Water quality wisdom and our commitment for a greener and healthier world



Editor’s note: This series takes a deeper look at Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical On the Care for Our Common Home, “Laudato Si.’”

Did you know about 60% of our bodies are comprised of water, and there is only 3% freshwater on Earth? Without clean drinking water, we cannot survive. Polluted water can cause cancer, lead poisoning and many diseases. So why are our waterways and oceans being polluted? We urge you to take to heart Pope Francis’ wisdom in his Chapter 1: The Issue of Water. Our Mother Earth needs our help in stopping water unbalances, water shortages, and water pollution.

Water unbalances include above-average rainfall causing floods in some areas and below-average rainfall causing droughts in others. Water shortages include a depletion of groundwater; in some coastal areas, groundwater too salty to drink; and acidification in streams and springs from mining, making them lifeless and ruined. Water pollution in streams could include dumping trash, tires, carcasses and appliances; while in our oceans and on beaches, pollution by oil spills and contaminants, and red tides (harmful algal blooms). Even our emissions into the air produce acid rain.

Let’s talk about rain! During a rainstorm, rainwater washes contaminants from impervious surfaces (e.g., roofs, roads, parking lots) and directs water into drains. This prevents much of the water from penetrating into the ground and recharging groundwater. And if a city has a combined sewer system, there could be overcapacity causing raw sewage to enter a waterway. As water rises, it erodes banks, taking precious soil downstream.

Here are some ideas! Promote green infrastructure such as greenways, green spaces (parks), green roofs, wetlands, prairies, temperate forests and rainforests. These habitats maintain groundwater levels, reduce erosion, and capture carbon dioxide. If we maintain water balances and stop pollution, we can focus on purifying our water.

“As recently as 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency named the Ohio River as one of the country's most polluted. Industrial contaminants, including the “forever chemical” perfluorooctanoic acid, have been detected ….” (April Johnston, Nov. 15, 2019, in Energy and Environment, ‘That’s Vinegar’: The Ohio River’s History of Contamination and Progress). Nonetheless, municipalities along its course treat this water following the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), where USEPA sets legal limits for many contaminants. Other watchdogs of the Ohio River are the Army Corp of Engineers and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.

Additional water-treatment methods include wetlands and two-stage ditches. An excellent constructed wetland for wastewater treatment is the 27-acre wetland designed to remove combined sewage overflow water from Hawkins Creek (Washington, Indiana). An excellent two-stage ditch is Shatto Ditch (Kosciusko County, Indiana) which was built to reduce nutrient run-off into streams from farms. Groundwater protection in limestone areas may include limiting development, and “No Spray Zones” along roadways.

Overall, water is fascinating and life giving! Water can be a solid, liquid, or gas. Water is polar and cohesive, making it an excellent solvent with a high heat capacity and high heat of vaporization. And most importantly — it keeps us all healthy and alive! There’s never been a better time than now to use our water-quality wisdom to ensure a greener and healthier future!

What can you do?

Please consider the following:

Interesting Facts: Did you know “one adult saltwater oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day?” says Erin Koenig (22 Jan. 2018, In Oceanus - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Can Clams and Oysters Help Cleanup Waterways). Andrea Bennett reports (17 July 2014, In The EPA Blog, Our Friends, the Freshwater Mussels), “one adult freshwater mussel can filter up to 15 gallons of water per day. Mussels filter out pollution from our drinking-water sources. A 6-mile stretch of mussel beds can remove over 25 tons of particulates per year!” 

Deacon Tom Cervone, Ph.D. is an ecologist (St. Bonaventure University – Franciscan College); Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C. is a support sister on the Seton Harvest Farm started by the Daughters of Charity in response to the Communities - Care of Mother Earth. This CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm grows all natural produce for shareholders and the poor. Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. MS. is an award winning ELL teacher.