Jenny Howell is the water wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society. (Photo submitted)

DOWN TO EARTH: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

Let’s start from the fact that having clean air to breathe and safe water to drink is essential

By Jenny Howell

Special to the Tribune

We have now managed over six months of loss and change. Lost future plans, jobs, income, health, gatherings, celebrations, education, career launches, jobs … and on and on.

We have also seen resilience, adaptation, collaboration and creativity as we reorganize our lives and settle into the long slog phase of this pandemic. I think most of us have a new appreciation for the little, unremarkable things that make up the rhythms and bedrock of ‘normal’ life that we once took for granted. That started me thinking about what other core assumptions we B.C.-ers have that could also one day be shaken, as fundamental as the continued availability of air and water.

Let’s start from the fact that having clean air to breathe and safe water to drink is the very essence of human survival. We have enough experience now with smoky skies the last few years to appreciate the effect poor air quality can have on all aspects of life, but at least for now, this tends to be fairly short-lived. There are certainly localized issues with water quality in Canada, but most people have fairly unlimited access to a safe water supply.

However, increasing numbers of people around the world are now dealing with constant ‘water worry.’

This can be related to the quantity, quality or cost of water. A recently published article in the Journal of Public Health examined rates of water worry in the US and the (predictably) significant toll it takes on people. (

Water bills of over four per cent of household income are considered unaffordable. Millions of ordinary Americans face disconnection, losing their homes and even having their kids removed if they cannot pay. Imagine the stress of potentially losing your water supply in a pandemic, in addition to baseline worries about sickness, medical costs, job losses and caring for family members.

The reasons costs keep increasing are multifactorial, related to aging and deteriorating infrastructure, lack of federal funding, environmental cleanups, changing demographics and increasing climate change related droughts.

The pandemic is exposing many inequalities in societies across the world, but this seems the most significant of all.

How can it ever be OK in a rich, first world country that only people with sufficient money can have access to water? Unsurprisingly, lower socioeconomic status is also directly correlated with increased levels of air pollutants (

Teaching kids to appreciate and care for clean water is just one small step to ensure that we never take water for granted. Hopefully this will help ensure our own local, sustainable and affordable water supply is available for everyone, equally, into the future.

Water Wise Tip: Check your toilets for leaks. Put a little food coloring in your toilet tank. If, without flushing, the color begins to appear in the bowl within 30 minutes, you have a leak that should be repaired immediately. Most replacement parts are inexpensive and easy to install

For more information on Water Wise or Waste Wise and any of our school and community programs, contact the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society at or visit the website at

Jenny Howell is the water wise instructor and the executive director of the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society.

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