Eau Woe

The extreme drought of the mid-seventies in California taught me to conserve water for the rest of my life. It’s a behavior habit, and sometimes an annoying duty.

I cringe when people in movies turn on a faucet and run water for minutes as they stare at the mirror.  It will be much harder to conscience such waste when great masses of humanity are in ugly protracted battles for drinkable water. Humans usually die after three days without any water.

My experience  in Africa showed  me the dark side of undependable water. People get greedy and charge punishing  prices and then sell nastier qualities of water as if they were pristine.

Highly objectionable latrines are common, particularly in urban slums. People get charged each use and there is no flush. The smell of human waste pervades the air within about a fifty-foot radius, depending on the breeze, if any. The less motivated simply squat in the ditch that runs through the narrow alleys between houses.

I fault Africa for not making the excretory process a little less hazardous for women. Just a toilet seat would help in almost every situation.  But then nobody would keep it clean, or would squat on the seat and break it. Unfamiliar luxury item.

The subject of water has bedeviled me for two decades. It’s time for me to swim upstream against prevailing denial. I hope we do not experience global water wars, although there are many conflicts already on the boil.

Water Wars – Global

From a report on ReliefWeb.org. [Source: adelphi  Originally published 21 Aug 2017 ]

“Water is limited. The global demand for freshwater has been growing rapidly due to population growth and greater affluence. At the same time, climate change and environmental degradation are altering the regional and seasonal availability and quality of water. The resulting competition over water use may lead to conflict and sometimes violence, though researchers emphasize that it is rarely the lack of water as such that fuels conflict, but rather its governance and management.” [Emphasis mine].

Image from the cover: The Price of Thirst – Global Water Inequality
and the Coming Chaos by Karen Piper

“Ten case studies from ECC Factbook  analyze the linkages between water and conflict. They look at various pathways through which water and security are connected and outline different attempts to find peaceful solutions.”  [I will cite only two in this episode.]

1. Dispute over water in the Nile Basin
The Nile basin features significant conflict over access to and rights over the Nile water resources among its eleven riparian countries. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), founded by 9 out of 10 riparian countries in 1999 with backing from major donor institutions, has achieved some successes in its attempts to strengthen cooperation. Yet, since 2007, diverging interests between upstream and downstream countries have brought negotiations to a standstill, pitting Egypt (and, to a lesser extent, Sudan) against upstream riparians, especially Ethiopia. In 2015, trilateral negotiations between these countries over a major dam under construction in Ethiopia led to a framework agreement that may, in time, prepare the ground for a broader agreement. Read more.

2. Water shortages and public discontent in Yemen
As a consequence of severe mismanagement, Yemen’s water availability is declining dramatically. The impacts on the people are unequally distributed, and corruption and nepotism are at the core of this imbalance. This has increasingly frustrated the disadvantaged, with water scarcity playing a role in fueling the political and security crisis in Yemen. Read more.

There’ll be two more global water sit reps in next episode.

Water Wars –  US

Florida, Georgia, Alabama

For more than three decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have disputed the use of two shared river basins—the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT). These river systems are used to meet multiple needs, including drinking water, power generation, agriculture, aquaculture, navigation and recreation.

The “Tri-State Water Wars” litigation began in 1990 when Alabama sued the Corps to prevent it from providing additional water to metro Atlanta from Lake Lanier and Allatoona Lake. Although the dispute has evolved and changed over time, it has focused on legal challenges to the Corps’ plans for managing the ACF and ACT Basins and a direct challenge in the United States Supreme Court by Florida regarding Georgia’s water use in the ACF Basin.

Source: https://atlantaregional.org/natural-resources/water/tri-state-water-wars-overview/


The record-breaking drought in California is not chiefly the result of low precipitation. Three factors – rising temperatures, groundwater depletion, and a shrinking Colorado River – mean the most populous U.S. state will face decades of water shortages and must adapt.

According to Food and Water Watch’s report: “Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the water used in California. In 2018, farms across the state used an estimated 7.9 trillion gallons.”

Not every water-intensive agriculture operation in California is connected to animal farming, but most are, including alfalfa farms supplying feed to livestock and industrial dairy operations. 

A fascinating historical overview:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_water_wars#Mono_Lake

There’ll be two more examples of US water conflicts in the next episode.

And some ideas on personal actions for conservation.