Water is life. Literally.

Water is life.  Literally.

Up to 60 percent of the human adult body is water. The brain and heart are composed of 73 percent water and the lungs are about 83 percent water, says H.H. Mitchell in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. For good health, experts recommend drinking 2 quarts – about eight glasses – of water each day.

The average American family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home, according to a report published Feb. 5, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Roughly 70 percent of this use occurs indoors.

“In this part of Indiana, we are really blessed with an abundant water supply,” said Kendallville Water Superintendent Scott Mosely. “We can pretty much drill anywhere and get water.”

Some may take fresh, clean tap water for granted. They wouldn’t if they lived in South Africa. On Feb. 13, Cape Town, South Africa’s water crisis was declared a national disaster. A three-year drought has dropped the water level behind the Voelvlei Dam to dangerously low levels. Water restrictions have been enacted. Tuesday it was announced that “Day Zero,” when taps would be turned off by the city utility, will not occur this year.

“Water is the most valuable commodity in the world,” said George Pifer, a member of the Steuben Lakes Regional Waste District. “People invest in it, some communities have to buy it from other communities or companies to survive, and historically, wars have been fought over it. Empires have collapsed because they lost their source of water.”

Water rich

Northern Indiana is rich in available groundwater, according to a 2014 report by the Indiana Chamber, an organization formed in 1922 to cultivate an environment for prosperity in Indiana. A map of generalized groundwater availability shows a big wet spot on LaGrange, where a majority of the land can produce more than 1,000 gallons of fresh water a minute.

“We normally drill deep so that we are drawing from aquifers much deeper than households and farmers are drawing from,” said Mosley. “We have nine production wells in Kendallville and get 100 percent of our water from these wells.”

While Indiana currently has abundant supplies compared too many areas of the country, the state ranks first in the United States in the percentage of its economy that depends on water.

“Proper management and a long-term plan are needed to ensure adequate fresh water for citizens and businesses in the future,” says the Indiana Chamber report.

It has a break down by county of water usage as provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. In Steuben County, irrigation and public use seem to be the biggest drain. Noble is also heavy on irrigation. DeKalb’s water use features more industry. The resource maps can be viewed at indianachamber.com.

“Our city uses about 1 million gallons a day and we are capable of pumping nearly 7 million gallons per day,” said Mosley. “This demonstrates to our community that we can invite new industry in and be able to meet their water demands and the demands of the fire suppression systems required.”

Mosley said Kendallville residents are frugal with their water so that limitations do not have to be set.

The EPA estimates standard shower heads use 2.5 gallons of water per minute. According to a “water footprint calculator” made available online by the Grace Communications Foundation, the shower is the second most draining household feature following the toilet, which uses an average of 33 gallons of water a day.

“We monitor customers’ usage and send them a letter if we suspect a leak, based on their history. When we discover an underground leak, we quickly repair it to help with water loss,” Mosley said. “We also have a water waste ordinance encouraging businesses and residents to make sure the water is being used and not being wasted. In addition, we monitor our aquifer levels every month to make sure they remain robust and are not being over pumped. Even in drought years, we have not seen any legitimate losses in aquifer capacity.”

Responsible stewardship

The water belongs to everybody, and that means everybody has a responsibility to protect and share it.

“As you know, water is a resource that is part of a cycle. It is never really consumed,” said Mosley. “It is recycled as it is used and discarded to a sewer or septic system. It is then filtered by natural means or mechanical means and is returned to the environment. This happens much faster in a municipal system since the water goes to a wastewater plant, is cleaned up and returned to the environment to a state that is nearly drinkable. Some cities put it right back into production after it is treated.”

In this area, wastewater generally is pumped into a lake or river after it is treated to an EPA-approved quality, where nature can finish the process.

“Orange County, California recycles all their waste water and uses it again for drinking. This is the only way they can survive, economically,” said Pifer. “The SLRWD also recycles all the wastewater we collect from the 5,000 residences in the lake area in the western part of the county. Dangerous bacteria, which causes disease and illnesses, is removed from the water to make it safe for reuse. Some people complain about having to pay sewer bills, but they should view it as an investment to preserve our quality of life. Can you image having to worry about whether your water is safe to drink, as so many people in the world do even today?”

Mosley said the biggest challenge of operating the water department is to protect the aquifers from pollution.

“The state has all water systems on a strict testing regiment to monitor what has made its way to the aquifers,” Mosley said. “The fewer contaminants that get spilled or dumped in our lakes, rivers and ground, the better chance that it will not find its way to our aquifers.”

Northeastern Indiana has such good clay layers in the soils, contaminants get caught there and nature takes care of it through dilution, bacteria ingestion and a host of other natural processes, he said.

The Indiana Lakes Management Society promotes the understanding and comprehensive management of Indiana lakes, reservoirs and watershed ecosystems. Incorporated in 1991 and based in Angola, the organization held its annual conference this past week at Pokagon State Park. Among those receiving statewide awards Thursday were the Steuben County Lakes Council, a 44-year-old environmental organization dedicated to protecting the county’s lakes and streams, and SCLC member Pete Hippensteel, a retired Tri-State University professor.

Hippensteel published a book recounting 200 years of change in the lakes from 1816-2016. It says challenges include “man’s many interactions with the lake environment.” The book shows the evolution of the area from dense forests met by early settlers to dams and dredging, drainage to create farmland, development, tourism, establishment of legal protections and residential encroachment.

“I hope this record of our past impacts on the lakes helps us better understand our valuable lake resources,” says Hippensteel in the preface.

 

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