THE BLOG
11/19/2014 11:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The True Value of Clean Water

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Science can now explain what we've known instinctively for millennia: water is good for our bodies, minds and souls. Whether you are an entrepreneur, angler or surfer, cutting-edge research shows that the color, texture, experience, sight and sound of water can make a profound difference throughout your life.

Practitioners across diverse disciplines are increasingly connecting the dots between cognitive science and water, explaining why humans put an economic and emotional premium on being near, in, on or under water. I call it Blue Mind: the psychological, neurological, physiological and emotional result of exposure to water. We're happier. We're reenergized. We're inspired.

The power of Blue Mind is driving both real estate markets and the outdoor recreation industry. It is stimulating our country's most creative entrepreneurs, scientists and problem-solvers, helping to heal veterans and victims of trauma, and affecting numerous other areas of our economy and culture.

Let's put Blue Mind in terms of news headlines. As a marine biologist, I know that President Obama's recent expansion and protection of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument makes life more viable for five species of sea turtles, and 22 species of whales and other protected marine mammals. I know that three million sea birds will benefit from this protected habitat -- now the largest protected area on Earth.

While most of us perceive no direct biological or cultural connection to these atolls, many can still derive rich cognitive and emotional benefits simply by viewing photos of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and imagining its marine riches. This momentary escape shifts us into Blue Mind mode and help to inspire exploration, appreciation and perhaps stewardship of our own local waterways.

Indeed, Philippe Cousteau, co-founder of the nonprofit Earth Echo International, said of the designation: "Conservation actions such as these send an incredibly powerful message to today's youth, as they foster a curiosity and broaden the scope of what's possible for our next generation of conservationists, scientists, and educators."

But these benefits of water - environmental, psychological and spiritual -- are available only if we take the necessary steps to protect our clean water and ensure it remains available and accessible to all of us. At some point, no matter how vivid our imagination, the science shows that humans still need to touch water in order to enjoy its benefits: walking the beach, casting a line into a lake or river, swimming in a pool. This psychological need for physical contact with water is a very real component of our well-being and should be factored heavily into any water-related decisions enacted by policy makers.

Right now, development is increasingly walling off public access to beaches, waterways and prized fishing spots on public lands nationwide--something we read constantly about in the news here in California. In the name of economic progress, humans are being deprived of access to clean water vital to our health, our creativity, our sanity, our Blue Minds.

Currently, policy makers in Washington are considering a draft Environmental Protection Agency rule to re-extend the Clean Water Act's protections (weakened by confusing Supreme Court rulings) to include the headwaters of streams and wetlands. Without this protection, industry is able to pollute these areas, which feed into the sources of drinking water for 1 in 3 Americans. Industrial pollution caused a river in Ohio to burn 42 years ago - motivating Congress to pass the Clean Water Act. The proposed clean water rule comes none too soon: drinking water bans due to pollution in Ohio and West Virginia this summer are a reminder that we have more to do to protect our waters at home.

By preserving our planet's oceans and waterways, we also enhance and restore the vast, under-appreciated cognitive, emotional, psychological and social benefits they provide. There is an interdependence with the natural world that goes beyond ecosystems, biodiversity or economic benefits. It's a basic of life. Water nurtures us and so we must nurture water.