Before the Well Runs Dry: The Global Water Crisis

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by Amanda Bloom

Will the next wars be fought over this vital resource?

by Amanda Bloom

Have you purchased a bottle of water lately?  It took more water to produce the plastic container than their is water inside of it.  Did you swim in the ocean this summer?  Next year you might not have to travel so far to smell the salt air; the ocean is creeping up our rivers due to inland dams and over-siphoning.  How was your glass of clean water from the tap this morning?  Far too many people must boil their water before they drink it, that is if anything can be coaxed from the faucet.

Riding the coat tails of the oil crisis is the international water crisis, a problem with ramifications reaching far wider than any energy or economic deficiency.  This crisis permeates beyond industry and beyond the home; it passes through our mouths, into our bloodstream and settles right into our very cells.  In the end, oil will not sustain us and currency will not nourish us, but water is a matter of life and death. 

WestConn hosted a symposium on November 9 addressing the global water crisis entitled “Water in Our World: Finding a Drop to Drink”, featuring world-renowned humanitarian and environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodall, WCSU associate professor of political science Dr. Christopher Kukk and executive director of the  Candlewood Lake Authority Larry Marsicano.  The symposium was moderated by Jacqueline Rowland, a recent intern of Goodall’s Roots and Shoots program, who guided the panel through the breadth of the water problem, the global implications of a water-scarce world, and most importantly, what the individual can do to help.

Photo by Sherri Hill.  From left: Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Christopher Kukk, Candlewood Lake Authority Larry Marsicano.

Dr. Goodall, a United Nations Messenger of Peace who travels 300 days out of the year in quest of education and preservation, began by illustrating the dire water conditions in distant parts of the world. 

In Tanzania, limited access to water perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty.  After carrying unclean water over great distances, many families are unable to boil the water due to lack of firewood from environmental disturbances.

“The children get diarrhea and become dehydrated, then they are given more dirty water,” Goodall said.  “There are trucks that sell water, but it is very expensive and many people can’t afford it.” 

In Australia, the Darling River has gone dry a number of times in the past few years due to increased agriculture and urban siphoning. 

“The bush just isn’t meant to support a high number of people,” explained Goodall.  “Downstream, the sea has moved up the rivers and into the wetlands, and now the marshes are saltier than the sea.”  Salination results in a huge shift in freshwater ecosystems; many organisms do not survive, and many become prey to foreign life forms moving in from the ocean.  Further inland, people are fighting over the water that used to flow freely into the sea. 

The issues in Africa and Australia may seem far from home, but water scarcity here in Danbury is a very real problem.  Candlewood Lake has been used as a back-up reservoir in the past, and although our area has many different water resources, the reservoir levels still hover below the margin of safety.

In fact, our water resources are in very real danger, and not just from overusage and contamination.  In March, the United Nations declared water a human need, but not a human right.  As the oil market is rife with profiteers, water is becoming increasingly privatized.  Suez, an international energy corporation, owns close to 40 subsidiaries, many of them water companies, including United Water. 

“These companies are beholden to their stock,” Dr. Kukk said, “not to the people.  When you actively question these companies, you find what’s behind the curtain, the pieces of the puzzle come together.  Suez has a campaign called ‘Water for All’ in an attempt to appear humanitarian, but really it’s water for those who can afford it.”

The scope of the water crisis can certainly be overwhelming.  As water problems are examined, other issues such as climate change, consumerism, overpopulation and corporate greed are uncovered.  But there are still plenty of small actions the individual can take to ensure the cleanliness and availability of water. 

Be conscientious of your water usage: take shorter showers, reuse your water glass a few times before getting a new one, do laundry less often, buy a reusable water bottle, instill the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” toilet rule in your home.  You can buy water conserving showerheads and low-flow toilets; you can get involved in your community on issues such as conservation, grey water options and climate change.

“It starts with a night like tonight,” Dr. Kukk said, reflecting on the turnout for the symposium.

“You take something you can get your hands around and do something about it,” enthused Dr. Goodall.  “You can say it’s an uphill battle, but what if Gandhi or Martin Luther King felt this way?  Nothing ever would have happened.”

This outlook proved true as Goodall recalled some of the efforts of the young people in her Roots and Shoots program.  In Illinois, a group of eight and nine year-olds investigated the impact a Perrier bottling facility would have on the local job market, environment, fishermen and wetland dwellers.  The kids sent their findings to the the Environmental Protection Agency, who put the building project on hold, performed an assessment and ultimately stopped the facility from being built. 

The hydrological cycle is a marvel. The water we drink today is the same the dinosaurs drank; that sparkling glass of Pellegrino has already been through numerous different kidneys.  Water is one of our sacred renewable resources; it needn’t be fought over if we treat it with the proper respect. 

Find out more about water conservation and sanitation: visit Ct.gov/dep, Ctiwr.uconn.edu, Vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw.htm, Epa.gov/watersense.

 

 

Originally published in Hat City Entertainment, December 2008

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