Hope For A Watershed Moment

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Issue 308
May/June 2018
Working Together

Reviews

Hope For A Watershed Moment
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Cover: A Hundred Sunsets by James R. Eads, @james.r.eads.art

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Minni Jain is uplifted by a call to work with, not against, Nature’s rhythms. Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity by Sandra Postel. Island Press, 2017. ISBN: 9781610917902

Can we restore the balance to Nature’s most neglected asset, the water cycle? Can we go from our current ‘vicious’ cycle of neglect of our Earth’s natural gifts, to a ‘virtuous’ cycle of their care? To find out I picked up Sandra Postel’s book Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity.

The book starts very promisingly, quoting Mary Oliver’s timeless words that transport us instantly into the mystery of the gift water offers us: “In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.”

On a less mystical level, though, Postel lays out how disrupting the Earth’s water cycle is proving to be a costly business indeed. Billions of dollars are spent in cleaning up every time a flood happens and in looking after migrants fleeing droughts and dangerous, desertified landscapes across the planet. The probability of a one-in-a-hundred-year flood happening within every ten years will now make bookies very happy indeed. Not to mention the narrowing odds against global food and water security.

Can we fully grasp the magnitude of the threat potential of this currently disbalanced water cycle of the Earth? And if we can understand it, can we step forward and do something about it and avert it?

To find some answers to these questions, Postel takes us across the world, citing various cases to prove that, yes, we can. She introduces us to magnificent large-scale projects such as that on the Loess Plateau in China, which covers an area one and a half times the size of California. The plateau, said to have started becoming brown and barren as early as the 1300s, when tremendous pressures on the land led to heavy tree-cutting, overgrazing and crop cultivation – by the 1900s all that was left there were some of the poorest people in China eking out a harsh, dry, eroded existence – is now perhaps the biggest watershed restoration project in the world. Since the 1980s over a million hectares have been restored by working with Nature; we now know that it is possible to rehabilitate even the most eroded of soils and landscapes.

From such huge-scale replenishment work, Postel takes us to successful, small-scale, community-led projects started by the Stockholm Water Prize-winner Rajendra Singh. Working with Nature and communities, Singh has revived seven dead rivers in arid Rajasthan, India by encouraging his people to build small check dams and plant trees. (See Resurgence & Ecologist Issue 293.)

As a director of the Global Water Policy Project, co-creator of an award-winning water-stewardship organisation and National Geographic Freshwater Fellow, and with countless accolades to her name, Postel has more than enough credentials to write a book of this depth.

With provocative and intriguing chapter titles such as ‘Put Watersheds to Work’, ‘Make Room for Floods’ and ‘Rescue Desert Rivers’, she gives both reasons for and methods of looking after our water cycle locally. Replenish presents us with countless innovative local, national and international solutions. In Postel’s words, “My goal … was to find those innovative farmers, ranchers, cities, communities that are showing we can have a healthier water cycle. We can repair it, we can replenish it, we can rebuild it.” She certainly succeeds in achieving her goal.

Minni Jain is a director of The Flow Partnership, which works with communities globally to help them ease floods and droughts. www.theflowpartnership.org

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