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Podcast: ‘Water always wins,’ so why are we fighting it?

A person in an inflatable boat paddles down flooded Highway 610 in the Houston area as rains associated with Hurricane Harvey continue to fall in the area.

  • On this week’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we examine humanity’s approach to harnessing water, and how the current “us-first” mindset is actually exacerbating our water access problems.
  • Journalist and author Erica Gies joins us to discuss the concept of ‘slow’ solutions to water shortages presented in her new book “Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge,” and how communities can work with water rather than against it.
  • Gies discusses how hydrologists, engineers, and urban planners are creating ‘slow’ water projects with traditional hydrological knowledge, which are less invasive ways of harnessing water, in places such as Chennai, India.

While modern water infrastructure assets such as dams and aqueducts have provided human civilization with electricity and potable water for a long time, it has also deprived us of it by paving over vast amounts of land, interrupting and diverting water’s natural flow, and ruining biodiversity that humans depend on, in the process.

In this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, author and journalist Erica Gies describes humanity’s water harnessing problem outlined in her book Water Always Wins, and how ‘slow water’ solutions can not only help us harness the water we have, but also restore the biodiversity and natural landscapes we’ve lost.

Listen here:

“’Water always wins’ is a fundamental truth. Sooner or later, water does,” says Gies, and her statement is evident in everyday life. Exacerbated by climate change, storms, floods, droughts, and other events beyond the capacity for humans to locally control defy our attempts to mitigate their power – particularly given societies’ aging and crumbling ‘gray’ infrastructure, much of it built in the 1930s -1970s. As she describes in this episode, while building a seawall may provide some reprieve to a specific community, it merely directs that force onto another.

Construction work on the Folsom Dam near Sacramento, California. Image by Erica Geis.

In the wake of ongoing water crises in Chennai India, the city is embracing traditional hydrological knowledge that restores already existing slow water infrastructure that fell by the wayside after British colonization. The ancient eris system devised by the Tamil people harnesses the city’s precipitation, storing groundwater across the area, helping mitigate flooding while filtering water and ensuring wells have access to the water table.

Chitrakulam Pond. A temple tank in Chennai representing the true water level. Image by Erica Geis.

 

A temple tank in Hampi, Karnataka state. Part of the eris system, these tanks fell into disrepair after British colonization. Image by Erica Geis.

Related Reading:

The volume of water is beyond control’: Q&A with flood expert M. Monirul Qader Mirza

Beyond boundaries: Earth’s water cycle is being bent to breaking point

Subscribe to the Mongabay Newscast wherever you get your podcasts from! You can also listen to all episodes here on the Mongabay website. Or you can download our app for Apple and Android devices to gain fingertip access to new shows and all our previous episodes.

Banner Image: A person in an inflatable boat paddles down flooded Highway 610 in the Houston area as rains associated with Hurricane Harvey continue to fall in the area. Image by Mannie Garcia/Greenpeace.

Mike DiGirolamo is Mongabay’s audience engagement associate. Find him on Twitter @MikeDiGirolamo, Instagram, or TikTok via @midigirolamo.

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