Freshwater Futures

Jill RyanExecutive Director of Freshwater Futures, Jill Ryan, brought up key environmental concerns during the Environmental Concerns Speaker Series on February 13th, 2023. Freshwater Futures was started around 33 years ago, focusing on the sustainability of water that exists in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are a series of five interconnected freshwater lakes in the mid-east region of North America. They are vital, because they hold 21% of the Earth’s fresh water, and 84% of the country’s fresh water. The Great Lakes serve over 2000 communities, supplying drinking water for over 42 million people. However recently, there have been concerns surrounding drinking water in the surrounding area, and even nationwide. In this presentation, executive director of Freshwater Futures, Jill Ryan, brought up key environmental concerns.

The Great Lakes has had a consistent cycle, where the lake levels fluctuate between high levels and low levels during a 30 year period Recently though, this cycle has escalated to a three-year cycle due to climate change. While the consequences of this changed high-low cycle are unknown, Ryan said we should be mindful of climate change affecting these natural cycles. In addition, the Great Lakes are slowly losing water due to climate change and other forms of human interference. Warmer temperatures due to climate change results in the lakes being frozen for a shorter period of time in the winter. This in turn increases the amount of water evaporated, because water evaporates from the lakes when they are not frozen. Climate change and other types of human interference have made these historically balanced systems unpredictable.

Recently water prices have gone up. From 2010 to 2015, the average nationwide price for water rose from $127 a month to $169 a month. This has led to an estimated 41 million households nationwide to struggle with water payments. The main reason for this increase in water prices is the need to upgrade outdated infrastructure that contaminates our drinking water with lead and other toxins. According to Ryan, “No level of lead is safe”. There are currently 6-10 million lead lines that need to be replaced. Cost saving measures are being tested, such as by water analytics company, Blue Conduit. Blue Conduit uses machine learning to estimate where most of the lead pipes are to more closely pinpoint where cities should work on pipes.
In addition to lead, there are possibly many other contaminants in tap water across the country. For more information, you can visit the link below that lists contaminants in water by zip code.


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