What is Essential: Thinking about Population Health and Wellness in Our Communities

Thursday, Dec 22nd, 2022

By David Guy

As we all gather with family and friends for the holidays, this is a nice time of the year to reflect on what is essential in our lives. The past several years have revealed many vulnerabilities in our society as we have all come to a deeper appreciation for both our health and related wellness. As we look to 2023 and our future, this appreciation naturally leads to an increased desire and focus to enhance our communities so people can live healthier and more fulfilling lives.

I have been intrigued by the academic writing around population health (i.e., washington.edu/populationhealth/) for several years as a broad concept that explores the intersecting and overlapping factors that influence health, including our economic, social, and ecological well-being. The concept suggests that the health of an individual or a community is broader than a single strain or disease and should address the most persistent and emerging challenges facing population health.

In thinking about this in daily life and bringing the concept closer to the world where we live, work and play, long-term population health seems tied to climate resiliency and ecological health. Our amazing rivers, soils, trees, the air, watersheds and floodplains all coalesce and function together and you quickly realize that our precious water resources are central to our economic, social, and ecological well-being. To further explore a deeper consideration for the various factors that influence and can improve our overall health and wellness, please join me in thinking about how we can improve population health and wellness through the following in our communities:

Safe Water for All Communities. Water is central to the economic and social vitality in our cities and rural communities. All Californians have a right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water under a “human right to water.” For communities that do not have such a water supply, particularly disadvantaged communities, the leaders in the Sacramento Valley are actively seeking solutions to ensure safe, reliable and affordable water. Our comprehensive approach includes the Drinking Water Solutions Network to expand and ensure access to safe drinking water, while our water quality coalitions and public water agencies work hard to ensure the protection of water quality throughout the region.

Nourishment. Health is dependent upon a safe and nutritious food supply. This is true for both people and fish and wildlife. In the Sacramento Valley, we have an amazing landscape that provides nourishment with the right dose of water. Families have built farms and communities based on the Sacramento Valley’s unique blessing of water, healthy soil and sun. Today, nearly two million acres of family farms—world renowned ricelands, nuts, fruit, tomatoes, fresh produce and irrigated pasture—propel the Valley’s economic engine and offer open-space and a pastoral setting cherished by people in an urbanizing society. The Valley’s farmland, interspersed with refuges and other open-spaces, is also unique in the way it provides habitat and critical food (nourishment) for salmon, birds and wildlife along the Pacific Flyway. The Sacramento Valley has a deep connection involving nourishment between the urban and rural areas as reflected in Sacramento’s designation as America’s Farm to Fork Capital.

Outdoor Recreation. We all know the value that outdoor recreation provides to both our physical and mental health and well-being, with an increasing literature around mental health pointing towards outdoor activities as an antidote. Water plays a vital role in nearly all forms of outdoor recreation. This includes the physical and aesthetic virtues of hiking and fishing along rivers, creeks and lakes in our valley, forests and wilderness. It also includes bird-watching or duck hunting on the national, state and private refuges and wetlands; as well as skiing and snowboarding; and boating or paddleboarding on the amazing lakes in the region.

We know from personal experience the Sacramento Valley is an exceptional place to live, work and raise a family. To improve population health and wellness and productively address today’s population health challenges requires collaboration and working closely with people from diverse backgrounds and disciplines committed to this ideal.

In the Sacramento Valley, we are working hard to envision the role that water suppliers and local governments can serve to help people live healthier and more fulfilling lives. As we think through our ideas and actions to contribute to population health and wellness, we welcome a robust discourse and we truly value the perspectives, contributions, and experiences of our family, friends, partners and all Californians with an interest in improvement. We have both a passion and interest to learn and make the Sacramento Valley and our communities a better place and we will continue to listen to, engage with, and learn together. If you have other ideas or thoughts on how we can work together to improve population health, please share them with us at dguy@norcalwater.org and visit us at www.norcalwater.org.

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