Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Small Steps - Individual Actions in the Water Crisis

Although the assignment is to share a big, impressive solution for the water crisis, I want to instead highlight individuals who have changed their own lives, and the lives of their families and neighbors, with innovative solutions to their own, very local, water crises. I chose to do this because there are many ways to approach a problem, from creating something cheap and world-changing (like the play pump or chlorinators) to simply improving a little bit of the world a tiny step at a time.

Three Remarkable Innovators
The first is Abadi Redehey of Ethiopia, who farms less than half a hectare on a hillside in a climate that is very wet for part of the year and dry at other parts. In the rainy season, water used to run off his hillside. Inspired by the sewer system he saw in the town of Axum, Mr. Redehey dug earth canals and lined them with stones. The canals run diagonally down the hill underneath his farmland. When it rains, the water is collected in pits. This water is used to irrigate the field (with a treadle pump) during the dry season. Mr. Redehey now has 3 harvests a year and has diversified his crop -- ensuring his and his family's food security.

The second is Alex Ole-Pere of Kenya. Mr. Ole-Pere also noticed water running off after the rains, and he built a dam -- by digging and piling the earth -- to collect it, and built a system of channels to bring it to his fields. His neighbors can draw from his water supply for themselves and their livestock as well.

The third person also lives in Kenya. Peter Olochoki Letoya built underground storage tanks that hold enough water for his crops and his family -- at one-tenth the cost of the concrete tanks that are sold in his area. His tanks are dug from the earth, lined with plastic sheeting, and covered with cedar posts. Other farmers in the area have started to build tanks like his too, and he is planning to build an elevated tank to hold rainwater so he can use drip irrigation.

These stories, and additional information on water harvesting, can be found on Farmradio.org (http://www.farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/89-3script_en.asp).

Research Notes
I started my research by finding out about local water issues in my area (northern California). Before beginning this research, all I knew is that the water I drink comes from the Sierras, and I like the taste of it. I've always felt lucky to have such delicious water easily available -- especially when I travel to other cities where the water that comes out of the taps is not very palatable.

One thing I learned about the water supply in my area is that the system it comes from, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, supports nearly two-thirds of the state of California and is a very fragile system. In fact, the wh*** system that supports California is fragile; it is estimated that an earthquake of 6.5 or higher magnitude in the right location could knock out more than 20% of the system.

I also learned that last year, due to water restrictions, farmers were unable to farm several hundred thousand acres of farmland -- and that these restrictions were due in part to an effort to save populations of salmon and smelt fish. This interested me particularly because of my research in week two on sustainable fishing. I didn't discover the link between California salmon populations and fallow farmland until just now, but everything is intertwined on this great and complex planet. If the farmers use the water to farm, there isn't enough freshwater in the streams for salmon to spawn. Chinook salmon nearly disappeared in California, and there hasn't been a local salmon season in two years.

In my research, I found a lot of descriptions of fundraisers -- some quite ingenious -- that kids did in order to send money to organizations that work to address the water crisis. I started looking into personal solutions in dry areas because I was curious about what kinds of things individuals without a lot of resources were doing.

OpEdNews piece: Getting Water to Crops

Views: 30

Comment by Mark Mulkerin on March 30, 2010 at 2:17am
I hadn't realized salmon spawned as far south as California, but it makes sense. As a long time former resident of Washington state, it was always a tug of war between crop irrigation in the eastern part of the state, enough water for salmon runs, and enough water for hydroelectric. If you are interested, you might write your rep (I wrote about it in a blog) and express on opinion on historic use it or lose it water rights rules. As it stands at least in Washington state, farmers and other water rights owners can lose their ownership if they don't use it during a set period of time whether they need it or not and whether they would rather leave the water in the ground or river for other uses. It is a perverse incentive that doesn't help anyone much.
Comment by ninmah on March 30, 2010 at 8:03pm
Thanks, Mark, for your comment as well as the suggestion and information. I wasn't aware of the Use It Or Lose It rules, but I agree with you, it doesn't seem like that would promote sustainable water use!


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