Remember the old saying, "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink?" Well, it's half right. Water IS everywhere. It covers 71 percent of the Earth's surface area and is present in every cell of each living organism on the planet: people, trees, fish, giraffes, mold, violets, cacti and amoeba.
Because of the number of substances that will dissolve in it, including gases as well as proteins and DNA for life sustaining functions, humans have termed water the "universal solvent." But it's actually more universal than that. In 2009, NASA's Moon Mineral Mapper detected water molecules in Moon craters and volcanic rocks. Scientists have found evidence of water in some form (liquid, ice or vapor) on Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Amazingly, trace evidence of water is present in the Sun's atmosphere.
Water as ice floats through the Milky Way - this galaxy - in interstellar clouds, and researchers speculate that it is probably present in other galaxies, too. Two teams of NASA astronomers discovered what they've termed "the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe" and published their findings in 2011 (www.nasa.gov). This reservoir's size is 140 trillion times that of the oceans on the Earth. In its center is a huge quasar (black hole) over 12 billion light years away. What this means is that water has been in existence since the very beginnings of the universe.
Closer to home, the Ohio River is part of the culture, used for transportation, recreation, industry and sustenance. Smaller local creeks, lakes and reservoirs are monitored closely for industrial pollution to preserve delicate ecosystems and protect drinking water. Recent events in West Virginia illustrate how the balance can quickly tip and negatively affect thousands of people and do long-term damage to the environment.
Robin Mahonen of the Wheeling Water Warriors says that water is a resource most people take for granted because it appears to be relatively plentiful. Yet, when there is a crisis, the financial and environmental costs can be staggering. She notes that living with fossil fuel industries like coal and gas means living with a greater possibility of a water crisis and has helped make the Ohio River one of the most polluted waterways in the country. Moving toward cleaner, more sustainable energies like wind and solar powers would reduce the risk considerably.
The Wheeling Water Warriors, which has over 1,000 "Likes" on Facebook, advocates for conscious preservation of water and air in the Ohio Valley through advocacy, rallies and events that raise awareness of water's importance.
Mahonen says the history of coal mining and steel manufacturing has done this area's water and air no favors, but the greater concern lies with the new gas and oil drilling. The quantity of water each well uses per drilling is somewhere between five and eight million gallons. Each well pad may house as many as six wells, and the wells can be drilled more than once. Because of the Ohio Valley's plentiful lakes, rivers, streams and springs and its adequate annual precipitation, it may, for the most part, be able to accommodate the drilling.
The possibility of draining some of the resources to dangerous levels is there, however, especially when at least 20 percent of the water used for fracking (hydraulic fracturing of the shale to release the natural gas) will not be able to be used again or returned to the water cycle due to its infusion of dangerous levels of toxic substances. It is captured and stored, sent to a specialized treatment facility, or injected into deep wells (which can cause earthquakes). Mahonen points out that there are 57 wells in Ohio County, West Virginia alone.
"There are bad things happening all the time - explosions, spills," Mahonen adds. "Ten percent of the United States population lives along the Ohio River valley, from Pittsburgh south. It would have a huge impact."
Why is water so important? No living organism lives long without it. It is more essential than food. According to the survivalist "rule of threes," a person can go without air for three minutes, water for three days and food for three weeks. However, as livescience.com says, none of these are recommended for experimentation. When the body is deprived of any of these necessities, systems begin shutting down, and every system in the human body depends on water to carry out its functions.
In fact, the body is 60 percent water overall. Water keeps the eyes, nose, throat and joints moist. It transports nutrients and oxygen to cells and helps the organs absorb those nutrients. Blood is 83 percent water. Drinking enough water keeps the skin, which is the largest organ, hydrated (and younger looking). Even bones are 22 percent water.
During exercise, or movement for that matter, water regulates body temperature and hydrates joints and muscles (75 percent water) decreasing the risk of sprains and cramps. It flushes out toxins and the by-products of fat breakdowns from the organs. It reduces fatigue and hunger. It is a zero-calorie appetite suppressant that aids digestion and metabolism.
The brain is 90 percent water. Keeping a steady flow of water incoming allows the brain to process information better and be more alert. Dehydration can become apparent quickly in the form of a headache or migraine. Exercise, some health conditions (such as colds, vomiting, allergies) and pregnancy could deplete the fluids faster. If the body becomes 20 percent dehydrated, there is a risk of death.
Is there a difference between tap water and bottled water? Well, many bottled waters ARE some other place's tap water, so not really, unless the bottled water is mineral water such as Perrier or San Pellegrino. Large corporations like Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi will purchase tap water in bulk for less than what a water customer would pay; they re-filter it, bottle it and sell it for $9.50 per gallon via 20 ounce bottles at $1.49 each. There are 475 companies bottling 600 labels of water in the United States alone, and California consumes one-third of the bottled water market.
The bigger issue with bottled water is the bottles themselves. Plastic is recyclable but not biodegradable. In fact, researchers say that most of the first plastic ever produced is probably still on the planet somewhere and will remain so for about 700 years. Even in today's more eco-conscious society, an estimated 85 percent of plastic water bottles are thrown away and end up as 1.5 million tons of waste in landfills each year. This plastic is produced using 47 million gallons of oil per year. California's Pacific Institute determined that producing bottled water, from manufacturing bottles to keeping it in the refrigerator, takes approximately 2,000 times the energy used to produce tap water (which is what most bottled water is.)
In addition, studies have determined that using certain plastic bottles and drinking vessels could be harmful to one's health. These polycarbonate bottles leach a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) into the foods or beverages inside. BPA, used to harden plastic, is now the subject of widespread research, and concerns cover several areas: hormone disruption, brain, learning and behavior problems, heart issues, fertility problems, and prostate and breast cancer. The risks seem to be higher for infants and children, though most adults' bodies contain some level of BPA.
To determine what plastics are potentially harmful, read the recycle label, which is usually on the bottom of the bottle. If the triangle has numbers 3, 6 or 7, the bottle contains chemicals potentially hazardous to health. Bottles numbered 1, 2, 4 or 5 are much safer. Many reusable bottles are now BPA-free, as are stainless steel cups and bottles. Purchasing one of these is more eco-friendly and healthier as long as they are cleaned thoroughly between each use.
It doesn't look like much, but next to air, water is the most basic element to human life. At least 64 ounces (eight 8-ounce glasses) with meals and sipping throughout the day keeps the body running smoothly, feeling stronger and looking healthier.