As people, we see ourselves living in a community, a neighborhood, a city. We also live in an ecosystem.
Just as we depend on our neighbors in our daily lives, we also depend on the natural systems that support all life: forests clean our air, mountains and lakes provide our fresh water, and soil supports our food crops.
We know something's wrong in our neighborhoods when crime grows out of control or homes burn down without the fire department responding. We know something's wrong with our ecosystems when plants and animals are dwindling, or even vanishing altogether. And the rate at which wildlife is now vanishing in too many places should be a warning that all is not well in our natural neighborhood.
Right now, many of the ecosystems associated with our lakes, rivers and streams are showing signs of distress. Clean drinking water is something we all need every day. Most of Earth's surface is water, but between saltwater and ice caps, only 1 percent of this water is available for drinking, irrigating our crops, and running our fisheries and industries.
When our waterways show signs of stress, we need to listen.
The Endangered Species Coalition just released a report detailing 10 imperiled water-related ecosystems, and the imperiled wildlife that depend on them. Pay attention: there's probably a lake or river near you on the list.
Here are some examples:
• In the Sonoran Desert, near Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., the last few hundred Sonoran pronghorn antelope struggle to survive in one of the hottest, driest corners of North America.
• In the Ozark Rivers and streams of the Eastern United States, the ancient salamander called the hellbender has declined 75 percent since the 1980s. North America's largest salamander depends entirely on cold, clean rushing water.
• In Florida's famous Everglades, some 600 native species are rare or imperiled. One example is the Everglades kite, a beautiful hawk that specializes in eating a single kind of snail.
• In the Colorado River (the river that carved the Grand Canyon) four species of native chub and pikeminnow fish are listed as endangered.
The other imperiled ecosystems -- and information about what people can do to help protect them -- can be found at www.waterwoes.org.
For nearly 40 years, Americans have depended on the Endangered Species Act to safeguard American's natural heritage. Unfortunately, we are now seeing new threats to fresh water, and therefore to native wildlife, that we were only beginning to fathom when the bill was written.
Americans are putting more and more pressure on our waterways through our network of dams, diversions and ditches. Climate change is expected to increase droughts and disrupt the natural flow cycles of our streams. According to scientific models, climate change combined with population growth will result in much of the United States experiencing water scarcity by 2025.
Pollution causes more problems. Our hunger for oil and gas does more than just replace wild habitats with roads and drilling pads. According to an Argonne National Laboratory report, our oil and gas wells produce at least two billion gallons of contaminated water per day.
For the country's imperiled wildlife, these threats are severe. We've seen massive fish kills, closures of multi-million-dollar fisheries and even the extinctions of plants and animals in the wild. Fish no longer reach their spawning grounds, frogs suffer from chemicals seeping through their delicate skin, introduced plants choke native plants from their habitats, exotic aquatic species threaten native fish, and development threatens the stream-side homes of mammals and birds.
Water is truly in the balance.
Thanks to one of the strongest endangered species laws in the world, we Americans continue to protect our natural heritage. And it is not too late to save our wildlife; across the country, we can all do our part.
Supporting the groups involved in this report and their work to protect wildlife, plants and habitats is important. Standing up for wildlife protections is essential. And at home, we can make a difference by eliminating any leaks in plumbing; by installing water-efficient toilets, showerheads, washing machines, and dishwashers; by planting native plants adapted to our local environment; and by installing rain barrels to capture storm water for watering the garden.
Join us in protecting our country's incredible web of life and that most precious of natural resources, clean water.