A New Current
I grew up with the headwaters of a major river in my backyard. I spent countless hours in and around that water, playing, exploring, listening, and watching. I came to understand the seasons by the condition of the river -- the spring was when it rushed into life, throwing dead trees out of the way, forging new paths along the banks; the summer was when it calmed down, leisurely flowed, attracted all sorts of wildlife; the fall was a time of scarcity, when the waters were so low I could see things that had been hidden for months; and then the winter, nearly silent especially after a big snowfall, but still a little gurgling under the surface that reminded me it was still there, still running, but waiting for the snow to melt to spring back to life.
That river was one of the closest friends I ever made. But as I grew up, that river started suffering. The seasons of the river changed in unpredictable ways. I would visit, expecting to see something familiar and instead, I saw that it was sick. Foam and low water levels, greenery on the shore turning brown, less and less fish. I wondered… why.
I decided to go out and ask others in my community if they noticed the same things, and I found a group of people who were already hard at work trying to bring that river, and many other bodies of water in our area, back to health. They told me that, due to old laws, we did not have complete control over our waters -- they were owned by a big city, a hundred miles away, a city that used some of this water to keep ornamental grass lawns green, to entertain people with water park rides, to take long and lengthy showers.
I went to that city with other volunteers in the group and we stopped people to ask if they knew where their water came from. The water that I had come to see as one of my friends, the water that I learned how to track time with, the water I knew sustained life for plants and animals and me and you. But, most of the people we asked seemed confused about our question. "The tap?" was a common answer. "The ground?" was another. I remember how shocked I was at this, how horrified.
So much of my life, beyond tracking that one river, has been connected to water, and unfortunately also to the degradation of it. I started scuba diving at the age of 10, seeing a magical underwater world teeming with life and vibrant with colors, but by the time I was 21, I had witnessed the bleaching of a handful of those beloved coral reefs. I started rafting when I was even younger, spending days on rivers that snaked through towering canyons of rocks, but by the time I wanted to buy my own rig, I couldn't justify it with the unpredictability of flows due to dams and drought. I've been a skier since I could walk, skipping out on school and work to enjoy powder days, but now I'm wondering how much longer the snow will fall and how much artificial snow-making is justifiable to resorts.
At first, I thought I could tackle these issues by writing about them. But the limitations of the written word took me in another direction entirely. For years, as a journalist, I was an agitator, not a fixer. I was someone who pointed fingers in blame, not someone who offered a helping hand. So I looked for a path that would allow me to be an agent of change, to offer that hand, to fix some problems… and I found the field of planning. In my case, I found that I could help plan how we use, regulate, and conserve water. And with that, I found hope. Hope that there are innovative solutions to the many water crises that we are facing. Hope that others have already dedicated a lot of time to this. Hope that through hard work and creative thinking, people like me who live for water can convince others that they need water to live.