Monica Dore, Copy Editor
Dr. Tracy Allen, an Associate Professor of the Geography and Environmental Sciences Program here at SUNY Oneonta, led a presentation last Thursday night called “Dangerous Waters.” The presentation outlined the problems that people all across the globe are currently facing concerning drinking water. SUNY students and members of the Oneonta community learned a little bit about the three leading problems related to drinking water: water contamination, water scarcity and our culture’s obsession with bottled water.
During the slide show presentation, Dr. Allen showed the audience pictures of countries that he has visited and of the water sources citizens are forced to drink from. Rivers, streams and lakes that are polluted with garbage and human waste are where people are forced to collect their drinking water. Allen said that although it is easy for Americans to point fingers and blame the inhabitants of an area for the state of their water, it is important to remember that “environmentalism follows wealth,” and that limited resources are the true reason for unclean water. According to the presentation, women and children must walk an average of four miles to gather water, a job that takes up to three hours a day and limits the opportunities for work, school and play. The water that children and women do collect is often not clean, and according to the scientific journal Nature, “80 percent of the world’s population live in areas with threats to water security.” The UN has estimated that it would cost at least $30 billion to get safe water to the entire world, but Allen says that the problem is so vast that no one really wants to deal with it.
Water scarcity was another issue that Allen discussed, although briefly. Dr. Allen cited the Aral Sea and the Colorado River as evidence of the reduced water supply. The Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has declined to 10 percent of its original size. In a typical year, the Colorado River never reaches its delta at the Gulf of Mexico. These problems can be mostly attributed to overdrawing water for irrigation purposes.
In addition to the slide show presentation on water contamination and scarcity, the 2009 documentary, “Tapped,” was shown to the audience. This documentary shows the downsides of drinking bottled water. For example, 80 percent of plastic water bottles used in the US are either incinerated or put into a landfill. Besides the environmental problems of drinking bottled water, the video revealed the practices used by bottled-water companies like Nestle. These companies make millions each year off of their product, which used to be free. Now, however, bottled water is usually 500 times more expensive than tap water, although bottled water is composed of about 40 percent filtered tap water. However, people have the notion that bottled water is healthier and more pure, although some of the chemicals in the plastic of the bottle have been linked to cancer, as well as birth and reproductive defects.
The proceeds of last Thursday’s event go towards the thousand dollar cost of the water analysis that Environmental Science students are expected to cover when they go to Guatemala this summer. Students will test water quality in Lake Atitlan and will then work with locals to find reasonable ways to improve agricultural practices and to improve sustainability in the area. The purpose of the trip is to bring safe water to more people because, as Dr. Allen said, “We all should have clean water, regardless of race, gender, religion. Water is a right.”