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We think of water as a source of life, peace, even holiness. But water also has power, including the power to end lives—and threaten whole civilizations. Today, converging forces—a rapidly growing population, climate change, and global economic development—are transforming our relationship with this resource. In the 20th century, residents of places with few native sources of water, such as Southern California, took water for granted—but they can’t afford to do so any longer. How can we survive a water crisis that’s already begun—but that we’d prefer to ignore? Zócalo and Occidental College present a half-day conference to discuss the lethal force of water, the financial risks of water, and how we can learn to live in a less wet world.
When Water Kills
Moderated by Thaddeus Russell, Cultural Historian, Occidental College
The threat of a giant storm was all it took to send Noah scrambling to build an ark filled with two of every creature. But today, a hurricane-induced, government-ordered evacuation isn’t enough to get a lot of people out of their homes and onto higher ground. And even drought, at least in the developed world, no longer scares us: When we run low on water, we simply bring it in from somewhere else. Is our contemporary assumption that water is plentiful and safe going to hurt us all down the line? And, if we feared water more, would we be able to do a better job of saving people from disease, flooding, drought—and even the effects of climate change? RAND Corporation senior scientist Robert Lempert, UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling director James S. Famiglietti, and Occidental College biologist Gretchen North visit Zócalo to discuss how understanding water’s dangers can protect us.
How Much Should Water Cost?
Moderated by Joe Mathews, California Editor, Zócalo Public Square
“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water,” Ben Franklin wrote in Poor Richard’s Almanac. Has that time come at last? Seventy of the world’s major river systems are effectively drained, groundwater tables are plunging, and glaciers are shrinking. Our consumption of water grew twice as fast as the population in the 20th century, and right now, populations are growing fastest in places like the Middle East, which has one of the world’s smallest water supplies. One possible way to protect the global supply is to make water more expensive, but the price of water is kept artificially low all over the world. Will raising the cost of water cause conflict, or will it inspire greater conservation? Wetlands Water District chief deputy general manager Jason Peltier, Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization author Steven Solomon, environmental attorney Peter Culp, and Chance of Rain publisher and writer Emily Green visit Zócalo to ask what the price of water should be.
Learning to Live With (Less) Water
Moderated by Bettina Boxall, Water and Environmental Reporter, Los Angeles Times
A typical person needs less than a gallon of drinking water a day. A typical American uses 100 gallons of water a day—and 18.5 of those (clean-enough-to-drink) gallons are flushed down the toilet. For every six gallons of water U.S. utilities pump into water mains, one gallon leaks back into the ground, unused. But this profligacy can’t last. We’re about to enter a new era of water scarcity that is going to leave no part of the country or the world untouched. What type of new technologies, policies, and attitudes do we need to adopt to meet the challenges that lie ahead? Southern California Water Committee Executive Director Richard W. Atwater, Maven’s Notebook publisher Chris Austin, and Reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey visits Zócalo to discuss what can be done to help ease our transition into a less-watered world.
*Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.