Water Hub Blog

What will be this year’s biggest water stories?

Rendering of solar panels over a water irrigation canal

In December, ReFrame released their 2022 narrative predictions, Through the Looking Glass, breaking down how the pandemic, climate change, and threats to democracy are turning our world upside down for this generation. I highly recommend taking a look at this resource and, ultimately, using these tools to “build narrative power in service of liberation and justice.” 

It got us thinking about the themes and stories we expect, and hope, to see around the water world this year:

Water infrastructure: Implementation matters

Money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed last fall is starting to flow to communities. In the Colorado River Basin, groups are assessing new federal funding available for local and state governments, NGOs and Tribes, and are mapping the IIJA’s water funding opportunities for Colorado communities.

While debate around additional water and climate funding is still limping along, where this money goes, and who benefits most, is top of mind. Reporting on disaster relief shows federal dollars often benefit White survivors more than their Black neighbors. Next100 published an analysis showing how disaster relief funding can exacerbate the racial wealth gap. The same patterns of inequity run through traditional water funding sources. Last year, a Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) paper on Drinking Water State Revolving Funds found smaller and more racially diverse communities are less likely to receive assistance. 

No doubt more resources are needed but, in the meantime, we’ll be working to share stories of how community leaders are putting this flood of water infrastructure dollars to good use.

The climate-water nexus

Today’s water rules were written by and for the benefit of White settlers and for a climate that no longer exists. We have to update and adapt. We expect to see more stories this year about tracking our legal structures, examining river management policy and governance knowing there is less water to go around, and pushing solutions that reduce demand on rivers while improving ecosystem health and resilience.

We are also looking forward to reading more stories focused on how water and energy must work together to address the climate crisis. That means reducing the carbon footprint of our drinking water and wastewater systems, exploring renewable energy opportunities like floating solar and in-pipe hydropower while avoiding false solutions like energy-intensive seawater desalination and reliance on new dams and pipelines that drive more warming.

Industrial agriculture’s impact on water and climate

Drought response has focused on household water use, yet the biggest potential savings are in agriculture. Farming accounts for 70% of water use in the Colorado River Basin (55% is used for crops that feed cattle rather than people), and 80% in California. In California, residential wells are running dry and becoming contaminated due to overpumping of groundwater from nearby megafarms. Neighbors and small farmers don’t always have the big bucks to drill deeper wells, forcing them to rely on trucked-in or bottled water for home use.

Agriculture has an outsized impact on both greenhouse gas emissions and water systems. Agriculture is the largest source of methane emissions in the United States, in addition to being the leading polluter of U.S. rivers and streams. Implementing farming solutions that cultivate healthy soils, conserve water and practice better manure handling will reduce energy and water use, sinking more carbon into the land and limiting polluted runoff that makes people sick and causes toxic algae blooms.

Reflecting the breadth of water expertise in media

In late 2020, the Water Hub started building a speakers bureau to increase voice and visibility for people of color and with other marginalized identities in water work. Our goal remains to recognize the sheer magnitude of water expertise in our field, while ensuring more voices and perspectives are included in water coverage. In the coming months, we’ll be launching a web-based directory and look forward to sharing that resource soon!

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