When NASA’s deep space probes look for life, they look for water. When humans look for high quality of life, they assess water availability and quality as critical signs of environmental and ecosystem health.
Three separate but important water events—an oil spill, a burning river, and a trip to the moon—spurred the modern environmental movement and its attentiveness to protecting water. In January and February 1969, a massive spill from offshore oil production in the Santa Barbara Channel released over 80,000 barrels (12.7 million liters) of crude oil that lined the nearby beaches of Southern California and killed thousands of birds. Later that year, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught on fire due to rampant pollution.1“America’s Sewage System and the Price of Optimism,” Time Magazine, August 1, 1969, accessed August 26, 2016, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,901182,00.html. Almost exactly one month later, the first mission to the moon successfully landed. Photographs taken from space revealed Earth to be more visibly blue than previously expected. The view of the oceans from space served as a reminder that despite our planet’s name, our globe’s surface is primarily covered in water, not earth.