Before that drop of water dripped through the filter heaped with finely ground Costa Rican beans and into your hot cup of morning awakening, it was already older than time. It had rested deep underground, lodged between two small rocks, for who knows how many centuries until a pump ran one day and drew it out of its peaceful slumber. You might fault the drop for laziness, having spent so many years hidden away, but the truth is that it deserved the rest. Before it reached the soil and trickled down, down, down, every so slowly though layers of rock and soil, it had catapulted out of a cloud, splattered abruptly onto the waxy leaf of a outspread bur oak, cascaded down the tree’s rippling bark and tumbled into the welcoming embrace of a thirsty smooth blue aster.
Before your lips pressed gently to the edge of the mug, that drop of water quenched the thirst of countless people and animals before you. In its lifetime, it rode the gulf-stream currents, sat shivering in a glacier and rafted the Amazon River. It survived through droughts and floods and dreary ice ages too. Long, long ago, a dinosaur bent down and took a sip of that water.
The water that we have on earth today is the same water that rained down onto the planet 3.8 billion years ago when the volcanoes finally stopped erupting and the atmosphere cooled below 212º F. For all practical purposes, no new water is ever created and no old water ever disappears. That said, the availability of water and its usefulness to humans are constantly in flux.
When you take the 233.3 billion liters of water thought to exist in the world and subtract out the 97% that’s laden with salt, 2.4% that’s frozen in the North and South Poles and 0.597% that is trapped in soil or too far underground to access, you find that only 0.003% of all water on earth is actually available to us for drinking. This includes all the freshwater rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands in the world, as well as groundwater aquifers too. Because freshwater is so precious, we make the effort to protect it.
Last year, the City of Forest Lake worked with Comfort-Lake Forest Lake Watershed District and the non-profit Great River Greening to install four large raingardens on dead-end streets leading to Forest Lake. Designed to capture and clean polluted runoff from the roadways, the raingardens also help to reduce erosion along the lake’s edge by slowing runoff water and soaking it into the ground before it can wash away the shoreline.
It seems a bitter fate for the water, only recently freed from the storm clouds, to be captured so efficiently on a literal dead-end street. For water, though, there is never an end, only change and new beginnings. After entering the raingardens, some water evaporates into the air, some is taken up by the roots of the plants, and some percolates down into the soil. Underground, it is up to each drop to decide if it will continue its travel to the lake or seep deeper into the earth. Either way, it will thank the raingarden for ridding it of pollutants.
Before you sipped, breathed a sigh, and began your daily work, that water drop in your cup traveled a billion years and a million miles. It was passed down from generation to generation by the people who lived before us. Raingardens in Forest Lake are just one of the ways we can ensure this gift keeps giving. Visit www.mnwcd.org/cleanwater, www.BlueThumb.org, or www.cleanwatermn.org to learn more about what you can do.