The colors red, yellow, and orange evoke emotions like love, passion, happiness, and anger. People associate the colors of large bodies of water with diverse hues of blue and green. The color blue evokes feelings of calmness or serenity, with descriptions of peace, tranquility, security, and order. Green hues arouse emotions like safety and also envy, but people more strongly associate the color green with nature.
Water supplies and electricity generation are the primary reasons lakes are so beneficial to societies. But academic research indicates that lakes are highly beneficial to people’s mental well-being. Aquatic hues naturally attract people to lakes, and lakes provide essential habitats for aquatic life and wildlife.
Eight bodies of water adorn Central Park in the most populated city in the U.S., New York City. Forty-two million people visit Central Park every year. Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) designed the grounds of New York City’s Central Park, and he is regarded as the founder of American landscape architecture.
In 1870, Olmsted wrote, “The beauty of the park should be the beauty of the fields, the meadow, the prairie, of the green pastures, and the still waters. What we want to gain is tranquility and rest to the mind.”
How Do People Benefit from Lakes?
The United States’ surface water resources from rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs are vital for survival. For example, the United States used about 322,000 million gallons per day in 2015, and surface water sources supplied 74% of that amount. *
Beginning with the practical, lakes play a crucial role in supplying the most essential human need, water. The best known natural U.S. lakes, the Great Lakes, cover over 94,000 square miles, which is approximately one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water supply. The Great Lakes provide drinking water for over 40 million people in the U.S. and Canada.
The ancient Greeks harnessed the strength of water in rivers and streams to grind grain by using the power of water to spin large wooden wheels. Appleton, Wisconsin, witnessed the world’s first hydroelectric power plant generate an output of about 12.5 kilowatts on September 30, 1882. Henry J. Rogers, president of the Appleton Paper and Pulp Co. and of the Appleton Gas Light Company, was on a fishing trip with his friend, H. E. Jacobs, when he conceptualized this first hydro-electric central station.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), “Hydropower provides about 7% of the United States’ electricity and about 40% of our renewable energy. Almost every state uses it. The oldest form of renewable energy, it’s also one of the most affordable forms, and can provide a clean, sustainable, and reliable way to power our lives for centuries to come.”
Besides Water and Electricity, How Else Do People Benefit from Lakes?
If humans could think of every possible way that people benefit from lakes, those ways might make up a never-ending list. In 2015, California, Florida, Idaho, and Texas withdrew more surface water than the other 46 states, with their surface water withdrawals ranging from 10,000 and 20,000 million gallons per day.
Surface water also supplies water for other public uses, aquaculture, irrigation, mining, industrial purposes, and the thermoelectric-power industry uses surface water to cool electricity-generating equipment. People value lakes highly for their aesthetic, recreational, and food source qualities all over the earth.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reports that the agricultural industry uses groundwater and surface water. Forty-two percent of the United States’ total freshwater withdrawals in 2015 went to irrigate crops. In 2017, U.S. Census of Agriculture totaled irrigated cropland at 58 million acres in the nation.
Rural economies depend on irrigated crop production which contributes to the energy, food processing, and transportation industries. Irrigated crop production supports our nation’s animal husbandry industry, which is the breeding, maintenance, slaughter, and general subjugation of livestock.
The mining industry uses more groundwater than surface water, and 65% of its groundwater use is saline water. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) by the Department of the Interior reports that the mining industry employs water for the extraction of minerals that are in the form of solids, like coal, iron, sand, and gravel, plus liquids, like crude petroleum and natural gas.
In 2015, the USGS estimated that the mining industry used 4,000 million gallons of water per day, of which 28% came from surface water. As of 2020, the USGS counted 12,714 active mines in operation. Mines contribute raw materials that produce all products from the manufacturing sector. The U.S. domestic economy benefited from its mining industry by almost $57 billion dollars in 2020.
Industrial use accounted for 14,800 million gallons of water per day in 2015, with 82% of that total being surface water. The USGS defines industrial water as water used for fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, or transporting a product, use by smelting facilities, petroleum refineries, and industries producing chemical products, food, and paper products. Industrial use includes the thermo-electric industry.
The USGS defines livestock water use as water for livestock drinking water, feedlots, dairy operations, and other on-farm needs. The USGS comprises livestock as beef cattle and calves, dairy cows and heifers, goats, hogs and pigs, horses, poultry, and sheep and lambs. Livestock water uses also includes animal waste-disposal systems, cooling of facilities for the animals and products, dairy sanitation, incidental water losses, and the wash down of facilities.
In 2015, the USGS estimated that 2,000 million gallons per day supported livestock production, with 38% sourced from surface water. Livestock water usage was less than 1% of total U.S. freshwater withdrawals in 2015. These figures have to be an estimate because most state agricultural agencies do not require livestock operations to report ground water and surface water withdrawals. The USGS calculated livestock water usage by calculating animal population data with gallons used per head, per day, for each animal species.
Lakes Keep Our Sanity in Check
A whole bunch of academic research suggests that you can bet your bottom dollar that lakes are healing, calming, tranquil, and restorative. Kendra Cherry, MS, author, and educational consultant, reports in her research that most people characterize the color blue as calm and serene and green colors as relaxing and cool.
Yes, says Michael Depledge, chair of Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School, Devon, United Kingdom, “There is a clear correlation between close proximity to a body of water and better psychological and overall health outcomes.”
Since 2008, Depledge has researched the effects of “blue environments”, also called “blue spaces” and “green spaces” in academic circles. Natural landscapes and water bodies provide aesthetic environments that attract people to visit them for family togetherness, physical activities, relaxation, socialization, watersports, vacationing, and other recreational interests like fishing and canoeing.
Depledge and his team collected data from 48-million respondents, which indicated a strong relationship between living near the water and well-being. Continuing academic research is the future to understand the relationship between water bodies and the effects of water, air, sounds, or a combination of all three on mental and physical health.
*2015 is the most recent year for water use data from the USGS.