Many of you know that although water covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, less than three percent is actually freshwater and 98 percent of the freshwater is in ice. While water at times appears limitless, we are indeed pushing up against the limits of distribution and quality of safe drinking water.
Today is World Water Day in the United States, and our member magazine the Leopold Outlook— all about water— will be hitting mailboxes very soon. We often assume that water, should we simply turn on the tap, will always be there. But an estimated one billion people across the globe do not have access to safe drinking water. As citizens step forward to protect this basic human necessity we were recently reminded that life itself is at stake. Not long after the Outlook went to press, the globally recognized Berta Cáceres paid the ultimate price when she was murdered after stepping up to stop a dam in order to protect lives, the culture of the Lenca people, and the ecology of her home in Honduras. Watch her acceptance speech of the Goldman Prize in 2015 below to get a sense for what a passionate and inspiring leader Berta was.
The magnitude of this loss reminds us what happens when we assume. The complexity of the myriad of water crises unfolding across the world is beyond what we can examine in a single issue of The Outlook. For the first time ever, we are sharing a special preview of the articles we selected for this upcoming issue— we hope they will provoke you to think harder about where your water comes from, how different cultures relate to water, and how sometimes competing values dictate the use—or misuse—of water around the world.
Leopold challenged us to think beyond current economics and suggested that if we ever hope to fully embrace and implement an ethical relationship with the land we would need to wrestle with the deeper, more functional, and more aesthetic values of the “soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.” This issue of the Leopold Outlook begins with a selection from Cynthia Barnett’s new book Rain: A Natural and Cultural History that examines the visceral and vital dimensions of just how precious and unique our water on Earth is. A particularly special section of the magazine features the poetry and imagery of Kimberly Blaeser, Wisconsin Poet Laureate, connecting us with the beauty, power, and cultural significance of water. David Groenfeldt’s article “Toward a New Water Ethic” helps illuminate why we need more reflection and discussion in order to define why and how we truly value water. Sharon Day and the Nibi (Water) Walkers invite and inspire others to actively engage in the act of expressing care and concern for water and rivers in their communities. Our friends at the Center for Humans and Nature have just posted a video featuring many of these people and projects– check it out below and also go explore the great resources in their Fostering a Water Ethic project.
Our water-themed issue of the Leopold Outlook magazine also includes a journey with Aldo Leopold followed by Wade Davis, investigating nearly a century of change along the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. Rivers profoundly shaped Leopold’s thinking and many were chronicled in A Sand County Almanac: the Mississippi, the Colorado, the Río Gavilán in Mexico, and the Wisconsin, where he purchased his now-famous Shack. River experiences in the Ozarks were also important for Leopold’s engagement with the natural world. In the Leopold Atlas, Stan Temple retraces the history of Leopold’s “shanty” along the Current River, which was his home base for numerous hunting and fishing excursions.
The upcoming issue of the Leopold Outlook also honors the enormous impact Aldo and Estella’s son, Luna Leopold, had on the study and understanding of rivers, their ecology, and their geomorphology with a piece originally featured here on the blog by former Education and Outreach Fellow Greg Hitch. Greg’s article reveals that just like his father, Aldo, Luna’s legacy continues to inform and inspire others to understand and care about the natural world.
The Backyard Almanac shares ways to assess the health of your own stream from the publication My Healthy Stream, created in partnership with Trout Unlimited. This is paired with our Outreach Education Coordinator Maria Kopecky’s adaptation of a Leopold Education Project exercise so you can engage family, friends, or students on water-related issues.
I’ve learned a lot and thought much more deeply about water myself as a result of this issue and we can all keep learning here on the foundation’s blog where you will find additional pieces related to this theme through April. Next time you go fishing, canoe down a river, or even turn on the faucet, think again about just how valuable this amazing life source really is. Check out the preview of our Leopold Outlook issue on water, and let us know what you think!