Maude Barlow: The Growing Battle for the Right to Water
By Tara Lohan, AlterNet
Posted on February 14, 2008, Printed on February 14, 2008
From Chile to the Philippines to South Africa to her home country of
Canada, Maude Barlow is one of a few people who truly understands the
scope of the world's water woes. Her newest book, Blue Covenant: The
Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water,
details her discoveries around the globe about our diminishing water
resources, the increasing privatization trend and the grassroots groups
that are fighting back against corporate theft, government mismanagement
and a changing climate.
If you want to know where the water is running low (including 36 U.S.
states), why we haven't been able to protect it and what we can do to
ensure everyone has the right to water, Barlow's book is an essential
read. It is part science, part policy and part impassioned call. And the
information in Blue Covenant couldn't come from a more reliable source.
Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and
co-founder of the Blue Planet Project, which is instrumental in the
international community in working for the right to water for all
people. She also authored Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop Corporate Theft
of the World's Water with Tony Clarke. And she's the recipient of the
Right Livelihood Award (known as the "Alternative Nobel") for her global
water justice work.
She took a moment to talk to AlterNet in between the Canadian and U.S.
legs of a book tour for Blue Covenant. (Barlow just kicked off her U.S.
tour; for a list of tour stops and dates, click here).
Tara Lohan: This year in the U.S. there has been a whole lot press about
the drought in Atlanta and the Southeast, and I think for a lot of
people in the U.S. it is the first they are hearing about drought, but
the crisis here in North America is really pretty extreme isn't it?
Maude Barlow: It really is, and it kind of surprises me when I hear
people, for instance in Atlanta say, "We didn't know it was coming." I
don't know how that could be possible, and I do have to say that I blame
our political leaders. I don't understand how they could not have been
reading what I've been reading and what anyone who is watching this has
I remember attending a conference in Boise, Idaho, three years ago and
hearing a lot of scientists get up and say, "Read my lips, this isn't a
drought, this is permanent drying out." We are overpumping the Ogallala,
Lake Powell and Lake Meade. The back up systems are now being depleted.
This is by no means a drought ...
The thing that I'm trying to establish with the first chapter, which is
called "Where Has All the Water Gone," is that what we learned in grade
five about the hydrologic cycle being a closed, fixed cycle that could
never be interrupted and could never go anywhere, is not true. They
weren't lying to us, but they weren't aware of the human capacity to
destroy it, and the reality is that we've interrupted the hydrologic
cycle in many parts of the world and the American Southwest is one of them.
TL: How is this happening?
MB: By farming in deserts and taking up water from aquifers or
watersheds. Or by urbanizing -- massive urbanization causes the
hydrologic cycle to not function correctly because rain needs to fall
back on green stuff -- vegetation and grass -- so that the process can
repeat itself. Or we are sending huge amounts of water from large
watersheds to megacities and some of them are 10 to 20 million people,
and if those cities are on the ocean, some of that water gets dumped
into the ocean. It is not returned to the cycle.
We are massively polluting surface water, so that the water may be
there, but we can't use it. And we are also mining groundwater faster
than it can be replenished by nature, which means we are not allowing
the cycle to renew itself. The Ogallala aquifer is one example of
massive overpumping. There are bore wells in the Lake Michigan shore
that go as deep into the ground as Chicago skyscrapers go into the
ground and they are sucking groundwater that should be feeding the lake
so hard that they are pulling up lake water now, and they are reversing
the flow of water in Lake Michigan for the first time.
We are interrupting the natural cycle. And another thing we are doing is
something called virtual water trade. That is where you send water out
of the watershed in the form of products or agriculture. You've used the
water to produce something and then you export it, and about 20 percent
of water used in the world is exported out of watershed in this way,
because so much of our economy is about export. In the U.S. you are
sending about one-third of your water out of watersheds -- it is not
This is not a cyclical drought. We are actually creating hot stains, as
I and some scientists call them, around the world. These are parts of
the world that are running out of water and will be, or are, in crisis.
Which means that millions more people will be without water. I argue
that this is one of the causes of global warming. We usually hear water
being a result of climate change, and it is, particularly with the
melting of the glaciers. But our abuse, mismanagement and treatment of
water is actually one of the causes, and we have not placed that
analysis at the center of our thinking about climate change and
environmental destruction, and until we do, we are only addressing half
I do blame in a very big way, the political leadership in most of our
countries for having failed to heed the call of scientists and
ecologists and water managers who've been telling us for years now there
is a crisis coming -- there are 36 states in the U.S. in some form of
water stress, from serious to severe. Thirty-six states! Most Americans
don't know this -- why is this not part of people's everyday concerns?
That is what I'm hoping this book will help do.