Water policy leader
speaks with students


Elon students, faculty and staff joined speakers and environmental experts Oct. 17 for "A River Runs Through Us," a seminar focused on sustainable water resource management. Government experts, scholars and representatives from various organizations explored ways to protect the world's water resources.

Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Institute and WorldWatch Institute Senior Fellow, delivered the opening address at the forum and also spoke to a class of approximately 40 School of Communications students.

She talked with the students about the role of communications in getting a message out, and the importance of global water issues.

"I have had to think quite a bit about how I can get my message out to people," she said. "It's very important for people to be informed about the status of water. At all levels, globally, nationally, regionally and locally, we have important decisions to make."

She reflected back on her college days. "One of the things that influenced my career choice a lot was a mass media and engineering fellowship," she said. "I worked as a science writer for the Charlotte Observer for a summer. It taught me many things I still rely upon today. Communication of important issues is the name of the game. If you can't publish your results to the public at large, then your work may not bring that positive change it could in the world. Those skills are important to what I do."

Postel talks about water issues regularly on radio and television, including appearances on "CBS Sunday Morning", "CBS Evening News," CNN, BBC Radio, NPR's "Science Friday," NPR's "The World" and Radio New Zealand. Her first book, "Last Oasis," was named by CHOICE magazine as an outstanding academic book of 1993 and it inspired a 1997 PBS documentary with the same title. She has written some 20 op-ed features that have appeared in more than 30 newspapers around the world, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.

"I try to write a lot myself across the whole spectrum of public magazines to reach an audience with my message," she said. "It's difficult to track the impact of what I do. It's a whole arsenel of opportunities that you try to take advantage of."

In her research presentations, Postel has pointed out that an estimated 1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, and 2 billion do not have adequate sanitation. She adds that this situation accounts for as much as 80 percent of the disease in third-world nations.

"It is important to examine our own impact on water, the 6 billion impacts we have as individuals on this planet." Postel said. "I think we can make a significant difference."

She spoke in favor of tying more world-trade decision-making to its environmental impact. "We have the World Trade Organization, but there's no comparable body called theWorld Environmental Organization," she said. "The market fails terribly when it comes to protecting the environment."

She said a global-trade issue of growing concern is the privatization of water supplies. "Using urban water supplies as a profit-maker for private corporations can be trouble," she said. "We have public-trust problems. Do we want the water coming out of our taps to be under the control of a corporation with headquarters in France, or do we want a public body representing our rights and interests to be in charge of that water supply? It's a subset of the globalization issue."

Postel said Americans can make choices that will help preserve our water supply. "We should live as sustainaby as we can ourselves," she explained. "The average American diet takes twice the water to produce than most other diets - eat lower on the food chain, eat organic. Consuming less also effects water in a positive way - water is used to make shoes, clothes, paper, computers, everything. How we landscape is also important - we don't need to use a ton of water and chemicals."

She said individuals can protect water resources by becoming advocates. "Becoming informed is the first thing we need to do," she explained. "Then become involved and engaged. Watershed groups are a way in which people can be active. A watershed is all the land draining into a water body. All of the land on Earth falls into the category of a watershed. Within that you have subwatersheds - at that scale, individuals have the ability to influence decisions being made about what's draining into our rivers and streams. Thinking about land-water connections is important. It's where all key decisions are made."

Elon University's Center for Environmental Studies hosted the event that brought Postel to campus. Co-sponsors for "A River Runs Through Us" included the North Carolina section of the American Water Works Association, the North Carolina Water Environment Association, Duke Energy, Syngenta, the Piedmont Land Conservancy, the Haw River Lands and Trails Association and Alamance Community College.



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Last Modified:  10/19/03
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