Opinion article by Michael Butler, CEO of Tennessee Wildlife Federation, as it appeared in the Elizabethon Star
The national observance of Imagine a Day Without Water asks all of us to imagine a day literally without water. From your shower to your coffee to your kids’ last glass of water before bed. Not even a drop in a lake or a firetruck’s tank.
This is certainly a grim warning, and one worth taking a moment to ponder. We all have a role to play in protecting and conserving water and petitioning our leaders to take steps to safeguard it for the future.
Tennessee is blessed with water resources that are abundant in quantity, though we cannot assume that will always be the case. But threats to our waters’ quality are here today.
A cup of poisoned water might as well be empty. Just ask one of Tennessee’s more than one million anglers or tens of thousands of boaters.
According to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, 13,700 miles of river and 182,000 acres of lakes are considered chronically impaired—they do not support basic wildlife or human needs, a state standard for water quality.
This August alone, there were 30 active warnings that advised people not to swim in or consume fish from certain Tennessee waters. Those warnings covered 194,987 reservoir acres and 547 river miles.
But this issue isn’t limited to anglers and boaters.
How some of our waters are protected by the 1972 Clean Water Act has changed. Specifically, a new rule removes the federal government’s standards for protecting groundwater and isolated wetlands.
Many Tennesseans, including those in West Tennessee and the greater Memphis area, get their drinking water from groundwater. So, controlling how much pesticide and other chemicals that end up in that water is important for public health and the management of the natural resource.
And though isolated wetlands are disconnected hydrologically from other water sources, such as streams or tributaries, they are considered rare and are essential to a number of wildlife and aquatic species.
Tennessee is bordered by eight states, so having the new rule remove federal protections means it is up to our neighboring states and Tennessee’s state government to adequately protect waters that could impact Tennesseans.
Imagine a Day Without Water should be a reminder of how quickly we’d each miss abundant, clean water and why we should be holding our leaders accountable for protecting it today.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation will continue watching this situation closely to ensure efforts are not being taken to weaken state protections.