Water — The Earth’s Essential 21st Century Resource

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Mali: Mariama Oumara Dicko walks with yellow and orange bucket to get water. Source: BarrySampson.com

The value of water today is profoundly important, no matter where you happen to be on the globe.

Start first with these American perspectives, where we have always had it pretty good:

  • The deathbed words of a Wyoming rancher to his son: “Sell anything if you have to, except the water.”
  • “The point is that despite heroic efforts and many billions of dollars, all we have managed to do in the arid West is turn a Missouri-size section green — and that conversion has been wrought mainly with nonrenewable groundwater.” – Mark Reisner, Cadillac Desert, The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Then there are these world perspectives – drawn from places where access to water is no easy task:

  • The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is six kilometres and the weight of water they carry on their heads is about 20kgs – equivalent to the average airport luggage allowance. Today 1.1 billion people still do not have adequate access to safe water and 2.4 billion people are without appropriate sanitation.
  • Mariama Oumara Dicko lives in an isolated village in Mali. Scarce water supplies during the dry season forces her to go out three times a day, every day, to collect dirty water from manmade ponds. Each journey takes three hours.”
  • Tibetan prime ministerial and parliament elections are being keenly watched by more than 47% population of the world that survives on water whose sources are in Tibet. As many as 20 rivers in 10 countries are getting water emanating from Tibet and in the absence of any water sharing agreement with China, they cannot ensure uninterrupted water supply in these countries, speaker of Tibetan parliament-in-exile Penpa Tsering told The Times of India.

Investigative journalist Charles Fishman has just published an important book about water, The Big Thirst. It is one of those books that can be considered a critical read, especially for those wanting to understand water as a necessity for life and its growing economic value.

Yesterday he posted a lengthy article for Fast Company addressing many issues about this complex subject:Why GE, Coca-Cola, and IBM Are Getting Into the Water Business.”

He cites Michell Wool in Salisbury, located in South Australia, Australia’s driest state, which gets a mere 18 inches of rain a year, less than Flagstaff, AZ. Not far back, the company was washing all its wool in the same water Salisburians were using to shower and make coffee — tap water.

That is, until Michell and his colleagues started feeling “…the first tickles of something most of us are utterly unfamiliar with: water insecurity. Just because the big supply pipe from statewide water utility SA Water was coming into the plant and Michell had been buying $1 million (AUD) worth of water a year, that didn’t mean that in a serious drought, the price wouldn’t rise, the supply wouldn’t be sharply limited, or both.”

That was when Salisbury town leaders explored other methods for obtaining and distributing water, like a more effective disposal system of storm-water runoff that was collected in drains and culverts, before being piped untreated into the ocean six miles west.

“The town started a new kind of water utility, and Michell Wool became its biggest customer,” writes Fishman – once of many example worth the read.

He points out other corporations with water-intensive businesses, such as Coca-Cola — but also those whose water dependence is less obvious, like GE and IBM. “They all have that same tickle of anxiety about water security. For business, water management is fast becoming a key strategic tool.”

Mr. Fishman’s tome is a solid place to begin understanding how this tool is working.

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

Glenn Meyers has 449 posts and counting. See all posts by Glenn Meyers