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'A million little water crises'

New Quest U course examines interplay between global and local water issues



Growing up in California's Bay Area, Quest University's Rich Wildman was acutely aware of the scarcity of our world's most precious commodity.

"So much of California depends on water that it's hard to grow up there and not hear about water and how important water is, especially in a drought," he said.

Now in it's third year of a major drought, water issues have never been far from the minds of officials in California. It's one of the reasons why the young Wildman pursued a career in science focused on water management and freshwater resources around the world. Now, the physical sciences tutor is hoping to share some of that expertise in a new course that starts this month at Quest University in Squamish called "Water Scarcity at Home and Abroad."

Despite a litany of doomsday reports in the media forecasting an impending international water crisis, Wildman was quick to note that water management is first and foremost a local responsibility.

"I don't believe the global water crisis exists. I believe there are a million little water crises," he said. "The local nature of water means that there's no way everybody can be experiencing the same thing all around the globe."

That's not to say there aren't ways we can help mitigate the impacts of water scarcity in other regions of the world. Developing innovative water management technologies and proliferating them to the areas most in need of clean drinking water would be one effective strategy, Wildman said, but the notion that we can simply share our water supply with other countries is not realistic.

"I would say that knowledge transfer is an excellent way to help other areas, but it's such a local problem, it's not like we can give them our water," he explained. "People talk about water tankers shipping water across the ocean from one place to another, but it's just never been practical."

Of course, any discussion about water is really a discussion about politics. Societies need to determine how they want to prioritize water management and how they align with a community's values.

"If a community is living in a manner that prioritizes responsible use of its water, then politics won't get in the way all that much, but if a community is prioritizing other things and the water is just a necessary input to the society, then politics will prioritize allowing society to do those things and that may not always agree with responsible water management," Wildman said.

"Now you could ask me: What do you mean by responsible water management? Well that's up to each culture and each community and what they think is a good use of water."

So if water management starts at home, what are some of the major issues affecting Squamish? As any resident can tell you who's experienced a boil-water advisory in the dead of summer, supply is at the top of the list.

"Our (water) system is running at maximum capacity every summer, and Squamish is growing, so as more people come there will be plenty of water nine or 10 months of the year, while we'll have barely enough water the other months," said Wildman. "What the District of Squamish is actively exploring right now is how to increase the capacity of clean, safe drinking water, which may involve building treatment facilities on our backup supplies so that we can use it all the time, or it may involve building a new set of wells in a different aquifer so we can draw water from another location."

Wildman plans to explore the interplay between global and local water issues in his eight-week course, although he said he's willing to mould the curriculum to fit students' needs.

"If everything's local, then can we know anything about what's going on globally? It turns out the same problems come up across the globe, so we are globally unified by a set of water crises. In that sense, water issues are globally understood and globally experienced... That's what I want to explore."

Water Scarcity at Home and Abroad runs every Monday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Quest University beginning Feb. 16 until April 6. Registration is $245 at