Critical Water Issues Provide Food for Thought

maude-barlow-blog4Maude Barlow (left) presented
the Global Water

keynote address.

The first day of the International Water Conference helped 400 participants gain a global perspective of critical water issues and some of the work that’s being done to solve them. It’s difficult to sum up the entire first day in one short post, but it’s safe to say that each speaker gave us all much food for thought.

It seems the key is to go back to nature.

The keynote was given by Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a “water warrior.” At turns she presented grim news and hope for the future. Currently there are water-related conflicts and crises around the world as evidenced by the headlines from newspapers that described water or drought problems in Israel, Iraq, Argentina, China, Kenya, Spain, Pakistan, southeast Asia and states in the western U.S. “It’s the greatest ecological crisis of all time,” she said.

“We have polluted, mismanaged, and displaced water as if it has no end and this has to stop,” she said. She detailed the human dimension of water issues by explaining that 2 billion people live in parts of world where there isn’t enough water or the water that’s there isn’t drinkable.

“Consequently, every 8 minutes a child is dying of a waterborne disease.”

The bottom line is that water shouldn’t be a commodity, but a fundamental human right and a public service. She mentioned Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit organization working to ensure clean water and safe food, as a way for consumers to keep current with issues related to the quality of our food and water.

Her hope is that “the global water crisis will be nature’s gift to humanity, to teach us how to live on the earth properly.”

Dr. Andrew Parker, a research leader at the Natural History Museum in London and Green Templeton College, Oxford University–and science advisor to Prince Charles–gave a fascinating talk on biomimetics.  Biomimetics is applying designs from nature to solve problems in engineering and science–including water conservation.

Some examples include how animals like the water-holding frog can survive a year of drought or how plants use water. Studying how beetles collect water from fog has applications for humans and new ideas for water collection systems to attract and recycle water.

Dave Gutzler, from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, tried not to be the “gloom and doom guy” as he took us through the 21st Century Climate Change Predictions for New Mexico. He made a solid case that demonstrates how increasing temperatures combined with natural drought cycles will cause water stresses “like never seen before.”

He ended with this question: “What are we going to do when temperatures are much warmer and ocean temperatures align to force a big drought across North America a few decades from now?”

Fortunately, the afternoon sessions offered some relief from the heat!

We were treated to a talk by Andy Lipkis, Tree People, on “Engaging Nature and Community to Protect and Heal our Communities.” Andy’s talk about sustainable projects was intended to give us all some encouragement and a sense of hope. His mission is to “inspire, engage and support people to take personal responsibility for the urban environment.”

This includes planting trees through citizen forestry and environmental education programs. “Kids are the drivers of change today,” he said. “They will keep us accountable and drive change.”

Another inspiring speaker was Brad Lancaster with his lively presentation on Water Harvesting and Sustainability. Brad strongly believes that rainwater should be a water source and that it can put us on the path to water abundance; that rainwater should be the primary source of landscape irrigation, greywater the secondary source and municipal or well water should be used as only a supplementary source.

One way to capture rainwater is in sunken rain gardens. We should learn from nature in the intact parts of our ecosystem and see what grows naturally in low spots and use those plants in our rain garden, he said.

The last speaker of the day was Toby Hemenway, permaculture designer and author of “Gaia’s Garden.” His talk on “A Sustainable Foodshed Through Permaculture,” helped get us started thinking in a different way about the processes and relationships of food and water.

In its most basic sense, “permaculture” is landscape design principles extracted from nature. One principle is to observe nature’s patterns before acting. Another is to make connections with guilds by creating plant communities that grow together, like corn, beans and squash. The goal is to “think like nature” with the end result of a greener world.

I liked how Toby ended the day. He said, “Nature is the teacher that will get us through all of this.”

After today’s indepth look at our watershed, I’m especially looking forward to tomorrow’s discussions on the foodshed. I hope you’ll check back in.


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Nice website! And the conference is wonderful. Am really looking forward to the “foodshed” part tomorrow.

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