Published July 1968 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
From the Office of United States Senator Robert C. Byrd 105 Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 Volume VIII - Number 28 July 12, 1968 A Byrd's Eye View A Public Service Column By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd WATER FACTS Nearly every Summer some major metropolis in our country seems to experience a water shortage. These shortages, which grab So much public attention, might lead one to believe that the world is "running out" of water. The truth is, however, that there is as much water now as ever. In fact, the world possesses far more water than man might ever hope to need. The difficulty is that most of it is not directly usable and much of what is usable is grievously misused by man. About 97.2 percent of all the world's water is salty and in the ocean, and another 2.15 percent is frozen in the world's ice caps and glaciers. So, unbelievable as it seems, only less than one percent of the world's water is left for man to use. What fresh water does exist results from one of nature's most taken-for-granted wonders--rain. The heat of the sun evaporates water vapor from the ocean and other water bodies. This vapor is borne by the winds until it eventually falls back to earth in the form of rain or snow. Man taps the world's fresh water by drilling wells or by directly Siphoning off what he needs from rivers, lakes, and streams. This would cause little difficulty if man returned the water as pure as he found it. But such is rarely the case, And every time a stream or lake is polluted it is that much more difficult for nature to perform its miracle of returning the water to its pristine purity. Disregarding the relatively obvious problems of industrial and urban waste disposal, consider some of these more complex water misuse situations. --Scientists have just about given up on saving Lake Erie. Relentless pollution has "strangled" this relatively shallow Lake. Processes which, in a state of nature, might have taken hundreds of thousands of years have been so speeded up that it may only be a relatively few years until this once magnificent lake becomes a boggy swamp. --Atomic energy power plants require vast amounts of water to cool their atomic piles. This water is often discharged downstream, steaming hot, killing fish and other forms of water life for many miles. And even when pollutants are not poured directly into the waters, men may do harm by upsetting the balance of nature. --When abandoned coal mines fill with water seeping in from the mountain above, the water table in the surrounding hills is often lowered grievously, sometimes causing wells that have run full for years to mysteriously dry up. --Or consider the case of Lake Michigan which recently was plagued by millions of dead alewives, small trash fish, floating on its surface. Why did this "fish kill" occur? Because, when the Welland Canal around Niagara Falls was constructed many years ago, lamprey eels were able, for the first time, to come into the Great Lakes. The eels killed off many of the lake trout$ the alewives! natural predator. With fewer trout, the alewives multiplied. Only recently has an eel extermination program begun to make headway, with the resultant increase in trout and decrease in dead alewives. All of these examples are but a long way of presenting a short point: To preserve the treasure of our world's fresh waters, man must be ever vigilant against pollution as well as against disruption of nature's system of checks and balances.