Water in an Insecure World

It’s a sunny March afternoon in the San Francisco Bay Area and it hasn’t rained in more than a week, so my neighbors are watering their lawn. And why shouldn’t they, with all of the rain that we’ve gotten in California this winter? There’s clearly not a drought anymore. 

If only it were that simple. 

But here in California (and globally!) water issues aren’t clear-cut. That’s why Middlebury President’s Course Water in an Insecure World: Symbol, Resource or Commodity? is so timely. Unpredictable and extreme weather is a direct result of climate change and a core theme of the course. Off the page in the real world, this translates to  droughts where water used to be abundant, more water in dry regions and a dramatic increase in extreme weather events. This has repercussions for our ecosystems, politics, economics and everyday lives. 

In California for example, our water is stored in three distinct, fairly equally distributed, sources: mountain snowpacks, groundwater, and surface water (lakes, rivers and reservoirs). Losing any of these three sources will compromise a system that supports 30 million people and over 5 million acres of farmland annually. For example, if weather patterns change and California no longer receives the historical amount of snowfall we’re used to, we’ll be lacking a third of the water needed to get through the year. California’s water system doesn’t have enough reservoir capacity water to make up for lacking snowpack. 

California’s potential water insecurity really hits home when I take a minute to think about all the ways I use water in my everyday life. Of course, I drink it, wash in and with it. I cook with it. I water my houseplants and garden. I wash my car. I poop in it. And then there’s all the hidden water I use – the food I eat took water to grow. The clothes I wear took water to process. The computer I’m typing on took water to manufacture the different components. 

When I think about that how water is both present and hidden everywhere in our daily lives, it really helps frame everything that I’ve been hearing and learning in the President’s Course. The first half of the course dove into the science, culture, literature, politics and economics of water. As the course continues, there will be more focus on the challenges and opportunities we face around water – ocean health, marine pollution, governance conflicts, fishing and the future of water. 

Participating in the President’s Course, watching the lectures and reading the articles and reports has been a good reminder for me, both of our precarious water situation in California, and also  to get engaged in local environmental issues. 

What you can do: 

  1. Educate yourself further about water issues in your area and abroad
  2. Contact your local and national representatives to let them know you’re concerned about how climate change is affecting the water cycle, your local water system, and your water needs. 
  3. Prepare yourself for changing weather patterns. Install rainwater catchment and set up graywater systems in your home so you can water your yard.