People normally don’t give too much thought about water. They use it to wash dishes, take showers, swim in, and drink in order to live. But when faced with a situation where water becomes scarce, suddenly attention is paid to this chemical compound we know as H2O. California’s recent drought has brought water conservation to the forefront over the last few years—and many of us are pretty good at it by now. The only problem is that conservation isn’t enough to maintain our current standard of life. As actress and director Angela Basset notes in the final episode of Breakthrough (9 PM/8 PM CT on National Geographic), we are on the verge of a water apocalypse. Consider that 97% of the water on earth is salt, 2% is locked up in ice and snow, leaving 1% for 7+ billion people. So what in the world are we going to do about it?
This episode hit close to home for me since I live in the Central Valley of California, a land filled with produce, sun, and little water. The water shortage sounds like a localized problem at first, but the Valley (as we call it) produces nearly 50% of the fruit and vegetables people in the US eat. The water has to be there to nourish the crops, but many plants require obscene amounts of it (a 20-acre plot of almond trees, for example, uses 23 million gallons of water annually [compare that to an average family of four, who, per the EPA, use 109,500 gallons in the same time period]). For some, the wells have run completely dry and the only way to sustain life is with cases of bottled water—or by simply stealing a natural resource. So what can be done to keep things going without turning the middle of California into the next Dust Bowl?
Thankfully, Breakthrough has focused on innovations for the future, and this episode is no exception. One company has set up a system to harness solar energy to efficiently pull clean water from the salty aquifer below the Valley (potentially 1.6 billion gallons/year). The folks in Western Australia know about this all too well, having suffered through a fifteen-year drought. They’re currently working on desalinating (getting the salt out of) water via another natural source–wave power from the ocean.
But what about in a country where there’s little clean water due to the infrastructure? Ethiopia has no electricity in many places and people still get water from rivers hours away. Otherwise, they risk getting sick and dying from contaminated water—and that still happens for many people. One gentleman from Italy, Arturo Vittari (pictured at the top of the article), created a massive tower using bamboo, ropes, and mesh to harness clean water from the sky and gather it for the residents of local villages.
Simply put, we have to start thinking about water and what we can do to prevent situations that threaten to challenge our way of life—even if we live in areas where acquiring water has never been an issue. Again, conservation is one way to start. Just limiting a daily shower by a few minutes can make a difference in the long run. But we need to potentially consider other options—including recycled water from the sewer. The town of Peoria AZ reclaims nearly every drop of wastewater—yes, including toilet water–and recycles it into clean drinking water. Psychologically, it sounds disgusting and is difficult to fathom, but it’s a way of life for thousands of residents who live in a desert climate. But if we have the technology to create virtual reality, we can certainly turn wastewater into a life-giving source of nourishment again.
The key point is this: We have to be willing to make the most of what we’ve been blessed with and help provide for others who might be in need. The town of East Porterville CA is mentioned in the episode and is only an hour away from where I currently live. The wells have completely run dry there, forcing people to leave or conserve in non-healthy ways. But for one lady named Donna Johnson, she’s made it a goal to provide water for these folks who have none.
For the last decade, Johnson has brought them bottled water and has made sure the people are doing okay. Of course, they’re grateful for the help she offers, and it brings to mind something Jesus said in Mark 9:41: “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.” We should always be ready and willing to help those in need—perhaps it’s not with a cup of water per se, but food, a blanket when it’s cold outside, or something tangible that can get a person back on their feet again. That’s a way to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a way that makes a difference here and now. We share this planet together, after all.