. The adult human body is made up of about 60% water. It is part of our brain, heart, lungs, skin, kidneys, muscles, and even our bones. It helps with circulation, digestion, and the transportation of nutrients; it helps create saliva and protects our joints and spinal cord; it even helps regulate our body temperature. It helps remove waste from our bodies, and it helps our brains and cardiovascular systems operate properly.

It is not just essential for humans; it is critical for animals and plants too. Seventy-two percent of the Earth is covered with water, so why is water conservation so important? It is important because usable water is not always where you need it.

Ninety-seven percent of the water that covers the world is seawater (saltwater) and is not suitable for drinking. That means only 3% of all the water on the planet is fresh water, and over two-thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and icecaps.

This three percent is a finite resource. It has been here for billions of years, going through the water cycle via evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection. Water rises from the lakes, rivers, and oceans as a vapor via evaporation. As the air cools, the vapor condenses into water droplets. Water droplets fall to the earth as rain and snow (precipitation) where it is collected in various bodies of water. Some falls on the land and becomes groundwater. Plants pull water from the earth by their roots and return it to the air through their leaves (transpiration).

So, if the water is cycling through and has been here for billions of years, what’s the problem? Pollution can make the limited usable water unusable for humans and animals alike. Pollution can have a more subtle effect as it compounds through the food chain leading to birth defects or diseases in animals and humans.

Overharvesting for industrial or agricultural uses or domestic consumption means less water is available for other needs – for other towns, for the animals, etc.… Changes in the flow of rivers (dams, straightening, and/or deepening) can affect the water quality, as well as fish migrations, and reproduction of other freshwater animals.

While we cannot solve the situation individually, if we join together taking small steps, we can combine for a greater impact. Turn the faucet off when you don’t need the water while brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Wash full loads of laundry and dishes. Take showers instead of baths and when you do shower, take shorter ones. Wash your car or bike with a bucket and a sponge rather than a hose. Fix dripping faucets as soon as you can. Don’t overwater your lawn. Water your yard during the cooler part of the day, and don’t water on windy days. If you’re cooking pasta, after the water cools, use it to water your plants. Collect rainwater and use it to water your plants. Buy recycled products; they take less water to make than new ones.

Together we can make a difference.

Kristi Newland is the director at Lee Richardson Zoo.