Caring for Creation: The Threat of Water Pollution

AUSCP NewsBlogCatholics and Climate Change
Submitted by: Jim Bacik

The United Nations Environment Programe (UNEP), charged with protecting the Earth, lists water pollution as one of the major threats to the inhabitants of our common home. Unsafe water kills more people each year than war and all other forms of violence combined. Furthermore, the world is facing a water scarcity problem, since less than 1% of the earth’s freshwater is actually available for human use. Water resources, including streams, rivers, underground estuaries, ground water and lakes have been polluted by toxic substances from farms, cities and factories.

Although the United States has the safest drinking water in the world, polluted water still causes over seven million illnesses each year. Fifty years after the 1972 Clean Water Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. waterways are severely polluted with about half of the area of our rivers, streams, underground estuaries and lakes across the country no longer safe for swimming, fishing, or drinking.  According to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), each year water-based pathogens in the U.S. cause 7,000 deaths, 120,000 hospitalizations, 7 million illnesses and $3 billion in healthcare costs.

Oceans and seas, which cover 70% of the earth and provide essential food, energy and water, are endangered by human activity that continues to contaminate the planet’s largest ecosystem, affecting the livelihoods of billions of people. For example, according to a United Nations report, more than 17 million metric tons of plastic entered our oceans in 2021. Plastic pollution that accounts for 85% of ocean litter poses a threat to coral reefs, the fishing industry, marine life and to the health of human beings around the globe who consume seafood contaminated by plastic particles.

In his encyclical Laudato Si and subsequent commentaries, Pope Francis addresses the problem of water pollution from a moral and social justice perspective. Morally he states “Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal right, since it is essential to human survival” (n 30). The world has a “grave social debt” owed to the poor who lack access to drinking water, which can be partly paid by increased funding to provide clean water and sanitary services for water poor developing countries. In water abundant countries, where water continues to be wasted, the pope suggests we develop educational programs and cultural adaptations that will promote responsible water conservation.

The EPA provides a long list of practical tips for conserving water. In the bathroom: take shorter showers and draw less water for baths; turn off the water while brushing teeth and shaving. In the kitchen and laundry: compost food scraps rather than use a garbage disposal; run the washing machine with full loads of clothes. Outdoors: water grass in the evening or very early in the morning to minimize evaporation; use a broom instead of a hose to clean off the driveway or sidewalk. We can all learn from our sisters and brothers who have found creative ways to conserve water.

With Pope Francis, we thank God for “Sister Water” and pray that “water may not be a sign of separation between peoples, but of encounter for the human community.”


What more can I do to conserve water?

About the Author

Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at

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