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Deeply Talks: Sandra Postel on Fixing the Broken Water Cycle

Water expert and author Sandra Postel talks about on-the-ground solutions and unlikely collaborations that are taking place to help tackle some of our most challenging water issues.

Written by Ian Evans Published on Read time Approx. 2 minutes
Water cycles throughout the world, and the West, are out of balance. But some people are trying to change that.Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

In this episode of Deeply Talks, Tara Lohan, Water Deeply’s managing editor, speaks with author and water expert Sandra Postel about her newest book, “Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity,” and about today’s major water problems and solutions.

In Replenish, Postel focuses on the many parts of the water cycle, which is, she says, “the planet’s greatest gift to us. We wouldn’t be here without it.”

“When we look at each of the major components of that water cycle – the movement of water between the air, the land and sea, we can see all of these ways in which that natural cycle is badly broken,” says Postel.

This is especially prominent in the West, where various interests have competed over water for decades, stretching parts of the cycle thin. Finding a balance between agricultural, urban, industrial and environmental water use is vital, but getting harder. Climate change, says Postel, “adds an urgency.” To see why, just look at South Africa, where the city of Cape Town is on the verge of running out of water.

“If there’s one important take away from the Cape Town story… it’s that we really need to think differently about water security,” says Postel. “We can’t assume that the rains are going to come, the way they did before.”

You can see the same thing already happening in the American West, says Postel. “Just take a look at Lake Mead and Lake Powell. They haven’t been full in nearly two decades. Will they ever fill again? It’s not clear that they will.”

But in her book, Postel wanted to also focus on the people around the world that are working to solve these issues and reestablishing a balance. One example that she cites is the Verde River in Arizona, where the basin’s managers have taken major actions, like establishing irrigation gates that distribute only as much water as irrigators need. Farmers have also switched to less thirsty crops and traded flood irrigation for drip irrigation.

“I think it’s hard to find another river basin in the country that is taking as strategic and holistic an approach to managing the water better, and in such a way as to get healthy flows back to the river,” she says.

To learn more about major water cycle issues and solutions, listen to the entire Deeply Talks episode. For advance notice of upcoming Deeply Talks and upcoming News Deeply events, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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