What is Water Sustainability
Whenever I share the origins of Below the Surface and our mission to reshape water sustainability, there’s one question that always comes up.
“What does reshaping water sustainability actually mean?”
If you googled the answer, you’d find thousands of different definitions and debates about the most effective strategies to achieve it.
But at the heart of water sustainability is really just 2 things…
“Raising the bar…and keeping it raised”
Now, it seems simple enough and in many ways it is…but like anything meaningful in life, it takes undeniable energy and pursuit to achieve it.
Because in order to raise the bar, we first have to define what the bar is.
Who has the best access to clean water, who has the best quality of water, who spends the least time walking and waiting for water…who’s the best when it comes to water sustainability?
Then, once we’ve identified the benchmark, we have to understand the systems (economic, environmental, social, and human) that move the bar closer or further away from the goal.
What factors create good water conditions for some and worse conditions for others?
What are the triggers that move the bar up and down?
Finally, once we’ve decided the ‘what’ of where we want to go and the ‘hows’ of the strategy that get us there, we then have to take an unflinching look at the reality of where we currently are
As of 2017, 785 million people lacked access to clean water.
785 Million people.
Most of us have a hard time imagining a million of anything let alone the 785 million faces behind the water crisis, so let me put that number into perspective.
Imagine if the Staples Center had a historic, record-setting night of attendance. The parking lot is jam-packed, lines are flooding out the doors, jerseys are waving in the air, there’s so many people that fans have to sit in the stairwells to see the game… not a single seat in the stadium is empty.
And imagine, coincidentally, on the same night, Madison Square Garden happens to have a record-breaking night too. Spike Lee shows up, fans from all over show-up in droves, and it’s an event for the ages.
If the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden both had historic nights of attendance, on the same night, every night, for 365 nights every year…it would take more than 51 years to seat the 785 million people without access to clean water.
That’s more than 18,000 consecutive nights.
Now imagine 18,000 nights without water…
…instead of seats at the game…its empty seats behind school desks because someone’s child had to choose between finding water to survive and going to class that day…instead of people in long lines waiting to get in the stadium…it’s people in much longer lines waiting for water that may or may not be at the end…where some may die before even seeing the end…it’s families that have to choose between using dirty water to bathe or to drink it and become sick because there isn’t enough water to do both…
785 million people like the many other statistics that are heard around water has a meaning…it’s the number of people that make water sustainability done right actually matter.
Reshaping water sustainability is important because it takes the scale of the issue and adjusts the framework of how we visualize it.
It moves us from an abstract statistic and zooms us in on every face impacted by every decision we make when we look to implement a solution.
It’s about going small.
And when you go small and take a deep-dive into the “hows” of the solution, that changes the question.
Instead of “how many people can we provide with clean water, how many projects can we build, and how fast can we do it…
Sustainability asks what are the right solutions to create,
Which solutions fit the nuances of each community,
What does history say about the most effective way to implement these water solutions,
….and most importantly what will we be done differently with each solution that has the power to revitalize an entire community
It moves us from “how many” and “how fast” to “how effective” and “how long”
Water sustainability is a question of longevity.
Which would you choose…100 projects that each last 1 year or 1 project that lasts a 100 years?
Reshaping water sustainability is really understanding the difference and how to achieve it.
One component of achieving it lies in building a foundation for economic growth.
An effective solution creates job opportunities, helps implement the strategy for long-term funding, and provides the training needed to maintain the solution.
This approach not only ensures self-sufficiency but it instills community ownership.
The families that make up the community receive not only clean water but also the skills in key areas like WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), CR-WSP (Climate Resilient Water Safety Planning), and effective maintenance standards that are vital to making the solution last.
Reshaping water sustainability also includes envisioning environmental effects before implementing a solution.
Envisioning environmental effects asks
“what role does the environment play in the overall lifecycle of the solution both now and long-term?”
For example, some areas may have low potential for groundwater but may have a higher than average rainfall and would be a better fit for a storage tank or rainwater harvesting solution as opposed to a well.
Or, a solution may greatly improve water access for a community but can have a high-risk of soil erosion that can impact agriculture and the livelihood of farmers nearby.
We have to understand how the environment impacts solutions.
Everything from biodiversity to climate change and aquifer depth is important to understand, and this understanding drives the where, when, and how of each solution and how long it lasts.
Lastly and most importantly water sustainability connects deeply with the vision and knowledge of the people.
To be truly sustainable, a solution has to weigh important things like timing and social climate to decide when and whether a project should be done in a given area and which type is likely to succeed.
You only gain this understanding from personal connections.
When you immerse yourself into the community, you understand the history behind the management of water resources, you learn about solutions that were successful and the ones that didn’t work …and you learn why.
Through this process, everyone involved begins to understand how to innovate and improve from the people that know it best.
And above all, when you begin and end with the people in mind you build trust and the seeds of a meaningful relationship.
From building an economic foundation and developing skills within communities to understanding environmental factors and connecting deeply with the people…
…..every consideration plays an essential role in “raising the bar…and keeping it raised”
By Jetuwr Davis
Check out the audio version of episode 2 on Itunes: SustainIT
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