Richter will share his thirst for water issues at the Swaner EcoCenter
October 23, 2015
Cities in the western United States can easily use 1/3 the amount of water and still have plenty of H2O to put back into the environment, said Brian Richter.
He should know. For the past 20 years, Richter has worked and studied water issues as chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, an organization dedicated to conserve land and water resources throughout the world.
He’s also the president of Sustainable Waters, a global water educational service that reaches out to the youth and teaches them about conservation.
Two years ago, Richter wrote a book called "Chasing Water in a Rapidly Changing World," in which he tried to summarize what he has learned through his research over the past two decades.
"The book has a particular focus on places in the world where water is becoming scarce and conflicts are emerging because people are competing for it," Richter said during a telephone interview from his office at the University of Virginia, where he teaches about water sustainability. "The book also addresses some hopeful signs of possible solutions emerging."
Richter will share the findings he wrote about in his book when he gives a presentation at the Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, on Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.
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"I will certainly build what is in the book and come to it from a global perspective, but also look at what we’re seeing in the western United States," he said. "That’s certainly a case where the Californians are concerned right now. They’ve had a couple of years of very intense drought and water shortages up and down the state as well as mandatory water restrictions imposed on them from the governor’s office."
But California isn’t alone, he said.
"Throughout the Colorado River basin, we’re seeing a very long-running drought of below-average rain and snow fall for the past decade or more," Richter said. "We see the reservoir levels dropping in Lake Mead and Lake Powell and that has implications on everything we all care about, whether its having a secure water supply for basic needs to how water provides needs that support our economies, including agriculture and manufacturing and to generate electricity."
The goal of the presentation is to get people to start thinking about water conservation seriously.
"Of course, our natural environments have taken the brunt of the impacts," Richter said. "They start to show the stress sooner and it doesn’t take a whole lot of depletion of our rivers and lakes before the plants and animals starts to show signs of strains."
He also wants to show that water conservation is a human issue, and not a political one.
"No matter what your values or interests are, water touches all of us in a lot of ways," Richter said. "It’s an unfortunate quirk of human nature in that we don’t pay particular attention to things until they become serious."
The presentation will also give some suggestions on how the public can help balance what are known as water accounts.
"A big thing of the book and my research is to take a sober look at all the various solutions and alternatives so we don’t use more than what we have in the supply we have available," Richter said. "As I’ve looked at those opportunities in an objective way, I have found that there are some tremendous opportunities to be more conservative with the ways we use water and to find ways to waste less water. It turns out those conservation strategies tend to be the most cost-effective ways to balance the water budgets."
One important step is the practice of urban water conservation.
"Having everyone in the city use less water is very important, but the one thing I will emphasize in my talk is that some of the greatest opportunities for water conservation can be found in the agriculture communities, out on the farms that are using irrigation," Richter said. "Crops need a lot of water, there are no two ways about that, but I think there are a lot of ways we can find modest savings in irrigated agriculture. Because agriculture uses such a large amount of water, even a small and modest savings can yield a lot of water that can be used for other purposes or returned to the natural environment."
This isn’t an impossible task. Richter said through his research he has found ways that cities and agriculture communities can work together to conserve water.
"People are used to hearing debates between cities and farmers, and I try to dispel that because there are many opportunities for collaborations, for cities and farmers to form partnerships," he said.
Cities can provide the financial resources for farmers to become more water efficient and conservative, Richter said. At the same time, farmers have a lot to gain from the additional funding.
"Paying attention in different parts of the Western United States and the world, we do see some cities and farmers working together for their mutual benefit," he said. "I’m just trying to get the message out that there are some of these opportunities out there that is worth the time, investment and risk to do this."
Richter’s interest in water conservation originates in his upbringing in Southern California.
"California has always chased water to offset growing demands," he said. "I heard the mantra about saving water back as far as the 1970s, so, I was indoctrinated at an early age."
That interest spurred him to a lifetime of research and his studies have led him to be a consultant on more than 120 water projects worldwide and to serve as a water advisor to corporations, investment banks and the United Nations.
Thought it all, Richter still remains optimistic when he looks toward the future.
"The irony is that we do such a poor job managing our water presently that on the flip side, there are many ways that we can do better," he said.
The Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, will present Brian Richter, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, who will give a program called "Chasing Water in a Rapidly Changing World," on Tuesday, Oct. 27, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for the public and free for Swaner EcoCenter members. To register or for more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org .
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