Drink Quenching Water? First Step: Rethink River Protection

Written by Lisa Hayden on . Posted in Learn


In celebration of World Water Day, pour yourself a tall, cool glass of clear liquid and drink to your health.

The Nature Conservancy has been focusing a lot on water lately – because it’s such a crucial resource that people cannot live without. And it’s something we all use every day. So it’s easy to understand how we all depend on nature – rivers, springs and aquifers – for our drinking water.

Here in the U.S., many of us are fortunate to be able to turn on the faucet and have clean water rush out of the tap. (Though that does not necessarily mean most people know where their water comes from.)

In many other parts of the world, securing clean water can be a much more difficult task.

A River Runs Through Us, a film by Carla Pataky, tells the story of people around the world who depend on rivers for life. It was originally screened at Rivers for Life 3 – a 2010 meeting of river activists from 50 countries, held in rural Mexico.

The film includes interviews with two Nature Conservancy freshwater scientists, Jeff Opperman and Brian Richter, who discuss the importance of floodplains and dynamic, natural river flows that are lost or become highly regulated when rivers are dammed. And today, the world has more than 50,000 large dams.

More than two billion people depend on rivers for food security and their general survival, according to the film. And more than 472 million people who live downstream of dams have been affected by their construction. In some cases, ancestral lands are inundated and communities have been displaced.

Many developing nations are counting on hydropower for future energy needs. But the film points out that dams are huge and somewhat inflexible projects for bringing electricity to people who don’t currently have it.

Many dams are being planned and built without much analysis of how the climate will be changing. So, dams designed for lower flows could fail or be unable to handle very high flows. And in areas where droughts become more common, dams could become unable to deliver enough water to people who need it.

Activists in the film argue that smaller-scale, decentralized solar, wind or small-scale hydro projects could be a better solution, not to mention water recycling.

So, sit back and watch the film. And enjoy a glass of water while you’re at it.

Lisa Hayden is climate change writer for The Nature Conservancy

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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