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Awash in thoughts about the Great Lakes

I think about it every day when I take a shower. Have you ever noticed that the shower is a very convenient place for random reflections? While different topics do regularly stray into my mind as I soap and rinse, this is the location and the time during which my attention is perpetually focused on just one subject. Yes, I do also think about it at mealtimes and at certain other moments most days and evenings, but never with the same intensity that is evident during my showers.

The topic is water. The hot water is cascading over my head and shoulders, spilling down my torso and legs, and preparing me for the day ahead. Life is good.

Like most people, I take water for granted. Just turn on the spigot. It is necessary for washing, drinking, cooking, gardening, mixing and countless manufacturing processes; it is essential for life. Yet as Benjamin Franklin wisely observed: “You learn the value of water when the well runs dry.”

The wells ran dry in Southern California and parts of several other southwestern states recently. Water usage was curtailed. Furthermore, long-term drought has been predicted as a possibility with global warming. Those news developments prompted me to review my own laissez-faire attitude toward water and its importance and availability.

Several months ago I visited a friend in his home, right on the shore of Lake Erie, in Dunkirk. I walked across the backyard, away from the house a short distance toward the water, for a closer view. From where I stood I looked for obstructions in every direction, nearby trees or buildings. There were none in sight; there was no land to be seen across the water or in any direction with the exception of the shoreline of New York where I was standing. At that time there were no boats in the picture, either. It was at that moment that I belatedly realized that those of us who live in this part of the U.S. and Canada live on what amounts to an inland ocean.

I realize there are thousands who honor and enjoy the proximity and benefits of Lake Erie. More fish are caught from Lake Erie than from the other four Great Lakes combined—Ontario, Superior, Michigan and Huron. I read about the fish and those who catch them in occasional Sunday sports page articles. Others may not fish, but they are sailors or powerboat owners who thrive on the vast expanse of water. In addition to those active users of the lake, I salute the conservationists who organize to fend off threats from invaders like the Asian carp, the zebra mussel, the sea lamprey and others.

If you have relatives or friends in places like Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico or Southern California, they often wonder whether there will be enough water to supply future needs. There are brief periods when our farmers become anxious about getting adequate rain for their crops, but drought is one plague we don’t worry about.

The Great Lakes cover more than 95,000 square miles and contain some 6 quadrillion gallons, supposedly enough to cover all of North and South America in two feet of water. Eight states and Ontario border them, and together they compose the largest body of fresh water in the world. If I ever knew those facts, I had forgotten them.

After a shower, I usually take a drink of water. I get dressed, have breakfast, and in that relaxing time, I often think about topics of interest. One day I decided to pay homage to the Great Lakes, for myself and all the others who take the water for granted.

Dick Hirsch is a longtime contributor to the Opinion page.

6/12/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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