Megadrought (Day 47)

A glorious, sunny, clear day greeted me at the bulb this morning. We had a swim visitor from Bainbridge Island. Rita had seen my query to the Western Washington swimmers on Facebook when I was looking for a place to swim during my road trip and that led her to my blog and our swim group in Albany. It was lovely to welcome her on such a gorgeous day. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about water as I’ve been swimming around in it this week; its abundance and scarcity, its inherent value and taken-for-grantedness.

On Monday, a report published in Nature Climate Change analyzed long-term data to determine that 2000-2021 has been the driest 22-year period in southwestern North America since at least 800. The current two-decade megadrought (a drought lasting twenty years or longer) is the worst in over a thousand years. My first instinct was to be comforted by the fact that in 800 things were just as dry. We got through it then…, I thought. But then I remember that in 800 there were an estimated 240 million people on the planet; today there are 7.9 billion. 7.9 billion people who rely on water and the myriad industries that guzzle it up: agricultural, manufacturing, construction, recreation. 

As a kid growing up in Southern California, I was taught to be aware of drought and to conserve water. We turned off the shower between shampooing and conditioning and closed the tap while we brushed our teeth. “If it’s yellow let it mellow” was the mantra in suburban households all over Southern California in the 80s. Restaurants stopped serving water unless you asked for it. Gardens relied on drip irrigation or infrequent sprinkling after the sun went down.   

Sometimes I think about the way focusing on these individual actions blinded us to the bigger problem. Even as an individual, my water footprint is much bigger than the time it takes me to brush my teeth. It’s the water that goes into the food I eat and the clothes I wear; the technology I use, the buildings I work and live in. Taking action around climate justice and working to put people into office who will prioritize action around climate seems like it might get closer to making a dent in the looming threat of this megadrought. But even that feels insufficient.

As I swim through this beautiful water I think about the fact that rain hasn’t kept me out of the bay once since I started this blog on January 1st. Well, I stayed out on January 4th because of a tiny drizzle, but I regretted it later because it didn’t last.  

The helplessness I feel in the face of our utter lack of rain got me thinking about a book my cousin told me about years ago: The Hidden Messages in Water. The author, Dr. Masaru Emoto argues that water has consciousness and responds to words and intentions. The only thing I remembered about the book was that we should speak to water; we should tell water that we love it. 

The idea that water is alive has deep roots in Indigenous cultures around the world. As I dove into this online today, I came across this beautiful story of speaking to water by Diné activist Pat McCabe. She talks about the way in which the prayers and intentions we put into the water travel throughout the earth, connecting us all across space and time. I don’t tend to be a particularly spiritual person, but I think, along with my climate actions, water conservation, and reduced consumption efforts, you will find me whispering loving words of gratitude and resilience into the water as I swim along. 

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