Friday, February 12, 2010

Dig Holes

A global water crisis is imminent. It's not going to happen 1,000 years down the line or even 100 years - it is happening right now and is due to catch up to the Western world shortly. In fact, 1 in 5 people do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. In many developing countries affordable, drinkable, and accessible water is a dream rather than reality. As the world population explodes and weather patterns become more erratic, a number of scientists, researchers, and authorities, such as the UN, believe that we may experience a global water shortage in which water will only be available to the few able to pay (i.e. the rich). The world population in 2030 is estimated at over 8 billion people (with the current population at a little over 6.5 billion). This not only means that many, many more people will be needing drinkable, uncontaminated water, but it also means that more infrastructure will be built to accommodate all of these people. With new infrastructure we will see more rooftops, roads, and driveways; all structures that do not allow water to penetrate the soil and, therefore, help replenish our supplies of groundwater (see How Urbanization Affects the Water Cycle). Climate change is a factor as well with droughts becoming a real problem and flooding producing more water than the ground can absorb to help replenish our supply. Most of us are taught in school the beauty of the hydrologic cycle, but that cycle cannot do its work with the continuing onslaught of new buildings and frequent drought.

This is only a very minor part of the problem, though. Perhaps the bigger issues are the bottled water industry and the privatization of water. Bottled water manufacturers typically purchase land and/or establish plants near local water supplies and then pump large amounts of that water supply out, bottle it, and distribute it to others many miles away. There are a number of problems with this practice. The first being the fact that water is being taken from public water supplies, in a number of impoverished countries as well as in the United States, and being marketed to Americans as cleaner, more healthy water (for example, at least one of the sources of Aquafina bottled water is the public water supply of Ayer, Massachusetts). These companies are taking a freely available resource and then selling it for a huge profit. The second problem are the environmental impacts: 1) bottled water must be transported so there is an effect on our ozone and, 2) by removing water from its locality, the industry is pumping out local water resources at a very rapid rate. To further confound this, many local governments have been turning to private corporations to manage their town or city's water supply. This puts water distribution in the hands of an organization looking to profit rather than make sure water is clean, drinkable, and accessible. Often times, in other countries that have privatized, these corporations abuse their power by doubling or tripling the price of water and cutting off those who cannot or will not pay. In fact, in some countries it is cheaper to buy Coca-Cola than water (according to the documentary, Flow: For Love of Water).

There are numerous examples of all of the problems I just described that I'm going to link to below and I hope you will read more about the issue. I don't think there are many that would disagree that water is essential to life and people have a right to it. Here are some ways you can take action:
  1. Do not drink bottled water. The bottled water industry is a billion dollar industry thanks to us Americans (see Columbia Water Center - Bottled Water). As I mentioned, this water is often coming from public water supplies or from countries whose own inhabitants do not have access to clean water.

  2. Dig holes. Sounds odd, but as mentioned, with the buildings we build to house the nearly 2 billion more people that will be living on this planet in 20 years and the rate at which bottled water companies are pumping out local water sources in the US and abroad, we are making it difficult for the Earth to replenish our aquifers and groundwater resources. By digging holes in our yards we are giving rainwater an opportunity to pool and slowly reabsorb into the ground rather than running off the street and becoming useless to us. Not interested in digging a bunch of unsightly holes in your yard? Why not try a few rain gardens? See below for a list of resources.

  3. Get information about your own water. Where does your water come from? Is it owned and managed by a private corporation? How is your water being managed? Americans have proven more than once that they have a right to their own water supply (see the Wisconsin story and the Stockton, California story).

  4. Use the library's resources to read up on this issue - this blog post is a somewhat cursory explanation of the real issues at hand.


Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water

Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water
Both Blue Covenant and Blue Gold are written by Maude Barlow, the Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a chair of Food and Water Watch, a champion of water rights and access. Her documentary, Blue Gold (which is on order for APL), based on the book by the same name turned me onto this issue.

Flow: For Love of Water (DVD)

Not a Drop to Drink: American's Water Crisis (And What You Can Do)

Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape

Unquenchable: American's Water Crisis and What to Do About It

Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters


2nd UN World Water Development Report

Blue Covenant: Maude Barlow on the Global Movement for Water Justice

Blue Gold
Website for the movie that includes information about taking action

Bolivia: Leasing the Rain
The amazing story of the fight to free Cochabamba, Bolivia's water (including its rainwater!) from the private corporation Bechtel

Communities Speak Out: Nestle, Stop Stealing Our Water

Is There Really a Water Crisis?
Asit Biswas says we do not have a water crisis on our hands, but a serious water mismanagement problem. The reasons he cites for the mismanagement are included in the discussion above.

Pacific Institute: Water and Sustainability Program

Pipeline Not the Sole Option
Since 2007 Pat Mulroy's plan to build a 300 mile pipeline (read some background here) to ship water from rural parts of Nevada to Las Vegas has been much talked about; however, some recent setbacks may prevent the pipeline from ever being built.

Rain Garden Plants - City of Austin/Grow Green

Water Crisis Information Guide

Created by Middletown Thrall Library in New York state

World Water Council

No comments: