Please Explain: How to Save the World—The Global Water Supply

Friday, January 20, 2012

We're kicking off a series of Please Explains on how to save the world—ways to approach complex global problems such as climate change, food supply, garbage disposal, population control, and violence. Today's topic is how to protect the world's water supply. Upmanu Lall, Director of the Columbia Water Center, and Sandra Postel, founder of the Global Water Policy Project and National Geographic Freshwater Fellow join us to discuss the state of fresh water around the globe.


Upmanu Lall and Sandra Postel Postel

Comments [17]

Brooks White from New York, NY

Across the U.S. during the week of March 19th, restaurants participating in UNICEF's Tap Project will be asking their patrons to pay $1 for the glass of water they receive for free. Nearly 900 million people worldwide lack access to safe, clean water. With just $1 UNICEF can provide one child access to safe, clean water for 40 days. For more information, including participating restaurants, go to www. Direct contributions are also welcome.

Feb. 22 2012 06:46 PM
Laurie Peek from Rockland County, NY

For those who want to learn more about the proposed United Water / Suez Environement Hudson River desalination plant on Haverstraw Bay in Rockland County (west side of Hudson River facing Westchester), check out our Water Coalition website: as well as
Citizens Campaign for the Environment:
and Food and Water Watch:

They NYS DEC will be deciding on whether to approve the plant in the next few months. We need questions to be raised about this most costly solution that takes us in the wrong direction with a "solution" that is fossil-fuel energy-intensive and very expensive. Conservation and intelligent water management are what is needed.

Jan. 27 2012 10:38 PM
Ed from Larchmont

One of Jesus' last words (sentences) was 'I thirst'. It was the motto of the Missionaries of Charity, and if the world is moving in the direction of Christ's life while he walked the earth, it indicates a shortage of water (though he was referring first to his thirst for souls).

Jan. 21 2012 07:08 PM

I think your listeners would be interested in the work of the biologist, Dr. John Todd who has created waste water treatment systems that treat waste water by passing it through a biologically diverse pond ecosystem to remove nutrients in the form of harvestable food, flowers and fiber while also providing a beautiful public space. He has designed and built systems he refers to as "Living Machines', for homes, schools, factories and communities. An example of his work treats the waste water from the Omega Institute.

I am giving a series of free talks in Brooklyn at "Go Green" called "New York, Emerald City" in which I present information about existing and proposed green buildings that are opening the way for a future city that would address our need for greater biological diversity, clean water, local food and beautiful green spaces.

Stewart Hoyt

Jan. 20 2012 02:41 PM
KP from nj

I was just teaching this topic this morning in my college classroom: if all the water in the world was represented by 26 gallons, the amount of fresh water (not in ice) would be only 1/2 teaspoon....and that doesn't even take into account that some of that 'fresh water' is polluted and not potable.

Jan. 20 2012 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

As long as people treat so many things as disposable, we can reuse the things they dispose of. Next time I go to the thrift shop, I'll think of how much water I'm saving by buying the jeans or towel someone else got rid of.

Jan. 20 2012 01:55 PM
karen from nj

Can you comment on how irrigating crops (especially with poor quality water) is salinizing soil, causing the loss of arable farmland and also threatening our ability to feed ourselves?

Jan. 20 2012 01:51 PM
Alan Schwartz from Brooklyn

Can you ask the guests to comment on water recycling - so called toilet to tap? Thanks.

Jan. 20 2012 01:50 PM
Linda Francis from Warwick

Please address the impact of the enormous loss of wetlands to development which is ongoing.

Jan. 20 2012 01:41 PM
fuva from Harlemworld

If they haven't already, can the guests provide some guidance on how to be water conservative (based on direct and indirect consumption)? Or maybe they can refer a reputable source.

Jan. 20 2012 01:40 PM
Jeffrey from upper west side

Isn't hydro-fracking playing Russian Roulette with our underground water supply?

Jan. 20 2012 01:40 PM
Mary from Westchester from Westchester County

DO your guests have an opinion on the proposed desalinization drinking water plant on the Hudson River for Rockland County? It would be the first desalinization plant in NY State and I wonder if your guests think this would set a bad precedent for the Northeastern region? Do they have any opinion about desalinization and that it could possibly encourage more land use growth and not encourage conservation?

Jan. 20 2012 01:38 PM
Mark Mazur from Irvington NY

Im stunned to learn that surface life on earth including humans is dependent on just 1% of the earths water, with 97% in oceans and 2% locked in ice. Human population has increased about 700% (or more) in the last 400 years - and will continue to grow incredibly, barring some cataclysmic catastrophe. This is a very bad indicator for the future, unless we radically change our water use ways, quickly.

Jan. 20 2012 01:38 PM
CL from NYC

Someone should point out the total amount of water on earth (including the atmosphere) has not changed since the beginning of the planet. It has always been contained within a continual cycle.

Jan. 20 2012 01:33 PM
Amy from Manhattan

And sometimes floods followed by droughts--when mountain glaciers melt so much more than they used to, first the area below, which depends on the icemelt for plant growth & drinking water, is flooded, & then not enough ice is formed to provide *enough* water.

Jan. 20 2012 01:30 PM
tom from lic

How are the Great Lakes threatened? I recently drove around the perimeter of Lake Ontario, and realized what a virtual inland SEA these bodies of water are -- Huge!

Jan. 20 2012 01:25 PM
Johnnjersey from NJ

One of the main reasons we do so poorly in conserving water is that we throw it away after using it once. "Used" water is primarily dumped into the ocean after going to sewage treatment plants. Watch the video, The Cycle of Insanity - the Real Story of Water at

Jan. 20 2012 01:15 PM

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