I Am The River, The River is Me: Prioritizing Well-being Through Water Policy

In New Zealand, persistent, concentrated advocacy and legal cases advanced by Māori people are inspiring biocentric policies; that is, those which recognize that people and nature, including living and non-living elements, are part of an interconnected whole. Along the way, tribal leaders and advocates are successfully making the case that nature; whole systems of rivers, lakes, forests, mountains, and more, deserves legal standing to ensure its protection. An early legislative “win” granted personhood status to the Te Urewera forest in 2014, which codified into law these moving lines:

“Te Urewera is ancient and enduring, a fortress of nature, alive with history; its scenery is abundant with mystery, adventure, and remote beauty … Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself, inspiring people to commit to its care.”

The Te Urewera Act of 2014 did more than redefine how a forest would be managed, it pushed forward the practical expression of a new policy paradigm.

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Equipping All Communities with Safe, Reliable Drinking Water

Nearly a million people in California receive low quality drinking water from underperforming water systems, which are challenged by drought, overdrafting, and emerging contaminants. Root causes of poor water quality can include inadequate treatment technology, operational issues, and insufficient personnel and financial capacity.
By focusing on small water systems that do have multiple violations, there is opportunity for significant positive impact. Nearly 700,000 Californians are served by small public water systems with one or more water quality violations in the last five years.
Improving water quality is more than choosing a technical solution. Community alignment and support, and political willingness are critical elements that need to be combined with technical solutions to allow systems to thrive.

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Four Cornerstones for Integrating Water and Energy Systems

The water-energy nexus is not new. The concept that our water and energy systems are reliant on each other is sometimes paired with a third issue, like food security or public health. This can make it more relevant to our daily lives. Despite a basic understanding of resource interdependencies, city and utility leaders still allow planning and implementation processes to remain predominately separate. A common local scenario finds the water utility facing system upkeep alone, the energy utility not considering other utility issues or city goals as they operate, and city leaders generally focused on more visibly troublesome urban systems, like housing or transportation.

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Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States

Today, over 2 million Americans are living without access to clean, running water. The newly released ‘Close The Water Gap’ report by DigDeep and the US Water Alliance pulls back the veil on America’s hidden water crisis.

This is the first-ever comprehensive look at indoor water access across the United States, and its findings are explosive: Race is the strongest predictor of vulnerability. In six states (plus Puerto Rico), progress is actually backsliding. More than 44 million Americans are served by water systems with recent violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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The Link Between Climate Change & Water

When thinking about conserving water, we should also be focusing on how more efficient water use correlates with energy savings. Studies show that when households participate in water savings programs, they also conserve energy and reduce strain on the power grid during peak demand periods while saving consumers money on their utility bills.

Water utilities can also dramatically increase their energy efficiency and reduce overall energy usage by adopting locally based solutions. For many municipal governments, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants are typically the largest energy consumers, often accounting for 30 to 40 percent of total energy consumed. Overall, drinking water and wastewater systems account for approximately two percent of energy use in the United States, adding over 45 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.

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Cape Town May Not Run Out of Water

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

On Wednesday, officials in Cape Town, South Africa, which is in the midst of a water crisis caused by a three-year drought, finally delivered some good news to residents: Day Zero, the day the city’s reservoirs fall bellow 13.5 percent and residential taps would be turned off, may not come this year after all.

The city’s Executive Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson says that Day Zero has been pushed to August 27—which is well into rainy season, when city officials hope enough rain can fill up the six Cape Town reservoirs. “Provided we continue our current water savings efforts, Day Zero can be avoided completely this year,” Neilson said in a statement.

For the last several months, the city of 4 million people has been living with severe water restrictions. As of February 1, each person is only allowed to use 50 liters, or roughly 13 gallons, per day. By comparison, the average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons. Cape Town residents have been taking two minute showers, using hand sanitizer instead of water and soap, and using recycled gray water to flush toilets.

Earlier this year, city officials estimated that Day Zero would occur on April 22. At that point, the city planned on setting up water checkpoints, where each resident could collect water for daily use. Many residents were left wondering if there would be enough checkpoints and how the sick and elderly would get their daily water.

The city still isn’t in the clear yet. “If winter rainfall this year is as low as last year, or even lower, ” Neilson said, “we are still in danger of reaching Day Zero early next year.”