A Primer on the Global Water Crisis

A Primer on the Global Water Crisis

Why you should care

Because we are all made of water, mostly. 

The orange vendor at the Mountain View farmers market was talking about the drought. And talking, and talking, and talking. And because of his uncommon generosity with the samples, we listened, rapt.

None of these oranges would be here in eight months, he said, sweeping one arm to encompass the three tables piled high with fruit, all $1.80 a pound. With the other, he held out a toothpicked section of navel orange toward us, and we obligingly took it. He continued: All the farmers he bought from were pulling out of the citrus business because of the drought. We opened our mouth to ask a question but he shoved another sample, this one of tangelo, at us. We’ve known about this drought for ages, he said, and no one did anything. The tangelo was sweet, of course, and also heartbreakingly juicy. Well, he said, now it was too late.

We walked home with 5 pounds of tangelos, wondering whether the vendor’s rant was a sales ploy — scarcity and demand and all that. But two days later, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown declared statewide mandatory water reductions. We always thought an earthquake would kill California, but now we’re thinking it’ll be the drought.

The imminent U.S. difficulties are not limited to California, either, as Emily Cadei reported in the fall. In Water Wars: The Political Battles Are Just Getting Started, she told of politicians tapping (sorry) a growing public angst about water, of Republicans and Democrats alike taping political ads before apocalyptically dry landscapes. The current path is not sustainable: America’s population has nearly doubled over the past 50 years, but we’ve pretty much neglected infrastructure and regulatory frameworks since the 1960s. But fixing how we govern water will be very difficult: Our policies emerged out of a big scramble for water rights in the 1950s and 1960s. Read more here.

Of course, much of the rest of the world has long been used to water being not just a natural resource, but also a political commodity. There will be winners and losers in any water policy. In Who Grabbed My Water?, Laura Secorun Palet described the new version of the land grab: The water grab. Some 450 cubic kilometers of water is grabbed each year, an amount equivalent to Brazil’s annual water consumption, and the grabbers tend to be the most politically powerful or biggest countries: the United States (of course), but also Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and India. Read more here.

What can you do about the water crisis? More than throw up your hands in despair, that’s for sure. Here’s one suggestion: Get over your fear of graywater. Last year, in Flushed With Pride, Pooja Bhatia reported on an inexpensive sink fixture that recycles the water you use to wash your hands into your toilet tank. It might make you feel like you deserve those very sweet tangelos after all. Read more here.

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