Eating our water: no place for complacency on World Water Day

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. The lack of water limits farmers’ ability to produce enough food to eat or earn a living.” – UN World Water Day 2012 website

One man roasting a goat, six others giving direction. Borrowed from Lizzie King, who has spent many years studying rangeland restoration with the Maasai of Kenya.

Water and Food Security is the theme of World Water Day – March 22nd, 2012. Every food crop, all meat production, and inland fisheries from Amsterdam to Zanzibar depend on water.

Here, food security once meant the annual migration of millions of sockeye, traveling up the Okanagan River. Fish, wild berries, and game were reliable food for Okanagan peoples for millennia. Now, with 300,000 people in the valley, food security is (like most other places) mostly about land and irrigation water. Continue reading

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Of toilets and bird sanctuaries: diversions in the water cycle

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

At the San Francisco Exploratorium there is a drinking fountain made from a toilet. It’s a brand new toilet, fed by the cold, pure waters of the California coast range, yet oddly disturbing. Would you bend your head and take refreshment?

Toilet drinking fountain

It's eerily disturbing to see a drinking fountain made from a toilet.

Modern plumbing must be somewhere near the apex of civilization, carrying away everything smelly and unclean, and freeing us from water-borne disease. Stuff just goes away and we don’t give it another thought. “Water is the universal solvent” my chemistry teacher said.

But water and waste don’t really go away. For much of the world it’s a good rule of thumb to live upstream. Here in Canada, we have the high technology to clean and polish our effluent, and voilà, it’s ready for “recycling”. I’m quite in awe of this process: huge volumes, unusual innovations, and bursts of controversy. Continue reading

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Adapting to climate change – Part 1 of many

This farm, in New South Wales, has a whole array of soil moisture probes, linked to a computer monitor. The grower adjusts the irrigation system to keep the soil moisture at the optimum level.

As Mark Twain said: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it”.  This is wonderfully absurd at first blush, but lately it has been making me think. Suddenly, we are all having serious discussions about the weather and what actions we can take. And it isn’t just policy wonks: last week, I even heard some body builders at the gym talking about it.

There are two sides to climate change -  mitigation (to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change overall) and adaptation (to deal with whatever comes down the pipe: from droughts to floods). When response to climate change really began to enter the public discourse (at the local level) in the early 2000′s, adaptation was viewed as appeasement – or giving in – and the action was all around mitigation strategies. Increasingly, it seems grossly irresponsible to not prepare in advance for potentially serious outcomes. Continue reading

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