Monday, December 6, 2010

By the Waters

By: Dana Swanson

Water flows over these hands.
May I use them skillfully
To preserve our precious planet.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Aluminum foil, food coloring, and a spray bottle of water – not your usual Sunday School class. Using these materials, I joined youth from Ballard First Lutheran Church to construct Watershed Models, exploring the role of water in our daily lives.

We’re pretty familiar with water here in the Pacific Northwest, as it cascades down from the heavens quite frequently. On average, Americans use 80 to 100 gallons of water each day. We don’t just use water for drinking – we use it for washing our hands and vegetables, bathing, cooling, watering plants and crops, recreation, and waste disposal. Although water may seem in abundance to us, unfortunately many do not have access to clean water. As part of the Watershed activity, the Sunday School youth and I explored what happens when the water supply is contaminated.

First, we created a terrain with paper cups to resemble the natural landscape, leaving a flat place at the far end to simulate a lake at the bottom of the watershed. After securing the foil around the edges of the pan, blue food coloring was placed atop the highest “mountain.” One of the students used a spray bottle to mimic rain on the watershed at the highest point, simulating the headwaters of the river system. The blue “waters” spilled down the mountains, shooting out tributaries as it made its way to the lake.

Next, we placed a few drops of yellow food coloring in the “mountains” to represent pollution. The deep blue waters promptly became contaminated by the yellow, turning a vibrant shade of green. Realizing how the pollution had tainted the watershed, we talked about the impacts of pollution on our water supply. Fertilizers and other chemicals we use create runoff, acting as the yellow dye impacting the water supply.

Water is a wondrous gift of creation, one that should be respected and honored. In the Bible, water represents the essence of life, without which there could be no life. Fortunately, simple adjustments to your daily routine will conserve water, like turning off the water while you’re washing your hands or brushing your teeth. Install low-flow shower heads and toilets to conserve water. Use rain barrels to capture runoff from your roof and use them to water your garden. Be a more mindful steward of creation - think about where your water came from and where it goes once it leaves your house.

In addition to making changes in your personal life, you have a chance to support clean water throughout the 2011 Washington State Legislative Session. Two of the Environmental Priorities endorsed by Earth Ministry deal with water. The 2011 Clean Water Act is about creating jobs, rebuilding our local economy, and cleaning up polluted waterways like Puget Sound and the Spokane River. The Freshwater Pollution Control Act is a common-sense, cost-effective approach to reducing phosphorus in waterways by restricting the sale of phosphorus lawn fertilizer - a great way to keep yellow dye and pollution from damaging our watersheds. Learn more about the priorities here.

Next time you’re caught in a downpour without an umbrella, consider how the heavy droplets are a blessing, trickling down from the heavens to renew us and bring us life.

The Watershed Model Construction activity, as well as other activities and musings on the theme of water, can be found in Caring For All Creation: By the Waters, available from the Earth Ministry online store.

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