Just Add Water


runyan_josh_otIn chemistry, a solvent is a liquid capable of dissolving another substance. The resulting homogeneous mixture is known as a solution.

In this regard, water is known as “the universal solvent” because of its unique ability to dissolve seemingly impermeable things. Jewish tradition teaches that the great Rabbi Akiva was even motivated to learn Torah — he had previously been illiterate — when contemplating how water, one drop at a time, was able to carve its way through rock. And the cleansing properties of a spring rain have not been lost on the countless poets and naturalists who have marveled at the ability for life itself to be renewed and rejuvenated through water.

But when we say a business is solvent, we mean that it is able to meet its financial obligations. In both the chemical and financial understandings of the word “solvent,” we can trace it back to its roots in Latin signifying the loosening up of something. A business is solvent if it is loose, if it is flush with cash. A problem is solved — or a solution is found — when, like a stubborn knot that finally unravels, all of its constituent parts are untangled.

But here in Baltimore, the rain and waters of the Gwynns Falls and the Jones Falls rivers have been too good at dissolving and the muck of decades of growth now sits in solution at the Inner Harbor. The water quality is so bad, one local businessman tells Melissa Gerr in this week’s cover story, that tourists have taken heed of signs warning of the harbor’s health hazards and taken their business elsewhere.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, a coalition of groups thinks it has the solution and aims to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. They’ve scored some successes, although the harbor recently received another F on an environmental firm’s report card. And as demonstrated in Toledo, Ohio, over the weekend, when residents discovered that their water, sourced from nearby Lake Erie, was suddenly unusable, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Water isn’t just a great tourism resource. Since time immemorial, clean water has been a prerequisite for a functioning society. And some political scientists have been warning for years of impending global wars fought over something as simple as access to water.

Over in the Gaza Strip, where a tenuous cease-fire announced Monday appeared to return calm to the troubled region — Israeli schools opened in the south, and the Israel Defense Forces redeployed the units that took part in Operation Protective Edge’s destruction of cross-border tunnels used by Hamas — many residents have for years used salty water from the local aquifer for bathing; potable water comes desalinated from local neighborhood facilities and home-based purification units.

For sure, upgrading the infrastructure was never really a priority of Hamas, which while controlling the territory spent more time and effort on digging underneath the Israeli border to launch terror attacks. But now, Israeli military officials are speaking of rehabilitating the Gaza Strip — albeit without Hamas in control — as a necessity from both a humanitarian and strategic point of view.

Only time will tell, but perhaps peace will be achieved a drop at a time.

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