Youth Education and Interpretation
An Introduction to Water
It is hard to believe that two simple elements, hydrogen and oxygen, when combined together to form water (H2O) play such an important role in the shaping of the Earth and the way all life forms exist there. Water is a major constituent of all things living and all living things use water. It helps our food to grow and our bodies to function. While humans can go a month without food, without water they can’t survive more than a week.
Water is very, very old. The same amount of water exists today on Earth as existed about 3.9 billion years ago, near the beginning of the Earth. Thanks to the water cycle, the same water has moved continuously from sea to clouds to rain to Earth and back again.
Planet Earth is sometimes referred to as the water planet since water makes up about 70 percent of its surface. Nearly 97 percent of all the Earth’s water is contained within the oceans as salt water. As for the fresh three (3) percent, most is stored frozen in glaciers and ice caps (77 percent); another 22 percent is underground. The most available fresh water supply from lakes and rivers is less than one (1) percent.
Water's Amazing Qualities
Water plays a major role in landscaping the Earth. Freezing and thawing of water slowly splits rock and stone. The great ice sheets that spread repeatedly across the Northern Hemisphere within the past two million years carved valleys and canyons. Water erodes the landscape and runoff from rivers and streams carry sediments and deposit them to create new land, while water’s dissolving property helps create underground sinkholes and caves.
Water is extraordinary for the fact that it exists as a liquid, a solid, and a gas under conditions normally found on Earth. Liquid water falls from the clouds as rain and forms streams, rivers, lakes, and seas. Ice, the solid form of water, is unusual in that it is less dense than the liquid form, which is why ice floats. The gaseous form of water enters and collects in the atmosphere as vapor from evaporation and plant transpiration, condenses and returns again to the Earth’s surface through precipitation in the form of liquid rain or solid snow, sleet or hail.
How We Use Water
Besides domestic consumption such as water for drinking, bathing, cooking, cleaning, laundry, toilet flushing and gardening, humans use water for agriculture, industry, and recreation. Agriculture uses include crop irrigation and raising animals. Industry depends on water to produce energy, paper, wood, chemicals, metals, gasoline, oils and most other products. Industry also uses water as a way to transport commodities and products from one point to another. Recreational uses include swimming, boating, fishing and hunting to name a few.
To support our water use, we have built a vast infrastructure consisting of dams that harness waterpower and convert it into energy, to water storage reservoirs, deep wells, pipelines, canals, irrigation ditches and sanitary sewage disposal lines and water treatment facilities. Unfortunately our water facilities and associated systems sometimes fail due to negligence, engineering and oversight flaws, aging, inadequate funding for upkeep and natural disasters. When these systems fail they can harm people and the environment along with the many plants and animals found within the affected area.
Water Protection and Conservation
With our many important uses for water, and considering the fact that less than one percent of fresh water is readily available to us, it is important that we work together to protect and sustain these precious resources. Education about wise water use can help people protect water for the future while state and federal policies protect the people from large-scale misuse and pollution of our resources.
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 was the first major U.S. law to address water pollution. Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972. As amended in 1972, the law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA sets wastewater standards for industry and water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.
Federal, state and local agencies are all actively involved in managing and protecting water resources. Water managers have found that water resources are handled best at the watershed level. Since all the water that falls on a watershed eventually drains down to a body of surface water, such as a stream or lake, tracking activities within the watershed assists with identifying potential impacts on water quality or quantity.
Since everyone is dependent on clean water, water conservation and pollution prevention is in everyone’s interest. Read on to find out more about water in Missouri and how to protect and conserve the water that plays such a significant role in the lives of Missourians and all living things.