Editor’s Note: Be the Hummingbird

The ancient story I read recently goes like this:

“One day in the forest, a fire broke out. All the animals ran for their lives. They stood at the end of the blaze, looking at the flames in terror and sadness. Up above their heads, a hummingbird was flying back and forth to the fire, over and over again. The bigger animals asked the hummingbird what she was doing. ‘I am flying to the lake to get water to help put out the fire.’ The animals laughed at her and said, ‘You can’t put out this fire!’ The hummingbird replied, ‘I’m doing what I can.’”

I read this parable on the website for the UN 2023 Water Conference that took place in New York this week, with March 22 deemed World Water Day: a day to “accelerate change to solve the water and sanitation crisis.”

Water was one of the top five reasons I wanted to return to Door County. We came from arid South Dakota on the Minnesota line. Surface water was limited in this prairie pothole region, and rain was not plentiful. When something is scarce, you learn to appreciate it more. 

Unfortunately, I believe that’s the way of the human world, to the detriment of our climate. We don’t want to awake one morning to learn that a 1,699-square-mile lake is on track to disappear within five years, as is Salt Lake. We don’t want to awake one morning to learn that nutrient pollution in the bay of Green Bay has effectively suffocated all life except the oxygen-depleting algal blooms, creating one gigantic dead zone that cannot be resurrected. We don’t want to awake one morning to learn that our water is undrinkable for so many different reasons that it’s hard to keep track.

Yet scientists and activists and others far more knowledgeable about these things say we will awake to these mornings if we don’t act.

Because water affects everyone everywhere, everyone everywhere needs to take action. Still, the problems seem too great. What can I do?

You can learn about the issues, for starters – what are our water challenges here in Door County? – and see what other people are doing to solve similar problems.

Good resources can be found in familiar places. Look at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ “2022 Water Quality Report” to learn about our state’s water-quality issues, where they’re coming from and what exists in Door County. 

Data can also be found in unfamiliar places, such as the “2021 County Environmental Health Profile” from the Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking Program. 

These summary reports provide a snapshot of a county’s environmental health. There’s some good information on private water quality that can lead the curious to more information. 

The resources are out there. We just need to find the will to find them to educate ourselves about where we can make a difference. Be the hummingbird.