Mind Matters

by the Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 424
April 1, 2002


"And Not a Drop to Drink"

The radiant smiles of person after person on the sidewalks of the South Dakota farming community repeatedly 'shouted' at me news I already knew. During the night it had rained--a long, gentle, soaking rain. Growing up, as I did, in a water-abundant city, I gave little thought to water, other than the delight of swimming. Then, for six years, I lived in a marginal-rain farming community whose livelihood was so very dependent on rain. Never since have I been able to take water for granted.

Thus, with only a moment's reflection I found myself nodding in agreement with the statement of a former World Bank Vice-President, "The next World War will be over water."

Although in the Middle East it is control of the land that makes the news, always driving that conflict is the control of the limited and, therefore, extremely precious supply of water. Ariel Sharon, a general during the 1967 war, said that the war did not start on June 5th with the clash of arms, but two-and-one-half years earlier when Israel's neighbors voted to divert the waters of the Jordan River. In 1994, after signing the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, the late King Hussein of Jordan said that the only thing he could see that would bring those two nations again to war would be a fight over water. Turkey's damming of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, rivers that then flow southward through Syria and Iraq, and the threat of restricting the water released has significantly decreased those countries' anti-Turkish' rhetoric.

We need not go half way around the world to find stories of conflict over water. On the western edge of this country, water pushes politics. Los Angeles, with limited rainfall and wells, 'grabbed' the Owens River Valley water (two hundred miles away) in the 1920s. A shooting battle erupted. Then, the city took water from the Colorado River, two states away. (Courts are now restricting LA's right to some of that water.) There was even an attempt in California to buy water from British Columbia, a plan stopped by the government of that Canadian province. Texas is not immune from conflict. A howl of protest arose with the proposal to massively siphon off the rapidly depleting Ogallala Aquifer to serve the water needs of the state's northern cities.

The world's surface fresh water is unequally distributed. The Great Lakes contain about twenty percent of the world's total, and Canada is home to more fresh water than any country in the world ("the Saudi Arabia of water").

Water is life-giving in birth and life-sustaining following birth. Symbolically, water denotes spiritual birth in baptism and freedom from slavery in crossing the Red Sea. (Symbolically, too, 'the new birth of freedom' that is America was often portrayed as stemming from the crossing the 'waters of the mighty Ocean' by the hardy Pilgrims.)

Squeezing this essential resource is industrial pollution, agricultural runoff (both often accumulating for decades) and the ever-increasing demand of growing populations. This may bring about on land, as well as on sea, the reality of Coleridge's words in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink."

Dark visages and smiling faces became, for me, a barometer of the psychic health of that small farming community. All indications are that the world will discover that reality as well.

--Robert H. Tucker
1 April  2002
© Robert H. Tucker, 2002.

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