Why I’m celebrating World Water Day, rain or shine.

Wadi al Mujib Jordan
The Wadi al Mujib Dam in Jordan (Photo by Flickr user SushiCircus)

Growing up in Jordan, we were taught in school just how scarce water is. There were constant campaigns on how to use water, how important it is to turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes, even how to collect the water while waiting for it to warm up before a shower.

We did all this because we were in one of the driest countries in the world. Amman gets a quarter as much rain each year as Seattle does, and in response, the average Jordanian uses about one tenth as much water each year as the average American.

In Amman, where my mother lives, she gets water to her house once a week. During winter it’s enough water to fill both the big water tanks on top of the house and the well in the yard. But every summer she suffers from water shortage. She only gets enough water from the city to fill her tanks and well about a sixth full, so she buys water from private water vendors for a hundred times the price.

Water is a complicated resource in the Middle East. It always has been. It crosses nation-state, political, and historic boundaries. When countries in conflict come to the negotiating table, they’re almost always talking about water; Lake Tiberias and River Jordan with Syria and Israel or the Disi underground water shared with Saudi Arabia. In exceptionally dry years in Jordan, the king and religious sheiks even hold a prayer for rain.

This all might all seem strange in Seattle, where it seems that it never stops raining, filling the bodies of water that surround us on all sides, not to mention the endless ocean.

But look closer and water issues are not foreign to all those living in Washington.

(an excerpt from People for Puget Sound documentary Sound and Vision)

Since 2005, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe have been negotiating their water rights of the Nooksack River, which is a main water source for the city of Bellingham. The question is how much can either party use of the water to sustain it and reserve their rights.

The Columbia River, which begins in Canada, goes through Washington and Oregon and ends in the Pacific Ocean, has 14 dams and is a water resources for thousands of agricultural and industrial projects along its way. In 2008, it was found that around 1 million gallons of underground water contaminated by nuclear testing in the 1940s is seeping toward the Columbia. When it gets there, the lower part of the river will be contaminated with undetermined consequences.

And right here in Seattle, the Duwamish Waterway has been designated as a superfund site; one of the most contaminated areas in the US. The river has PCBs, petroleum, and lead pollution that have caused numerous health issues among those who live around it, as well as damage to the natural resources like salmon and other species.

It might rain a lot in Seattle; we might not have an imminent water issue at this moment in time, but water is connected, nationally and globally. Water consciousness is a must. So, whether you live with constant water shortages, or have more falling out of the sky than you might prefer, the underlying message is the same: enjoy the water that you have, treat it kindly and use it wisely. And for my sake, turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth!

And have a happy World Water Day.


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