When Will We Stop Taking Water for Granted?


oil spill in the river

Attempting to contain an oil spill in a river

Clean water is something we all tend to take for granted. Whether it is the tap water from our sink or the river we like to canoe in, we expect it to be clean. But as several recent pollution spills have exemplified, we can’t take our water – our clean water – for granted.

A few weeks ago we heard about the terrible chemical spill on the Elk River that contaminated the drinking water of tens of thousands of West Virginia residents. Shortly afterward, a coal ash spill in North Carolina on the Dan River gave us another wake up call. And within the last week, two more spills: A petroleum pipeline leak on the Kankakee River in northern Illinois, and another petroleum spill into the Oak Glen Nature Preserve, just upstream from the Great Miami River in Southwest Ohio. The spill near the Great Miami hit particularly close to home since we have worked hard the past several years with a lot of great community partners to clean the river up.

It is upsetting any time there is some sort of chemical spill into one of our great rivers, but the recent proliferation of spills has underscores even more that something needs to be done. People are talking about the implications behind the Elk River spill, and the connections between poverty and pollution and the complications of regulation stemming from the Dan River spill. But these topics need to be brought into a broader and more robust conversation about how we value clean water and how we are taking it for granted.

Why are leaks like these still happening in the U.S.? What kind of regulatory regime do we need to prevent these spills from happening in the first place? Are we doing enough to prevent them? How can we get people more engaged in protecting clean water?

Frankly, there are many simple things we can do to feel like we are making a difference in the environment but these things often omit water from the conversation, even when it seems like it’s an obvious part. But until clean water is a more robust part of the conversation, or even just part of the conversation, spills like these will continue to occur. It’s just a matter of when.