By Kate Bunney with Gigi Coyle
World Water Day, Monday, March 22, 2021
Each year it seems there are more and more events happening on March 22nd to celebrate water, to recognize and witness, to talk about, sing with, be in prayer with. World Water Day – the day to remember water as the life-giving force it is. But what about the other 364 days … what do we do with water on those days, how do we celebrate and grieve with water? Yes, it’s important to give a day of our attention to water and it’s also important to recognize that so many give their lives for water in gratitude, in protection, and daily care.
It is said that the planet is in a water crisis. (LINK: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/series/americas-water-crisis). For Indigenous, Black, and Brown communities that crisis has been felt and voiced for much longer than what many within the dominant system are now just beginning to realize. And still, some corporations have known for a long time and been buying up water left and right. (LINK: https://e360.yale.edu/digest/wall-street-begins-trading-water-futures-as-a-commodity)
Many again within the dominant system are attempting to fix the situation from the same place that created what are now seen as devastating impacts on the lands, the waters, and the peoples. Perhaps this water crisis is better named a human crisis.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller
For example, in Minnesota, on Anishinaabe territory, Line 3 is a proposed pipeline expansion to bring nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin (LINK: https://www.stopline3.org/#intro). It was proposed in 2014 by Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the US. Enbridge seeks to build a new pipeline corridor through untouched wetlands and the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples, through the Mississippi River headwaters to the shore of Lake Superior.
We know that pipes break, we know that innovation and climate change are demanding of us to use less oil for energy production, gasoline and plastic products, and we know that if we pollute Lake Superior – the largest freshwater lake in the world then we have committed irreparable damage. As well we know that destroying the sovereign land of the Anishinaabe is more injustice of the kind that has taken place on Turtle Island since settlers first arrived. (LINK: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/treaties-between-the-united-states-and-indigenous-nations-explained)
Perhaps this water crisis is a human crisis.
In Detroit, even before Flint, Michigan became famous for the poisoning of large sections of the Black and Brown local communities, the injustice of water management has been something endured for many years. There are so many communities in the US that simply do not have access to clean drinking water because of current water management. We know that if water is fed through pipes that are eroding, made from poisonous metals, and not cared for, then that will seep into our drinking water.
In Payahuunadu (Owens Valley, CA) the Paiute/Numu people have been risking their lives and often being killed since the early 1800s at the hands of settlers, mining companies, and the government. Many know the history of the City of Los Angeles which began draining the Valley in 1913 to build LA. After tending the land, developing complex creek systems for hundreds or thousands of years, that would best serve the land, the tribe now live on reservations that have minimal quotas of water for drinking and irrigation. When we asked an international water expert, Rajendra Singh, how he would design and ‘manage’ the water in Payahuunadu now, he described exactly how the tribes had done at the beginning; when we know that rainwater collection systems within LA are actually possible if we put our minds and hearts and money towards it; when we know that re-introducing the creeks system and ending the transport of the water down to LA would transform the health of the deepest valley in this country – why would we not all work to stop the desertification of this place? Why are more people not joining in this prayer and action? People speak about reparations – is this Valley not one of the places for that to be done? Walking Water’s prayer is to restore and rebuild our relations to people, place, waters, and land.
And in Cape Town, SA, towns in Colombia, and in many other villages, towns, and countries, communities are facing the threat of Day Zero – where there simply won’t be water running through the creeks, rivers, let alone the faucets, anymore. Again, is this a water crisis leading to a human crisis or a human crisis leading to a water crisis?
There is a life logic that is missing in many of the current water management plans that means they appear to lack any resilience, any response to the changes that are happening in the world because of climate change. The infrastructures are no longer able to cope and yet keep persisting on using that which we know doesn’t work. Are we able to turn our attention and that of others in seats of power and responsibility, towards the visions and possibilities held by some of the incredible water workers around the world, as well as those lived into by the original peoples of the lands and waters?
What would be the 3rd way …. where relationship with water is placed in the center, where it becomes the deciding factor, the decision-maker?
Rajendra Singh, the Waterman of India, has regenerated seven rivers in India through his water work with local communities. Michal Kravčík, the Slovak hydrologist and environmentalist has dedicated his life to creating alternative models of water management that support the regeneration of ecosystems (LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michal_Kravč%C3%ADk). And Tamera, a community in Portugal, has become a practical model for how to integrate water management models into community settings. Each of them proposes a decentralized model of water management, a way where local communities are asked again to be responsible for the care and life of the waters. Not just on March 22nd but also the other 364 days of the year. With all we know, are we ready for the change, our part to play?