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Perspective: Water is life

Illinois watershed map, detail
Illinois State Water Survey
Illinois watershed map, detail

On my latest trip driving the back roads of northern Florida, I began wondering about the road signs announcing what watershed I was entering - Apalachicola, Chipola, Choctawhatchee -- Native American names for these areas of land and water.

The US Geological Survey defines a watershed as “an area that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet.” They form a layered network ranging from as small as a footprint, to river regions like the Fox and Kishwaukee, and up to the major ones like ours, the Upper Mississippi.

Watersheds are the source of our water for drinking, agriculture, and manufacturing. They create habitats for plants and animals. And they are severely polluted from runoff — industrial, rural, urban, individual. This is not just from farms, pastures, and mines, but from lawns, gardens, pet waste, driveway car washing. Water that runs into storm drains does not get treated; it flows straight into our creeks and rivers and beyond.

The watershed road signs put me in touch with this other transportation highway, and I began imagining the maps of where I was traveling in new ways — not just how many more miles to home, but how the intersecting terrain and waterways bring us our shared resources.

During the pipeline protests at Standing Rock, we heard “Mní wičhóni,” the Lakota phrase meaning “Water is life.” The watershed moment is here and now.

I’m Paula Garrett and that’s my perspective.

Paula Garrett is a transplanted Southerner and a former WNIJ Blues host. She's passionate about music, travel, research, open water swimming and film.