So Friday, we experienced a water main break, again. It happened again in our very suburban, very nice area of Albany County. I went down to talk with the crew fixing the infrastructure and was told by a very hard-working member of the crew (CSEA) that the average infrastructure for the town water system is over 50 years old and needs major replacement. It got me thinking about water and the first world problems associated with falling infrastructure.
From a historical perspective, civilization started near water valleys in the Indus, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Huang He and in Central America. The Mississippi, Missouri, Hudson-Mohawk, and the Susquehanna river valleys of North America, as well as the Five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence have become a major route for transportation and farming. The Rio Grande and Colorado rivers in the West have been home to major native cultures throughout history.
Water is critical for transportation, potable drinking, farming, and food harvesting for fisheries. Humans need water. Humans have used water for manufacturing, and cooling, and power. The Niagara Falls Hydro power project generates renewable energy that is clean. The Erie Canal, the Ohio River Valley, and the Mississippi have all supported floating goods to market. In Europe, the Hanseatic League created a network of trading cities which were linked by the Baltic Sea. The rivers in Europe created a network for cities to communicate and trade along these routes. Benjamin (Overview Press) looked at the history of the Hudson Valley. It is a phenomenal book that looks at the Revolution to Civil War period.
The ancient Roman Empire engineered a system to carry water from the hills and rivers to the cities of the empire to support the fountains, the drinking needs, and sanitation needs of the metros of the time period. The system of aqueducts still stand across Europe as a testament of the engineering abilities of the empire back in that era. Before Rome, Petra in the middle east transported water across the town. After Rome, the Middle Ages saw the sewers become a critical area of collecting the raw materials for gunpowder. Additionally, urine was collected to treat wool. As cities grew, and sanitation became an issue as it became a source of disease. Cholera and typhoid became a major hazard to city dwellers. Residents in cities wanted clean water supplies. Dr. John Snow (https://www1.udel.edu/johnmack/frec682/cholera/) mapped Cholera in London. This example of a primary source document is useful for teachers who want to help explain the significance of water to a city.
Today, water is key to manufacturing. It needs to be clean, and it must meet the needs for companies creating products as far-ranging as sports drinks, wrenches, and energy. Manufacturing used water from rivers to power flour mills, weaving mills, and metal work. Troy NY’s Burden Iron Works-key to the northern victory in the Civil War was powered by the water from creeks and the Hudson River. The Erie Canal made cities in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Remington Arms located along the Mohawk River.
While the water was out in my neighborhood, and it was an inconvenience, it wasn’t devastating. We had bottled water from the supermarket, and we still had a toilet. Our water is clean, and usually runs from the tap on command. We don’t need to walk miles to get water like people in Africa. We aren’t subjected to repeated Typhoid epidemics, and we don’t suffer from drought like is currently affecting large areas of the world. We are pretty blessed. We do however, suffer from failing infrastructure. And it really does need to be replaced. We lose too much potable water in aging infrastructure. We as a nation also need to look at returning to wise use of water to generate more power, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Wave and river based power supplies should have enough energy to power cities and suburbs. We also need to look at the oceans and lakes as treasures and not dumping grounds. The Hudson Valley River keepers organized a river clean up day that was super successful. I would like to encourage all scouts who are thinking about an Eagle Project to prioritize lakes, ponds, rivers and streams in their areas. If you have completed your Eagle, or are in Venturing, your Summit Service project would be ideal. Additionally, you can earn the William T Hornaday award for Environmental Service as a unit, youth, and adult. Water quality is so important, not only in the Northeast where we are blessed with water, but everywhere. Water politics will probably be the next major conflict in the world. (Feldman, 2017).