Conversations about water

The first time I thought about water as a resource, and as a potential career, was late at night in the winter of 2004. Recently laid-off, and with a fresh Bachelor of Arts hanging on my wall, I felt the need to continue in academia. I just wasn’t cut out to be a cashier in a liquor store (my Christmas job) or an early morning breakfast cook, which by the way, I only lasted two shifts. As I sat up all night, combing the internet for ideas I landed on two potential options – a master’s in water management or a master’s in film production. I chose the former, and as it goes, the rest is history!

I have had the fortune of studying about and working with water in Canada, Jordan and Norway. This broad exposure has helped me to understand that there is always a different way to do something. In Norway, I was exposed to the driving principle behind water management that it is a public good. This trumps everything, such as, economic interests, recreation activities and history. In Jordan*, water is regarded as a shared resource, and water-scarcity is viewed as a foreign concept mitigated by the knowledge that your neighbour will share water with you when necessary. In Canada, water is seen as plentiful in most parts, which guides decision-making around consumption, licencing, storage etc. According to many researchers**, this misperception is rife in the media and builds on the notion that there is ‘nothing to worry about’. Yet, researchers would caution that while Canada’s freshwater supply appears to be plentiful much of the supply flows north, away from where the majority of the population resides.

So what have I learned? I have learned that there is never one perspective in any given situation. Sounds simple but for example, I ended up spending my research time in Jordan de-bunking the supposed myth of water scarcity. While senior government and non-profits were crying out they needed international assistance, village homes claimed their supply was adequate. This head scratching statement led me to appreciate the politics involved in water. Working in Oslo, Norway I saw the amount of work that goes into providing drinking water in order for households to be able to access water 24/7, with guaranteed potability. Overall, I have learned that the expectation of water supply can vary dramatically and that the involvement of citizens with their supply depends on the political structure and economics of the watershed.

What have you learned in your travels? Care to share? Contact:

* Within the culture of water sharing in Jordan there is admittedly a dichotomous relationship between the perspective of the rural dweller and the city water supplier, senior government and development agencies. My comments are based on my qualitative research for my master’s thesis. If you would like to read more about this, I am happy to send you my fieldnotes and upcoming book chapter.

** A great resource is: Eau Canada: The Future of Canada’s Water, ed. Karen Bakker. UBC Press 2007.

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