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🗳️ "Moving From Scarcity to Sustainability "


Photo by K H / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Travis Loop
Guest: Brian Richter | President | Sustainable Waters
Category: 🗳️ Policy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:18] “I was the very first full time water hire in the Nature Conservancy back in 1991. And over the last couple of decades […] we were able to build the ranks of people working on water within the Nature Conservancy to more than 600 people. So you can imagine that was exhilarating, rewarding, very very exciting. We went from primarily working in the United States […], to […] about 30-35 countries, on more than 150 different projects.”

[3:38] “Prior to 1990, even the biggest conservation organizations in the world, weren’t really that involved in freshwater conservation - rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands. It was mostly terrestrial conservation. […] But finally I think [ the Nature Conservancy] started to realized that all of these terrestrial areas that they were trying to protect […], an awful lot of them had water in them, had rivers flowing through them, and yet they really didn’t have the knowledge, the expertise to be able to deal with some of the water problems that were emerging. There were upstream users of the water that were drying up the steam as it went through the protected area properties and there was water pollution problems as well.”

[12:01] “Here in the United States, as we were developing the country and particularly as we began to migrate into the western United States and started to use the water in the rivers for our growing cities and for agricultural areas, we didn’t think about the fact that we might want to leave some water in the river to protect the health of fish and everything else […] that lives in the river and of course […] to enable recreation on the river […]. So we didn’t leave any environmental flow […]. And as consequence we have many many places, the Colorado River, the Rio Grande […], where we were taking so much water out that we completely dry them up and that’s causing all kinds of […] impacts.”

[13:00] “There were a couple of places, really beginning with South Africa, [that have done a better job]. […] As Apartheid fell and Mandela came into presidency in South Africa, 1994, one of the really important things that he did was, he appointed a human rights lawyer to become the water minister […]. And [they were] rewriting the national Water Act of South Africa. […] And one of the really important things that they did is [that] they said the first priority is to set aside enough water to meet basic human needs and to also […] make sure that enough water is flowing down these rivers to protect their ecological health. Because they very well understood that healthy rivers were supporting the quality of life, literally supporting the livelihoods and wellbeing of very very large populations. So before they went about allocating any of the rest of the water, those two aspects got reserved from the water allocation system. And only then, once that reserve was […] carved out, did they allow to start issuing water licenses […] for the rest of the water. And it was just such a progressive and innovative move back in 1998 and now other countries have followed that lead. And here in the United States we’re trying to play catch up. Conservation organizations have to buy back water rights to get water back into rivers here. So it would be so […] good if states in the eastern US that haven’t dried up the rivers, would follow that kind of the lead.”

[16:04] “It’s finding that balance between how much water do you allow to remain within […] a river, a stream, or even a lake, a groundwater aquifer […]. We’ve learned through or mistakes that this is a really important consideration. […] In many many places unfortunately we’re already beyond that balance, we’ve sort of over allocated, we are overusing the water supply. Our analyses suggest that that’s the case in about a third of all the world’s rivers and streams. […] And the people that depend on those systems get in trouble. They are threatened with water shortages and all kind of impacts, […] like not even having enough water to be able to generate electricity at power plants […].”

[18:41] “One of my first principles is: When you are trying to resolve a water problem to really understand where the problem emanates from. In other words, with water scarcity, water shortages, it’s really important to understand in some detail, how the water is being used, where does the water go […] that we are taking out of this river or this lake […].”

[19:07] “[A]cross the United Stated it varies […], but generally […] irrigated agriculture […] accounts to 2/3 to 3/4 of all the water use. And then urban water use, meaning urban drinking water supplies, industries, commercial operations, manufacturing […] largely accounts to the other 1/4 to 1/3. And so, the really good news, […] is that many large urban areas [whose] populations are increasing, […] their total water usage is actually going down. […] And our analysis suggests that we will be able to do a lot more of that. We’re not done. We’re not tapped out at all on water conservation, water efficiency. That’s the good news side. We now need to see a similar revolution in the agricultural sector. […] That means changing the kinds of crops we grow in different places, it means getting a lot better in the way we apply irrigation water, and it means improving soil.”

[22:59] “Through all that work with the Nature Conservancy […], the one [issue] that really ended up concerning me the most is what refer to as water scarcity. So water scarcity is a situation where we get accustomed to using more water than is sustainable in a particular place. […] We are in a situation where we are at great risk of water shortages. […] Interestingly it has caught the attention of the financial sector. The World Economic Forum puts out a report every year of global risks and for the last five years, water and specifically water scarcity, has risen to the top of those global risk for the global economy. […] It’s starting to finally get the attention, it […] really needs. And […] I’m also attracted to working on that, because I think that the solutions exist and the challenge is communicating them, educating, motivating, inspiring people to do the right thing, to do better with the way they use water.”

[26:01] “One of the frustrating things […] for me is that for some reason, I guess it’s just in our human genetics, we have a real big problem with dealing with slow moving chronic problems. I think the pandemic is so illustrative of that, climate change is so illustrative of that. And in the water arena, unfortunately, the vast majority of the historical instances have been that we don’t take the necessary steps, we don’t respond adequately until we’re having a really seriously tangible crisis. It’s not until literally the taps run dry […].”

[30:29] “What I have tried to do is just to make [my students at the University of Virginia] water literate. […] I know that water is gonna be one of the biggest issues in their lifetimes and particularly […] under the influence of climate change. And so I want to make sure that they understand both, the challenge that they are facing, but they also understand that there are things that we can do about it.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 33 min | 🗓️ 03/24/2021
✅ Time saved: 30 min

Additional Links:
The Sustainable Rivers Project
Book: Chasing Water: A Guide for Moving from Scarcity to Sustainability (Brian Richter)