Water is precious gift that must not be squandered

Not long ago I stopped at a nearby convenience store to purchase a gallon of water. I had discovered that the church building at which our meeting was scheduled was dealing with serious water problems, rusty pipes and possible contamination that could impact human health.

The bottle of spring water I purchased cost more than a gallon of gasoline. Years ago, someone predicted water would, one day, cost more than gasoline. I didn’t believe it.

Later that evening, I sat down with a friend who poured me a glass of mineral water. It was imported from Mexico. The price was visible on the label: $1.99 for a 12-ounce bottle.

In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan we are surrounded by water. We take it for granted. That’s a mistake. A serious one. Here’s the reason.

Ninety-seven percent of all water is salt water found in our oceans. Of the fresh water on the planet, less than 1 percent is drinkable. Most fresh water is actually locked up in glaciers, much of the rest is polluted, needing extensive treatment before it can be consumed.

Now here’s the interesting, disturbing part. Real cost of drinkable water is “hidden” because it is subsidized by municipalities and the taxes we pay to federal and state governments. Few of us are aware that the actual water we drink costs at least 10 times the amount I paid for that gallon of spring water at one of our local convenience stores. This invite a shudders, and also a bow of reverence from all of us.

There’s a growing movement going on around the world to privatize water, to sell it on an open market. Forget Bitcoin, water is being held up as the new “gold.” Billions of dollars are to be made for a few corporate executives, their stockholders, and a crowd of entrepreneurs. Should we, as a community, and as private citizens, allow this to happen? Do we have an obligation to advocate for “a common good, a “public trust” that allows people from all walks of life access to clean water?

A few weeks ago, I slipped into a back pew of a Roman Catholic Cathedral in St. Louis. A magnificent example of gothic architecture and stained glass, it’s located in the heart of the city. The 5 P.M. Mass was just beginning. In front of me sat what appeared to be a homeless man. On my left was a tattooed 30 something. In other parts of the sanctuary were what appeared examples of the city’s upper class. We were all together, shoulder to shoulder, side by side.

To enter a sanctuary, no tickets are sold, no identification requested. Surrounded by candles, symbols and prayers, we come, each in our own way, to find a measure of restoration, healing, and hope.

In similar fashion, should we deny, for the sake of the marketplace, access to the most precious of our planet’s gifts? Water (H20) is the essential nutrient. It is the earth’s sacrament. Water sets our world aside as a “blue marble” among planets. Vital for human, animal, and plant life, we can’t live but days without it. Clean water is absolutely critical for the survival of each of us.

Access to and protection of clean water is a moral issue. It’s a matter of social justice. Faith-based communities are beginning to join together to affirm this. It means monitoring our neighborhoods, making sure environmental standards and regulations are fiercely enforced, watersheds protected.

Those of us who live here in the Great Lakes Basin are aware we are sometimes known as “The Lake People.” This is time, like never before, to do some soul-searching and truth-telling. To join together to protect the creation’s most elemental, sacred gift.

NOTE: Our community is invited to hear diverse voices speak to this issue. The Interfaith Northern Great Lakes Stewards, now in its third year of its environmental initiative, is gathering for an evening of thanksgiving.

Our spring theme is “The Gift of Water: Mining, Economy, and the Environment.” On Friday, representatives from the Menominee Indian Nation of Wisconsin join community activists to address the proposed Back Forty Mine on the Menominee River. On May 24, representatives from Aquila Resources and the Eagle Mine have been invited to address efforts to protect and preserve our water resources. Both events will be held Friday evenings, 7 P.M. at Messiah Lutheran Church, 305 W Magnetic St., Marquette.

Editor’s note: The Rev. Jon Magnuson is a member of the Cedar Tree Institute.