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Fresh Water as an Indicator of Environmental Health

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September 13, 2010

John Matthews, PhD (Corvallis, Oregon). World Wildlife Fund - Fresh Water Program. From World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. "Global freshwater climate change."

World Water Week is an annual event sponsored by the Swedish government. It has been going on for 20 years and includes interested individuals from all over the world. The conference is intended to improve water usage worldwide, especially Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many experts, including Dr. Matthews are from North America.

Everyone in the world needs, as a necessity of life, access to clean water and sanitation.

Dr. Matthews is an ecologist for the World Wildlife Fund, which is interested in the relationship between climate change, fresh water and wildlife populations. Water also affects humans, agriculture and drinking water. This is his third World Water Week.

According to the National Geographic, globally, especially in water poor areas, water affects women and children more than adult males. Women must carry water each day and as caretakers to the children, the children must go with them. This precludes many other activities, such as going to school or becoming involved in the community.

World Water Week is concerned about climate change. Some places now have less water, some places more. Dry places are getting dryer and some wet places are getting wetter.

Australia is rapidly drying out. In SE Australia's Murray and Darling River basins, there has been draught for 15 years. Australia is the size of the 48 US states. Draught in Australia is affecting agriculture and wildlife and devastating the economy. India imports food from Australia and it is becoming increasingly expensive. Also, the pH of water seems to be changing in Australia. Fresh water is now more acid and therefore less potable.

The Australian government has created a Ministry of Climate Change which has cross-ministry powers and can work with all cabinet departments.

What they have done:
  • Water apportionment to make sure everyone has access. The government has purchased water rights and unified the system. This will probably happen in the Colorado basin, where users will own shares, not historic rights.
  • Improve efficiency with many water conservation programs designed to use less water per capita. In the US, each individual uses 200 liters of water a day (directly and indirectly). In Australia, this has dropped dramatically.

These are reasonable sacrifices to preserve a way of life. In any endeavor, water is the most important consideration. People need to take the widest possible view of water. It is in every cell, it is in the snow pack, it is in each drop of rain, it is in nearly all soil and it is in the atmosphere.

Pakistan was fairly rich in water from the Hindu Kush Mountains flowing into the Indus River, but they mismanaged it and had no contingency planning. This contributed immensely to the severity of the floods. There is enough water if managed properly. Very little water from the Indus reaches the ocean. Much of the India-Pakistan conflict involves access to water rich areas in a semi-arid region (Jammu and Kashmir).

In California, climate change could harm the wine industry. As the climate becomes dryer, the center of the wine industry will move northward to Oregon and Washington.

World water week: 2,000 to 4,000 participants. Sponsored by the Swedish Government and the Stockholm International Water Institute. Scandinavia has always been water rich and vitally interested in water. It sponsors many aid agencies worldwide where lack of water is always an issue. They are deeply concerned about the threat of climate change.

Prizes: First Prize in 2010 went to Dr. Rita Colwell at the University of Maryland. A Junior Prize went to two Canadians.