“Water Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink.”
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Water is central to human survival. Yet we all know the tragic story of drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Closer to home, outside Spokane, the aquifer is being polluted by firefighting foam, the result of military training and uncontrolled run-off. Water pollution is not limited to waterways and ground water. Rising water temperatures in rivers, lakes, bays, harbors and the ocean threaten the creatures who live there. Algae blooms use up the oxygen in the water and deprive smaller creatures and fish that are at the bottom of the food chain. This, in turn, has a negative effect on the larger creatures (orcas and humans) at the top of the food chain.
Too much water also causes disasters. This past December and January Clallam, Skagit and Whatcom counties in Washington State got so much water that many towns, tribal communities, and homes were flooded. The National Weather Service created a new phrase to describe the phenomenon of huge amounts of rain without high winds: atmospheric river. These areas are still involved in long term recovery and will continue to recover through the aid of government, NGOs, and faith-based organizations like Lutheran Disaster Response.
On the other hand, the Eastern slope of the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the highlands of West are experiencing severe drought conditions. Wildfires will scar our landscapes this fire season and they will be exacerbated by a lack of water. Our gulf coast states are facing more frequent and more severe hurricanes and tropical storms.
There have been floods and storms and droughts from the beginning of time, but the frequency and severity have increased since the industrial revolution. But serious scientists agree that human activity is a major contributor to the frequency and severity of water-related disasters we are experiencing across the globe.
I was fortunate to attend the gathering of the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster NVOAD) in May. I participated in many high-quality workshops and presentations. The one that was most poignant was put on by Federal Emergency Management Agency. It was encouraging to hear that the Executive branch of our government now allows government employees to use the phrase “climate change”. This was not allowed by the previous administration. This simple act of speaking the truth has been welcomed by those public servants who work on our behalf during times of emergency. Lutheran Disaster Response continues to be one of these agencies. I was also encouraged to learn that LDR is sharpening its focus on issues of equity during times of disaster, recognizing the exponentially greater effect that disasters have on marginalized communities. LDR also continues to work to educate and enlighten “people in the pews” about the perils of climate change and its effects on our most vulnerable communities.