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Stewardship vital to clean waterways

When you look at all the water on Earth, you assume there’s plenty of it.

And there is — unless you’re talking about water that is fit for human consumption.

Worldwide, most of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, but most of that is saline. In fact, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey, 96.5 percent of the world’s water — 321 billion cibic miles of it — is salt water. Another nearly 1 percent of saline is underground and in lakes.

Freshwater, the kind that humans can drink, accounts for a whopping 2.5 percent, but even that is misleading. More than two-thirds of freshwater — 5.7 billion cubic miles, or 68.6 percent of the total — is locked up in glaciers, ice caps and permanent frost. Another 30 percent — 5.6 billion cubic miles — is underground, such as our aquifers here in south Georgia.

When you deduct atmospheric water and biological water (hey, we’re all 75 percent H2O), you end up with about 22,300 cubic miles of freshwater, about 0.007 percent of all the water in the world, in lakes and streams where most of the human population gets its drinking water.

And that’s why stewardship of our lakes and streams is so vitally important, and the reason we should jealously guard this resource that is necessary for life, and a great deal more fragile than any of us would like to believe.

An example of what people are doing to keep our rivers, lakes and streams clear of debris and pollution is the cleanup that MillerCoors, a major employer here, and the Flint RiverKeeper engaged in Friday. MillerCoors has a vested interest in clean water for the products it produces, and its involvement was an example of good corporate citizenship.

“Our quality of life really depends on water,” Gordon Rogers, executive director of the Flint RiverKeeper, said Friday. “Without clean water, our natural habitats die, our food chain collapses and we as humans would struggle to survive. So it is very vital.”

This isn’t the only effort along these lines. Last October, volunteers scoured waterways and banks in the seventh annual Rivers Alive event that was headed up locally by Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful. Volunteers rounded up a dozen tires and other debris before 9 a.m. that Saturday.

“I don’t know why people throw their trash in the water,” KADB Director Judy Bowles said at the time. “I think they think that once it is in the water it is gone, but it isn’t. It turns up again, and we all live downstream.”

This is something that we all need to take seriously. What people upstream from us do affects us, and anything we do to the rivers and creeks here affects those downstream from us. Being good stewards is also being good neighbors.

To show how important these projects are, MillerCoors CEO Tom Long came down from Chicago on Friday to participate. “I’m proud to be part of a corporate family that realizes the importance of keeping our natural resources pristine,” Jones said. “You have a beautiful river here in South Georgia, and MillerCoors is committed to helping keep it that way.”

That is a sentiment we wholeheartedly endorse.

Participating in these types of events not only does immediate good for the environment, it exhibits the kind of behavior on individual, organizational and corporate levels to which we should all aspire.