Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Value Based Water Management

Value based water management is a topic that I think of often. I believe that there is an intrinsic link between human values and what humans do to the water scape. Science and technological advances have enabled us to be better manipulators of our natural environment and made our lives more comfortable. We no longer have to walk five miles everyday to get a bucket of water and enjoy acres of lush green lawns and rain forest recreation in the middle of a dessert. We have indeed come a long way from how our ancestors lived. While we have devised new ways to secure a cocooned life, we have lost our symbiotic relationship with nature. That hurts us now in more ways than we can comprehend. In some ways, I think, in spite of all the technological advances, we have become 'stupider'!

Man is a part of nature, not above it. All ancient cultures recognized this. Be it Native Americans, the Tribes in Africa and Asia, or the Aboriginals in Australia... All these cultures had the same underlying principle (or philosophy) - "Respect nature". It was this respect that also allowed them to manipulate the environment, BUT with the emphasis on not doing any harm. Living in those days meant understanding and existing in harmony with the environment rather than dominating it. Nature was not the enemy, nor was it a commodity that can be exploited for wealth and power. Nature had a value of it's own in day to day life where every living thing (and sometimes non living thing as well) were interconnected and had a special function. Plants nourished animals, animals were then hunted for food, and then when humans expired, it became food for the pants. It was the circle of life. Yes, every ancient culture truly believed in this philosophy and practiced it diligently.  Yes, they all sought to "improve" their natural world all the time, but they limited such improvements to what was necessary. The operative words here are "as necessary", and not the indiscriminate slaughter and wasteful gathering. This material life was abhorred by ancient cultures through spiritual tenets, and these tenets were very sensitive to the balances in delicate ecosystems. They recognized that adverse interference in ecosystems threatened their own existence as wells as the natural world on which they depended and of which they were an integral part.

Where are we now? We are sitting in a big luxury motor home, cruising along a highway with no destination in sight. We are not in the driver's seat, we are just a passenger. We do not know where we are going, we don't even care. We love the comfort of this padded home and as long as the truck is moving, the scenery is good, there is fuel, water, and air conditioning, why do we have to care about anything else? Well, we have lost touch with the fundamental concept that no matter how much we think we have 'grown up', our umbilical cord is still attached with nature. There is no escape, and you cannot cut it off.

A friend put it another way: "We are like a bunch of youngsters, who got high on alcohol and drugs one night and decided to rent a boat and take a ride up and down the river. We pushed the boat into the water and started paddling away. We were drunk and drugged, mind you. We passed out after a while - it was a lot of work to just keep paddling! Dawn broke, we woke up.  We realized that we had not gone more than couple yards from the shore. What? How? Well, we forgot to lift the anchor! So there we were, paddling through the night, all drunk and drugged up and imagining a beautiful scenery go by."

Every decision and choice we make comes at a cost. We have been seasoned to not look at "total solutions" but only to put the brackets where it seems to fit us the best right now. This conditioning did not happen overnight. We all have evolved from the nature-loving ancient cultures very slowly, over 6,000 years. First we started looking at nature as a resource to be exploited, primarily for community, and hence for nation building. We justified it by saying that the common good and mutual benefits ranked higher than individual self-interest. Then, slowly that cause got morphed to a spirited individualism and an appetite for a perceived profit that heightened the exploitation of nature to new levels. Land, energy, and water got colonized in political and legal institutions generating colossal conflicts and social turmoil.

Oh well, we are where we are! What can we do now? We have to reverse engineer our way back to nature-loving humans again. The first thing we need is the will to do so. That will has to come from within each individual. The pendulum has to swing back from individualism to harmony with nature. And this swing can be accelerated by the terrific brains we already have. The brackets have to move further out, from individuals to community, and then to the whole world encompassing the entire life cycle of each element. For water, we will have to look at total water management - effectively manage every drop we have and use it most efficiently while not exploiting the natural resources. We have to become more creative on how to capture, use, and reuse water with zero discharge and waste. We also have to move away from central facilities to micro / community level facilities. We have to learn to appreciate the rhythms of nature and work with it to create opportunities, not fight it.

In subsequent blogs I will lay out my vision and plan of sustainable water management that will be synchronous with the values learned from ancient cultures. It will by no means be easy, and I am not saying that you have to go to a primitive hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We have to respect nature for what she is, and not fight her, but harmonize with her. We have the brains to do it, we just don't seem to find the will.

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