Water Day, every day

Why isn’t every day Water Day?” – Peter Gleick, on Twitter

Dear Readers,

Taken by Judie Steeves for her article "Myth of Abundance" in the Kelowna Capital News

Canada Water Week, and World Water Day (March 22) have come and gone, and I hope you all took the opportunity to lift a long, cool glass and marvel at the wonder and privilege to have such a beautiful, precious thing flow freely from our taps.  Nonetheless, this seems a good opportunity to celebrate progress in the year past, to look at where we’ve fallen behind, and to make plans for the future.

First, I want to apologize for the long blog-drought on Building Bridges. Over the past few months I’ve been taking time for family: the short illness and peaceful passing of my father. He had a great love for this blog, and I often thought of him while writing – to educate and entertain an intelligent, caring member of the public. In that spirit, I continue. Continue reading

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The Value of Water

I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.” – Benjamin Franklin

Expensive On Other Planets:  In Salt Lake City, I once met an exobiologist who studied the bacteria that live under the Antarctic ice-sheet. Camping in a tent, she spent her days diving into holes in frozen lakes to collect samples. She told me it was a “Mars model,” considered one of the few places on earth that can approximate extraterrestrial conditions.

NASA’s latest mission just spent $2.5 billion dollars to actually look for water on Mars. Its simple presence is a signal that life can exist, whatever planet you are on. Whether or not one feels this is money well spent, it shows the lengths we’ll go and the money we’ll spend on water. Continue reading

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Getting beyond inertia and disaster-driven policy response

This is your time and it feels normal to you, but really there is no normal.  There’s only change and resistance to it and then more change.“ –  Meryl Streep

I’ve been writing about change lately – change in climate and population. But it will take even more change to adapt to new conditions.  The challenge is knowing where we are vulnerable and how to respond, so we can protect the things we love.  But how do we get through the inertia to action?

Summer rains on Kootenay Lake - photo taken a few days before and a few kilometres north of the Johnson's Landing slide. Courtesy of Brynne Herbison.

It’s as true for individuals as whole communities.  People tend to trust their odds for most things – but suddenly, without warning, the ground can shift beneath us.

I’ve been deeply unsettled by news of the mudslide in Johnson’s Landing last week – a place I’ve visited often.  A tragedy is the worst kind of catalyst for change. Continue reading

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Lift a long, cool glass of gratitude

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” – Dan Quayle

Crammed in a cab with Bob Sanford and David Brooks, listening to adventure stories about Middle East river agreements.  I jumped in with one of my few international water anecdotes. “An Ethiopian hydrologist told me that water security – for them – is five litres a day, per person, within a three kilometre walking distance.”

A Kenyan farmer, building a catchment for her water supply. Photo credit: Eva Kaye-Zwiebe

The driver gave a derisive cough. “That guy must have been from the countryside,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m from Addis Ababa. We used at least six litres, and we didn’t have to walk for it.”

Strolling from kitchen to bathroom, I might use 100 litres of pure, fresh water a day without giving a second thought. If I wander out and turn on my sprinklers, that might go to 1000. And I’m average!

Let’s raise a glass to drinking water: so cheap, so abundant, we wash our cars with it. If it weren’t for the empty plastic bottles lying around, water would be almost invisible.

Back at home, I asked some guys next to me at a restaurant what they thought about drinking water. “We don’t think about it. We don’t want to. We just want to be able to get it.” Tommy and Ken were executives from the auto industry, and after some discussion, they admitted to being skeptical about climate change, but aware there were problems out there. “Without water there’s no life. Look at the Dead Sea, it’s dying!” Continue reading

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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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