We Are Fueled by Water

Mt Rogers Creek II
Image by fred1st via Flickr

Technically, water is not a fuel in the same way that petroleum and coal are fuels. The latter substances are so valuable to our way of life that we put prices on them–dollar amounts that are destined to rise as the fixed stock of them dwindles and as the extraction and other externalized costs inevitably climb. Water, on the other hand, we see as an entitlement from our “commons” and put little or no value on it.

We don’t extract energy from water (although that possibility looms ever in the fantasy realms of possibilities). But with regard to its importance to global plant and animal existence, water is the elixir of life. We can live, as humanity did for thousands of years, without petrol in our lives, but not more than days without water.

We may persist as an organized, tool-using species long enough to find replacement energy sources, but there will be no substitute for water. Where water goes, food follows. Where food goes, human health and the stability of nations follow. Securing the future of water will, in the end, be more crucial to the survival of nations than squeezing the last drops of fossil fuels out of the last deep, depleted wells.

I was thinking about this the other day as I drove through the strip mall-shopping center district in the new county during a hard rain storm. Scores of acres of asphalt channeled hundreds of thousands of gallons of a sporadic and all-too-rare storm running into ditches, culverts, creeks and the New River, away from possible storage in soils and aquifers where it would otherwise percolate. We have to do better regarding water as a limited and precious resource, especially in Floyd County where our water storage is limited and its susceptibility to contamination is high.

Such are my ruminations of late, attempting to bring myself face to face with the hard truths of our present. If you don’t know exactly where you are, you’ll have a hard time charting a course to a place you want to be. If we allow ourselves to be deceived–by our own myopia or wrong ideas others plant in our thinking for their own purposes–then we’ll take  wrong turns, wait too long to act, or head for destinations that will turn out to be dangerous dead ends.

More at The Big Thirst at Fast Company and the Food-Water Bubble at Lester Brown’s Plan B.

“If consumers could reuse gasoline over and over again, the infrastructure and technology would be built to achieve this, because gasoline is a valued fuel. Like oil and its refined products, water is a fuel. It fuels our bodies, our businesses, our food sources and industries. But unlike oil and gas, there are no alternative fuels to water; therefore we must make the most of every drop.” Water Is A Fuel With No Alternatives | Fast Company

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I know Floyd County can count on you to keep pointing out this issue time and time again. It’s a crucial function to fill, this job of communicator. Keep it up, and don’t get discouraged.

  2. Water is so important! Speaking of potentially compromising the quality of water…..
    Fred, have you heard about the potential lifting of the uranium moratorium in VA? I saw that Floyd County officially banned uranium mining in the county. I’d be interested in getting your take on this issue and what people in Floyd are saying/doing with regard to it.