The miraculous cycle of water

Miracles. Do they happen? Many people believe that miracles are real. They may even lean upon them as one of the foundations of their belief system. Others, like myself, tend to align with the camp that says if something is truly unexplainable, the mystery lies in our knowledge base, not in the supernatural.
That said, I remain in awe of the seemingly miraculous power of one of our simplest and most common substances-water. Water could be considered the “miracle” which makes everything possible. Water is what differentiates our planet from the billions of sterile rocks eternally spinning through the voids of the uncharted and unknown universe.
Life on Earth goes back three and a half billion years. For all of that time water has been the mother liquid, or at least an integral part of the cycle of life. As we have evolved, humans, as well as plants and animals, must have a regular allotment of water to sustain our very existence.
In Iowa, Mother Nature is kind to us. We receive about three feet of precipitation each year. This amounts to 628 million gallons of water for each man, woman, and child in the state. That should be plenty. It’s all free. It just falls from the sky. Pure clean useable water. Talk about a miracle.
So how do we use and take care of this wonderful bounty that is provided to us? For the most part, we do everything we can to despoil the water and even allow it to wreak havoc on much of the rest of our environment.
Water falls on our fields, lawns, and forests to sustain the life of the plants and crops for which the state is famous. However we allow a significant portion to run off carrying silt, nutrients, animal wastes and all sorts of obnoxious materials into our streams and lakes.
Water comes into our homes clean and pure and leaves carrying everything we just as soon not even think about.
Water in our lakes and rivers is the source of much recreational enjoyment. The pure pleasure felt in being on, near, or in crystal clear water can be quickly destroyed by trash floating by or lodged on the shore. A nutrient induced algae boom can render the water resource useless for the rest of the recreational season.
Water is used for transportation for our grain and other products. It is used to generate power and to cool the machines in our industries and power plants. Every time we touch or use water we degrade it in some way.
In spite of everything bad we do, Mother Nature provides. The miraculous cycle of evaporation and precipitation continues to supply us with our allotment of clean and pure precipitation. If only it could go on forever. But we can only send our problems downstream so long without beginning to suffer permanent adverse consequences including loss of our precious topsoil, an expanding dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and increased difficulty in providing a water supply that is safe to drink.
If we don’t take care of our water, it won’t take care of us. A resource that seems so plentiful and free is being taken for granted. Without widespread recognition of the problems and development of a sustainable water ethic, it will take a real miracle for us to maintain our existence on this planet.

Muscatine Journal Column 6/21/14