Water, water, every where

Sep 21

Last week I started a 4 week enrichment class at the University of Denver called Water in the World and the West.  Water, or the lack thereof, is a major issue in the West.  I grew up in Kentucky where there always seemed to be plenty of water.  After moving to Colorado I learned that it was illegal to capture the rain water falling on my roof to water my plants.  It belongs to someone else.  That sparked my interest in water in Colorado but I have since developed a keen interest in water around the world.  After traveling to South America and Africa I saw first hand how poor the water quality is and how it impacts the daily lives of millions on our planet.

Our first class covered some of the basics about water in the world and it was a real eye opener.  I don’t think most people realize how little available fresh water there really is on our planet.  By way of example our teacher showed us a gallon jug of water.  That represents all of the water on the planet.  Then he took three jiggers of the water.  The three jiggers represents the amount of that gallon of water that is fresh water – the rest is salt water.  Then of the three jiggers, two are frozen at the poles, leaving just one jigger of fresh water in streams, rivers and surface water available for drinking.  After class I kept thinking about the line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Water, water, every where / And all the boards did shrink/ Water, Water, every where/Nor any drop to drink

There is such a small amount of water to drink on the planet and it is drying up at a rapid rate.  During class we reviewed satellite images of numerous fresh bodies of water – Lake Chad in Africa, the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan, and Quinghai in China to name a few.  Much of this is due to changes in populations, agricultural water usage and installation of dams.  Some is due to drought patterns which I saw first hand on my trip to Tanzania this summer.  Lake Manyara in Tanzania has not been full for many years since the drought began in the late 1990’s.  Many people in Africa walk for miles to get fresh water and even then the quality of the water can be very poor.   National Geographic did a special issue on water in 2010.  You can read more from that issue by following this link http://bit.ly/o7qOLF 

Water is one of the most critical issues on our planet, yet it is an issue that gets very little media attention.  Water, not just oil, will drive the wars of the future.  Ethiopia is working with China to build a dam on the Blue Nile.  The Blue Nile feeds the Aswan dam in Egypt so the Egyptians are threatening to fight if the new dam is built.  All through the Middle East there is a shortage of water.  Water knows no borders but disputes over water being diverted (dammed) upstream are inevitable.  We have these issues in the Western US today where water that used to go to the farmer’s of the Central Valley of California was taken away from them.  Many farmer’s lost their livelihoods.  Fishermen in the Aral sea can no longer fish for a living because the limited water remaining can no longer support the fish.

Most people in the US don’t think about water because all they have to do is turn on the faucet and clean water comes right out at a very cheap price.  But we need to start thinking about water more as the limited resource that it is and looking to the long term.

This month is the launch of Charity Water’s annual campaign drive.  This year they are focused on raising funds for more drilling rigs to drill water wells in Ethiopia.  Please take a look at their site and what they are doing to address water issues around the world.  http://www.charitywater.org/


Start to think about water and our fiduciary responsibility to each other and the planet on a larger scale.  Just as the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, so the goal of saving water begins with the first drop – the drop you don’t use or the drop you use wisely and with careful thought.  How about taking out the grass in your lawn and installing xeriscape plants?  How about turning off the faucet when you are brushing your teeth?  How about using rainwater, if you don’t live in the West, to water your plants?  Take the first step today.

The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water from Surfrider Foundation on Vimeo.



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