Don't take clean water for granted

More than a dozen area agencies, municipalities and non-profits are asking people to imagine a day without water. Join the Value of Water Coalition as it raises awareness about our most precious resource during the Imagine A Day Without Water initiative on September 15.

Water faucet
Can you imagine a day without water?

Let’s be honest, our water infrastructure is something most of us never think about. We take it for granted that we can turn the tap and fill a glass, make coffee or give the dog a drink. We shower, fish, swim, eat fresh fruit and vegetables, flush our toilets and rely on fire hydrants without ever thinking about how the water gets to where it needs to be. Or what we might do if our water were to become unusable.

Our water and wastewater systems are underground, out of sight and out of mind. But they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, to bring clean, safe water to us and take it away for treatment after we use it, safely releasing it back into the environment. Unlike the potholed roads you see on your daily commute, these systems – many of which were built for the America of a century ago – don’t show their age as easily. But the crisis in Flint, Michigan showed how devastating a broken water system can be. And though it was the most publicized there are communities across the country struggling with their water systems. New Orleans’ residents routinely have “boil water advisories.” In the last year, residents from South Carolina to West Virginia lost water and wastewater service because of terrible flooding. And communities in the Central Valley of California have literally relocated residents because their wells have run dry due to an epic drought. These communities know that a day without water is a crisis.

The Madison area is lucky enough to have a safe and abundant water supply and an active community working to protect it, but the reality is that we are not immune to changes in our climate or the deterioration of our water and wastewater systems. Just as the systems which bring and take away our water are invisible, so too are many of the efforts that our municipalities, utilities and citizen groups are undertaking to promote water sustainability. Madison Water Utility’s Toilet Rebate Program saved over 500 million gallons of water. Water conservation measures are paying off – last year, the Utility pumped less water than it has since 1968. The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District reclaims 40-million gallons of clean water each day and has installed a phosphorus harvesting system to remove, pelletize and export phosphorus. Through the Yahara WINs project, local homeowners, farmers, treatment plants and municipalities are working together to reduce phosphorus pollution in our lakes and streams. The WISaltWise Partnership is working to minimize salt in our freshwater streams, lakes and drinking water. Dane County added a Clean Beach System at Mendota County Park, and through the Dane County Watershed Network, develops and strengthens strategic partnerships among organizations to complete projects, hold events, develop policies, and take other actions that improve water quality and habitat. The Capital Area Regional Planning Commission updates the Dane County Water Quality Plan and collaborates with communities on its implementation. The Clean Lakes Alliance develops an annual State of the Lakes Report bringing attention to the water quality of the lakes. The Madison Area Municipal Stormwater Partnership works with homeowners and organizations on practices to reduce and improve quality of stormwater runoff. Even the Henry Vilas Zoo is in on the act with a state-of-the-art system in the Arctic Passage Exhibit which filters and recycles the water for the Polar Bear’s pool – saving 2-million gallons of water each year.
Our utilities, officials and citizen groups recognize that protecting our water is something that we all need to work on together because water is not replaceable—there is only one water which cycles through all aspects of our life and world. What we choose to do to protect it now will determine what remains for future generations. In the spring we will celebrate the United Nation’s World Water Day with activities throughout Dane County to inform and help residents take action. But for this one day, a day when organizations across the country are participating in the Imagine a Day Without Water campaign, we ask only that you stop and consider how important this precious resource is in every aspect of your life and appreciate that, for now, we do not have to worry about the safety or security of our water and wastewater systems.

Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District
Madison Water Utility
Madison Fire Department
Public Health Madison & Dane County
Yahara WINS
Dane County Land and Water Resources
Madison Area Municipal Stormwater Partnership
Dane County Office of Lakes and Watersheds
Capital Area Regional Planning Commission
Friends of the Capital Springs Recreation Area
Clean Lakes Alliance
Friends of Lake Wingra
Town of Westport
Village of Cottage Grove
City of Madison
City of Middleton
Wisconsin Section of the American Water Works Association
Initiative participants