A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. (Genesis 2:10, NIV)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22:1-2, NIV)
The story this past weekend of the City of Toledo losing its water supply for a half million residents caught my attention. Not only is this a city in my home state but I lived there for four years. Had this occurred at that time, we would have been among those searching for potable drinking water. We still have friends in the area.
Ironically, before I knew of this breaking story, I posted another of my posts on growing up in working class Youngstown, this one on the Mahoning River. Like Youngstown, a river runs through it, in this case the Maumee, which originates in northeast Indiana, flowing northeast through rural agricultural lands until it reaches Toledo and Lake Erie. It empties into the western end of the lake, into a part of the lake that is shallow.
The Maumee is not an industrial river in the same sense as the Mahoning. What is more significant is that the river and its tributaries drains the rich agricultural land of northwest Ohio and most of those studying the algae blooms in Lake Erie attribute these to the runoffs of phosphorus from these lands that under the right conditions of heat and stagnation provide the nutrients for these toxic algal blooms.
What both rivers have in common besides the letter M and that they run through Ohio is that the flow of wastes that have deleterious effects have been known about for some time but the industries (whether steel or agriculture) that produce them have enjoyed a protected status. Neither has had real accountability for the chemicals flowing into our water supplies and the impact of these chemicals on aquatic ecosystems.
These two rivers represent two of the great watersheds in our country–the Great Lakes system in the case of the Maumee, and the Mississippi watershed in the case of the Mahoning River. While politicians and others debate about climate change, one thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that we cannot take our water resources for granted, as those in the southwest can attest.
People have been settling along rivers since the garden of Eden as the biblical quotes above suggest. The picture of the new Jerusalem, the city of God come down on earth has a beautiful, clear river running through it that results in flourishing agriculture and healing. Clean, healthy rivers are essential for both agriculture and city life and it seems that both town and country are obligated to attend to the health of our rivers. They nourish crops, provide drinking water, serve for transport, handle waste and recycle it into the environment, and provide wonderful gathering places like the San Antonio Riverwalk, the Scioto Mile in our city, the flats in Cleveland to name just a few. When we lived in Toledo, we could look out our screened in back porch onto the Maumee and often took walks along it.
We are all responsible for the health of our rivers. How I use chemical fertilizers on my lawn and wash my car are just as important as the practices of farmers and feed lot owners or manufacturers. Taking measures to prevent runoff into our sewer systems which ends up in our rivers, and putting nothing toxic into our water supplies (including outdated pills) is all a part of it. Drinking Toledo’s water during the ban could literally kill you, or at least make you very sick. How we care for our rivers and water supplies is literally a matter of life or death, and one that involves every one of us as citizens.