Preserving our Water Planet

We are encouraged to use less water, yet you and I are not the primary users of this resource.


There are substitutes for oil. There are no substitutes for water. It is through water that we are first experiencing climate change. Old solutions, like drilling deeper, building bigger dams, bringing water in from further away, and desalination will not avail us. Desalination plants are expensive to build. They use lots of energy and exacerbate climate change while producing a toxic waste that puts the marine environment at risk.

by Rebel Fagin

We are encouraged to use less water, yet you and I are not the primary users of this resource. Globally 70% of fresh water is used in agriculture, 20% is used in industry, and 10% is used in cities and towns.

We have tools available to deal with this. We can start by reducing subsidies, pricing water by its true value as a diminishing resource, and using more efficient dry farming irrigation techniques. We need to offer tax credits for efficiency and fine offenders. If the fines don’t work, put them in jail. That will get their attention.

We can use international capital to promote farming in underutilized, rain-fed croplands. These small farms could potentially increase the world’s food supply by up to 75% through the use of small-scale technology and without importing water. These farms are underutilized today because they don’t fit the large-scale agri-business model. Time to change the model.

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We must work with nature, not at it. Healthy ecosystems build resilience to change and provide a green infrastructure that filters out pollutants, sustains fisheries, and mitigates floods and droughts through healthy rivers, watersheds, and wetlands. The most important resource a healthy watershed provides is clean drinking water.

New York City invested $1.5 billion to restore the Catskill-Delaware watershed instead of spending $6 billion for a filtration plant. The citizens of Napa got tired of periodic flooding and reconnected the Napa River with its historic flood plain. Some homes and businesses had to be relocated and watersheds rebuilt. Flood protection increased, flood insurance rates dropped, and residents enjoy parks and trails through the restored wetlands. In Brazil upstream farmers are paid to keep waterways healthy for downstream neighbors. Working with nature, capping groundwater and river depletion, removing dams to restore waterways, protecting wetlands, retrofitting homes and businesses, fixing municipal leaks, planting buffer strips by streams, utilizing a fines and rewards system for water management practices, and sponsoring campaigns promoting rational water usage are all being used successfully throughout the world. In 2009 Boston reduced demand for water by 43%.

Reducing demand is up to you and me. Most people I know limit their shower time and how often they flush their toilets. Some have planted native vegetation, put in rainwater catchment systems or installed composting toilets while others put a pot under the faucet when running water, waiting for it to heat up. The point is there’s a lot we can learn from our neighbors.

Saving water saves energy. Using less energy slows the rate of climate change. Choosing a less water-intensive diet helps. A serving of bread, two slices, costs 80 liters of water to produce. A hamburger costs 2,400 liters of water to produce. If all Americans halved their meat consumption we could save the equivalent of 14 Colorado Rivers.

At an Earth Day Festival in 2013, Don McEnhill of the Russian River Keepers asked the crowd: “What makes Earth unique?” The answer: “We are the water planet. Without it we die.”

Sources: Post Carbon Reader © 2010 Post Carbon Institute, Earth Day in Healdsburg 4/20/13

Rebel Fagin writes for the Sonoma County Peace Press &