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Water Water Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink...

July 25, 2018

 

I've been thirsty lately, and water rights has been on my mind!

 

Over the last three years there has been a constant conversation about water in my realm. 

 

But why? I didn't grow up thinking about water. These days, I realize how much of a luxury this was, but also a sign of my privilege (and yes, white privilege) mixed with location. I grew up with the Great Lakes being my watershed, and at the time, life seemed pretty stable with little to no focus on water.

 

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WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA

 

The first time I started to think about water on a daily basis was back in 2015-16 when I was living and working in Namibia on a Fulbright Scholarship

 

And yes, I am a permaculture designer, so tend to think a lot more about water catchment, sinking and spreading in general, but this was a new type of reality...and panic.

 

 

When I first reached Namibia, I was living in a poor township within Hereroland about 10km to the town of Gobabis. I woke up to the crow of the rooster, got up outta bed, stumbled downstairs to the bathroom, and there it was-not...no water. Confused, I went to the water pump near the house and no water.

 

At some point a Herero neighbor came outside and gestured "no water," but gleefully pointed me to the direction of a well. I got through the morning, and many mornings without water. The townships are among the first places where water is shut off during shortages. Funny what an extreme it took for me to notice water...in the middle of the Kalahari Desert! Things didn't get much better when I moved to capital either...

 

See, in 2016 Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, was completely depleted of their dam's water storage. This dam was the city's watershed, and while the citizens made a conscious effort to conserve water with short weekly showers, one basin water sinks for washing dishes and general cleaning usage, setting up water catchment tanks and letting their lawns fry and dry (Lawns take up so much water and resources!!!) their watershed dried up...completely. The government had prepared for this for some time now (nearly 50 years) and the water you get from the tap is indeed purified waste water....yep, you heard me-turning your black, brown, and yellow murky water back into a glass of cool, clear water. There's a great article on PRI linked here if you are interested in learning more about  specifics of Namibia's water treatment process. It's a controversial approach, and yet still provides a base for dialogue about water rights and resourcefulness.  

 

I personally used Windhoek's tap water to shower (mind you I only lived in Windhoek about 3 months of my year stay) and to brush my teeth. The first month I tried to drink the water boiled, but it had a strange taste and within a week my entire body was covered in bumps and acne. I experienced more PMS than usual and has severe cramping. My body in general is more sensitive than others. Many Namibians drink this water everyday without any issues. I however, lasted just under a month and then got my water from a friend's farm who had a borehole.

 

It's great to have connections, I realize how fortunate I was. There of course is a plethora of bottled water that could be bought as well in the stores, but once again, I realized how important having access to clean water was. 

 

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CHICAGO, IL USA

 

 

Now, since moving back to Chicago I find out my tap water is contaminated with LEAD! Whaaa???? Of course I realize that while living in the city I am exposing myself to pollutants, but I never thought I would be affected by lead contamination. I live in Bridgeport, which is considered the lower south side of Chicago. It's becoming more and more built up and gentrified, and soon I too will be push out of the area. 

 

If you live in Chicago and are concerned about your water, call 311 for a free sample testing. The city is taking steps to address this hazard, however, it takes nearly 5 months for final results. Many older houses can experience lead contamination due to the pipes used, not so much because the initial water source was contaminated. Our faucet is an old one and there is speculation if that is the cause of the 25 parts per billion (there should be no more than 15 parts per billion). In a week the city will be coming out with a plumber, electrician, and engineer to take more samples and have a final diagnosis. It's also important to note that this city testing does not demand your landlord change the piping/faucet if you do have lead contamination, so if you're supporting a landlord that doesn't give a damn about your health, and refuses to change your systems, best get out and put your business elsewhere.  

 

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FORT MYERS, FL USA

 Even more so- I'm currently in Cape Coral, FL, which is about a 20 minute drive from Fort Myers. Fort Myers is experiencing an intense bloom of the "red tide" and "slime water this year!" This bloom is directly correlated to overly produced phosphorus from fertilization of the sugar cane crops in the south and cattle production in the north. When the rainy season comes, the fertilizers that were flooding into Lake Okeechobee then makes its way to the coast, with Fort Myers being the last stop until coastal waters. There's a great video that is hosted by the Weather Channel that you cans see here. 

 

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It was a frightening experience in each situation.

 

Imagine waking up to no water and no store to buy it from.

 

Imagine the instability in realizing the water you have been drinking is contaminated with a heavy metal!

 

Imagine coughing your lungs out on a family excursion down to the beach.

 

These are our realities. And honestly, I'm fed up and angry. 

 

I don't like being a debbie-downer and personally prefer to balance out the stresses with positive action addressing my fears and stress. There are indeed actions we can take as individuals, citizens and communities. 

 

Awareness and the willingness to learn, share, and talk about these issues is the best starting point anyone can be in (in my humble opinion:) Conversations with family, landlords, landowners, and friends are a great place to start. I do find though, that an even better place to start is with your own life routines and to lead by example. Sometimes folks just need a little visual to imagine what their life could be like <3

 

Conscious usage of water when brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing dishes, and watering your plants is a great everyday way you can make a difference.

 

Grow a portion of your food and get rid of that big o' lawn! There's so many resources that can make your space a success while saving money and contributing to a healthier lifestyle. I grew a portion of my food on my balcony for years and it quickly became one of my favorite hobbies...which then grew into a career. 

 

Money where your heart is...look, the harsh reality is that every time we make a purchase we are contributing to what shapes our future. We support big ag products, pesticides and fungicides, big lawns, cheap products and meat...we put our money into a future where everyday basic human rights are being compromised. I sympathize with folks on a tight budget, heck, I too am considered below poverty line, but I don't feel it as much as I did before. Why? Because I grow a portion of my own food, I trade with friends, and I'm physically healthy for doing so. 

 

Activist-let your inner "give-a damn" voice get out there and contribute to your community. There are a plethora of amazing community gardens, organizations, permaculture sites, volunteer days, water rights activists, clean your beach day, even awareness parties to attend! Meet-up and Change.org are great resources to get involved in different capacities...And if there aren't any fun change provoking activities you want to attend, who better to host one than you-yes you, who is reading this article now. I believe in you, and all our abilities to live more responsibly. I hope you do too. 

 

 

 

 

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