MENOMONIE — The faucets are running dry even across America, a former senior water adviser to the United Nations told an environmental forum Thursday at UW-Stout.
Maude Barlow was one of the keynote speakers at the fifth annual Red Cedar Watershed Conference. A record 400 people were in attendance, including state and local government leaders, environmental officials, farmers and educators.
“The world is running out of clean water,” Barlow said. “This is an issue of disappearing waters. We have to stop as a human species and ask ourselves what we’re doing wrong.”
About two-thirds of the world’s population is in a water drought at least one month a year, she said. Since 1990, 26,000 of 50,000 major rivers in China have disappeared. As the Amazon rainforest is cut down, the southern portion of Brazil is running out of water and suffering drought conditions never seen before, Barlow said.
In the U.S. presidential elections, the issue needs to be the water crisis, said Barlow, the national chairwoman of the Council of Canadians and winner of numerous environmental awards.
“The Great Lakes will be bone dry in 80 years if we continue to double the use every 20 years of groundwater,” she said.
Globalization and trade agreements can impact water rights and usage, said Barlow, adding that citizens must question every policy and its impact on water.
“We need a new water ethic,” she said. “We need a new relationship to water and look at native people, small farmers, indigenous people and their living relationship with water. They know water is their lifeblood. There is no technology out there to deal with what we’re doing to our water resources.”
Barlow said the solution to the global water crisis lies in four core principles:
• Water is a human right: As clean water becomes more valuable and poverty increases, fewer people will be able to afford their water bills and will be forced to use polluted water.
• Water is a public trust: It belongs to the people and future generations.
• Water has rights as well: Watersheds, forests and wetlands must be protected.
• Water will teach us to live together: As the Earth’s population increases, people must learn to coexist.
Event co-chairman Dick Lamers was overcome with emotion as he spoke about how the watershed conference has grown.
“It is just outstanding and amazing to see everyone come together and talk about the topic of water,” he said. “It is at the point we will see changes happening in the near future.”
One local change is the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval of a plan for the Red Cedar River watershed to guide efforts in reducing phosphorus in the rivers and lakes of the Red Cedar basin and plans to curb blue-green algae blooms.
Dan Zerr, a natural resources educator with UW-Extension, pointed out that the goal is to reduce phosphorus coming into Tainter Lake, Lake Menomin and the Red Cedar River by 40 percent. From 1990 to 1993, the phosphorus load in Tainter Lake was just more than 500,000 pounds. It was 326,000 pounds in Lake Menomonie, most of which flowed down from Tainter Lake. The 10-year plan will be updated every three years.
Phosphorus reduction will be done through civic engagement. Plans include discouraging till farming, although there are many other ways to cut phosphorus going into waterways, Zerr said.
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