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A few months ago, it was a typical day at work for me. I was tasked with producing a basic map graphic for an outreach brochure—nothing extraordinary. I sent off the completed graphic and moved on to another project. The next day, our local watershed partner replied to my email and asked me to “add the reservation communities of Little Rock and Ponemah to the map.”
As part of the 1931 Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Uaxactun expedition, geologist C.W. Cooke (1931: 286) noted, “If the bajos were restored to their former condition, the Petén would be a region of many beautiful lakes. Travel in it would be easy, for one could go from place to place by boat, with only short journeys overland, from one lake to another, across country that offers little impediment to travel at any season.” These bajos mentioned by Cooke, low-lying swampy areas prone to flooding, are spread throughout most of the northern lowlands of Petén, Guatemala, characterizing the region with seasonal and perennial wetland systems.
Imagine pouring out a glass of water. Where does the water go?
After soaking your computer or floor, it would eventually flow to join a greater body of water and become part of a larger drainage system. Where I grew up, outside of Milwaukee, my water would join with Lake Michigan. In the Twin Cities, where I went to university, it would flow into the Mississippi River. From Jackson, Wyoming, where I’m writing now, it would combine with the Snake River and flow into the Pacific Ocean. But Glacier National Park, where I worked in the summer of 2017, has a unique little point called Triple Divide Peak.
I have grown especially interested in water issues. I care about the Mississippi riverfront in Minneapolis, the effects of agriculture on water quality, and the connections people have to their drinking water, lakes, and rivers. So when I went to Germany to study, I took a good look at how the places I visited treated water as part of the landscape.
Minnesotans are fortunate to live in a land rich in water resources. Clean water is part of our sense of place and cultural identity. Abundant water underpins our agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism industries. In theory, clean water should be incredibly valuable—water is essential to our lives and livelihoods. In practice, clean water is cheap.