Native Americans fighting to protect their water sources from pollution caused by oil pipelines have promoted the meme "water is life". In the 1980s, during the UN Decade for Water, I was living in the west of Kenya and in Egypt, working with villagers building community water systems bringing clean, running water to their communities. In the Kakamega area of Kenya we walked about a half-mile, down into a ravine, to get our water. At the time I was very pregnant with my 2nd child and would occasionally give the small girls in the village a little money to bring me some water. They would race down to the spring, fill the gallon or two-gallon jug and bring it back to me balanced on their head. Taking a bath required bringing water to the house and heating it on a charcoal fire. I promised myself that each time I got into a hot shower I would say a prayer of gratitude for the amazing gift that hot running water is in my life.
Traveling in Japan and Australia have led me to ponder again our relationship and involvement with water. In Japan we visited the "Village of Living Water" where the community has preserved the ancient kabata system of water running through the community. The water doesn't just briefly come from their faucets, stay a few minutes in their sinks and then disappear into the drain, it is a constant presence flowing through their lives. They live in relationship with the flowing water and the creatures it supports, like the carp in their kabata fed by their food scraps.
Our lives of convenience have distanced us from the living reality of the importance of water and made us less aware of the fragility of its constancy. Climate change and growing populations have put our water resources at risk. Disappearing glaciers and snow pack will starve downstream communities of summer water, displacing millions of people. Single-use plastic chokes rivers and sickens our water life.
Here are 5 inspiring stories of communities who are creating a healing relationship with the water.
1. Engaging the Community. The residents of Lopez Island, Washington are taking on the scourge of single-use plastic. They have made a 12 minute movie about their strategy to stop polluting the Salish Sea (formerly named the Puget Sound).
2. Rehydrating the Landscape. The rivers of Australia have been profoundly changed by the introduction of animals by the white settlers in the 1800s and ongoing drought has plagued Australia in recent years. The Mulloon Institute, using techniques designed by Peter Andrews, are demonstrating ways to repair that damage and once again allow the land to store massive amounts of water, rehydrating the landscape. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has produced a great video about the project.
3. Local Development. It is well documented that when you slow and spread the flow of water it recharges the groundwater and rehydrates the land. This is being done around the world. I had a conversation recently where someone doubted the power of the poor people of the world to make the kind of changes we are talking about. And while large ecosystem restorations can be helped by funding by organizations like the World Bank, ecosystem regeneration of the land is often done by the people it affects the most - the local villagers. One beautiful illustration is in rural Rajasthan where villagers have regenerated 7 entire river systems.
4. The Chinese government, with the help of organizations like the World Bank, funded the ecosystem restoration of the Loess Plateau in China.
John D Liu's movie The Incredible Story of the Loess Plateau tells the story of the transformation of the Loess Plateau includes interviews with villagers several years after the work was done. Liu's adaptation of the movie that also highlights ecosystem restorations around the globe is called "Green Gold".
5. Of the top 100 solutions to climate change profiled in Drawdown.org, 25 of them have to do with changing the way we use land to capture water and grow our food. Improving our soil through regenerative methods can increase the organic matter in the soil from a fraction of an inch to several inches in just a few years. Carbon rich soils can soak up inches more rain per hour than carbon poor soils, keeping it available for growing plants.
A really great explanation of how this works is in Peter Byck's 12 minute video Soil Carbon Cowboys. "Meet Allen Williams, Gabe Brown and Neil Dennis - heroes and innovators! These ranchers now know how to regenerate their soils while making their animals healthier and their operations more profitable. They are turning ON their soils, enabling rainwater to sink into the earth rather than run off. And these turned ON soils retain that water, so the ranches are much more resilient in drought. It's an amazing story that has just begun."
Water is Life - Without water there is no life.