On Monday, Connecticut celebrated World Water Day by hosting a virtual event to recognize the personal connections residents have with Connecticut’s water sources.
World Water Day is an international event launched by the United Nations in 1993 to raise awareness of the lack of access to safe drinking water that many people face. This year’s event was co-hosted by seven Connecticut environmental organizations and included remarks from government officials. In line with this year’s international UN theme, “Valuing Water: What Does Water Mean to You?” The event invited four panelists to speak about their views on the importance of water for human survival. The event was moderated by Alicea Charamut, executive director of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut, one of the environmental groups that organized the event.
“Water and its value to us as individuals often vary depending on where we live, our life experiences and how we interact with water on a daily basis,” Charamut said. “World Water Day is a day dedicated to water. This year’s theme “What does water mean to you?” makes it personal.
The event began with brief remarks from Governor Ned Lamont, who spoke about water as a valuable natural resource for the state.
“Texas has oil. California has silicon. Connecticut has water,” Lamont said. “We have the tastiest champagne in the waters. We have the beautiful Long Island Sound. We have the Connecticut River. We will keep them pure. We will keep them clean.
Jack Betkoski, chairman of the CT State Water Planning Board, also spoke Monday about the state government’s water conservation efforts. The council was created in 2001 by the Connecticut General Assembly to address issues regarding the state’s water quality. The council released a state water plan in 2019, which includes a list of recommendations for balancing the state’s water supply.
In particular, Betkoski spoke of the need to control drought in response to the “really severe drought” Connecticut experienced last fall. For nearly six months, from last June to last December, the state experienced worsening drought conditions due to below-average rainfall.
Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, spoke about the value of the bodies of water in her district, namely the Long Island Sound – which she said was the “greatest and most important natural resource” of State. According to DeLauro, the bran contributes approximately $5.5 billion annually to the regional economy and more than 8 million people live around the bran watershed. Long Island Sound was designated a Nationally Significant Estuary by Congress in 1987.
“These waters are a national treasure,” DeLauro said. “And we have a responsibility to ensure their protection and preservation.”
The event then turned into a panel discussion with four panelists: Pamela “Screeching Hawk” Massey, a member of the Mohegan tribe; Hailey Baranowski, student at the University of Connecticut; Lee Cruz, director of community outreach for the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven; and Kimberly Sandor, executive director of the CT Nurses Association.
Massey explained how deeply water was tied to the traditions and survival of the Mohegan Tribe. The Mohegan Tribe is a sovereign, federally recognized Native American tribe located in southeastern Connecticut. Massey said the tribe used nearby Connecticut coastal waters for fishing, trade and transportation. She also said the waters continued to be an important food source for the tribe.
Sandor explained how water plays an important role in the link between environmental health and physical health. In particular, she spoke about the Flint, Michigan water crisis – which showed that water quality is not just an environmental issue, but is also an essential part of individual health.
“We know that human life is affected by the state of the natural world and everything around us,” Sandor said. “The influence of the environment not only on the promotion of health, but also on the prevention of disease is really essential.”
Cruz spoke about local efforts in New Haven to increase awareness of rivers connected to the city. He highlighted the development of the Mill River Trail, which increases accessibility to the Mill River. Cruz also mentioned how rivers can support economic development through programs such as GreenWave’s regenerative ocean agriculture model that grows seashells and seaweed underwater without any input of pesticides or fertilizers.
Baranowski spoke about the importance of actively maintaining the maintenance of water areas for human and wildlife benefits. She said she often sees water as a gathering space for communities and wants future generations to enjoy the recreational benefits of clean water as well.
“My generation deserves to know that what they drink and bathe in is safe and clean for them,” Baranowski said. “Policy makers must focus on providing access to clean water for all and keeping that water safe at all times for my generation and all generations to come.”
The event ended with remarks from Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy on national and international water efforts. It also included a performance by Cyril the Water Wizard, who shares messages about water conservation and sustainability through his magic shows.
According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Connecticut has approximately 6,000 miles of streams and rivers and more than 2,000 lakes and reservoirs.
Sai Rayala | [email protected]