HANCEVILLE, Ala. — “Live an Earth Day kind of life,” said Dr. Bill Deutsch, the founder of Alabama Water Watch, as he concluded his presentation to students and staff at Wallace State Community College. He challenged the Millenials in the audience to take up the baton being handed off by his Baby Boomer generation that started Earth Day 44 years ago.
Twenty-two million people participated in the first Earth Day event on April 22, 1970, said Dr. Bill Moss, Director of Student Development at Wallace State. “Today we know that over 1 billion will participate in this Earth Day,” he said
Deutsch, professor emeritus at Auburn University University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, proudly showed off a pin from the first Earth Day celebration in 1970 when he was a college junior, finishing his first college level course in ecology.
The college-age student was the target of that first Earth Day, he said. “This is very special to me to be addressing this group,” he told the room filled mostly with Wallace State students. “We who were there at Earth Day No. 1, we’re not, you know somebody said, ‘I’ve got one foot in the grave and the other one on a banana peel.’ I hope to live another 30 years, but we are beginning to pass the baton and we are doing our best to inspire a new generation to step up.
“As you choose your major, regardless of what it is, I hope that you will be thinking about — especially on this day — of planet Earth and all of its 7 billion-plus inhabitants,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch used the slogan of the first Earth Day, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” as the focus of his presentation. He recently returned from a trip to Kenya with Global Water Watch, to present workshops that teach volunteers how to monitor the quality of the rivers and streams from which they gather their drinking water. In this case, they looked specifically for the E. coli bacteria.
As part of the workshops, the volunteers used chalk to sketch the rivers and streams that make up the watershed on the floor, after which they laid out the date sheets on the place from where they gathered their samples and the plates that held the results from their tests.
“It was an amazing experience,” Deutsch said of the experience. The volunteers were able to see how they were all connected through the watershed and how what happens in one area affects those downstream. They were also able to see the microscopic animals they collected in the samples they tested themselves.
“And we learned something,” he said. “We learned that on a sunny day, a lot of those plates were nearly clean; great drinking water. But when it rained, they were so contaminated. One of the Kenyans came to me and he said in a whisper, ‘Do you mean the E. coli is in the rain?’ And I thought, here’s the scientific method starting. Nope. Wrong answer; not in the rain, but it’s in the runoff from those latrines, from that animal facility, from that wastewater plant. It’s runoff. The rain is flowing over the soil and carrying these pathogens to your drinking water.
As he completed his presentation, Deutsch encouraged audience members to learn from where their drinking water comes, outlining the 11 river basins that provide drinking water to Alabama residents. He also encouraged them to be aware of what others are doing so that we can protect one of our most valued resources.
“Learn from the world,” he said. “And, as we say at Alabama Water Watch, love they downstream neighbor.”