When There's No Water

Everyone says that studying abroad is a life changing experience, but my experience abroad has been especially unique in comparison to other students’ experiences: I’ve spent the last two months in Amman, Jordan and I’ve seen how hard life can be in this area of the world. When leaving the United States, there are certain aspects of life that you realize you’ve taken for granted, such as freely available water. Jordan is one of the poorest countries in the world in water resources. Water conservation policy in Jordan has had the greatest effect on my lifestyle in Jordan. Every week the government delivers a specific amount of water to families and facilities throughout country. In my first week, my family ran out of water a day early. Living without water, even for a day, quickly made me realize the importance of conservation. It made everyday activities nearly impossible, such as brushing your teeth or even flushing the toilet. In Jordan, everyone is forced to be constantly aware of his or her water usage as a result of Jordanian policy and desert geography.  

Mercy Corps reported that Jordan is ranked as the third poorest country in water in the world and predicted that each person will only receive 90 cubic meters of water annually by 2025. In comparison, the average American receives 9000 annual cubic meters of water. Unfortunately, the situation is further complicated by the many conflicts in the region that have caused Jordan to take in numerous refugees from neighboring countries. Mercy Corps continued stating that since the 1990s, Jordan’s population has increased almost 90 percent. According to Luigi Achilli's article "Syrian Refugees in Jordan, a Reality Check," Jordan has gained over 600,000 Syrian refugees. The refugee crisis is stretching the already thin Jordanian water resources and will unfortunately continue to do so.

The Al Mujib Dam in Joradn

The Al Mujib Dam in Joradn

To cope with the high demand of and low supply of water—Jordan’s groundwater will be completely exploited by 2060, as stated by Mercy Corps —Jordan has very stringent water conservation policies. Increased data and monitoring of resources is a critical first step to water conservation. Jordanian policy also prioritizes the use of groundwater for activities with the greatest return, such as industry and education, along with severe regulations on water usage. Jordanian water conservation policy stresses the need for water management awareness through public education programs, investment from the private sector into development for conservation strategies, and increased efficiency of current technology, as written by the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

In the United States, water conservation varies from state to state. However, in a majority of the US, water conservation policies just do not exist. That being said, California is making headway with their water conservation. The Golden State has been suffering through a severe drought, and has been forced to adopt strict water conservation strategies. Peter King reported that they have reduced the amount of water used by improving efficiency and consumer awareness.

The Jordanian public is very willing to converse about the water crisis, as it affects everyday life. Because of this, I had the opportunity to speak with a student who is pursuing research on international standards of water usage. When I asked why she thought the United States had very few water conservation policies she replied, “Water is constantly on the mind of most Jordanians. Whereas, in the United States, you find that most people lack a water ethic, and therefore, do not place much importance on the subject.” She elaborated that a “Water Ethic” can be described either on the macro or micro level within society, “For me, a having a water ethic means being aware of your communities water usage and taking steps to minimize your personally usage. For example, I am a vegetarian so that I minimize my usage. However, water ethics can exist on a macro scale within an entire society.”

The Colorado River

The Colorado River

Specifically, in Colorado, we need to rethink our current water policies. According to David Owen in his article “Where the River Runs Dry,” the Colorado River is one of the most important rivers in the US. The Colorado River runs through seven states and supplies 36 million people with water, as well as provides hydroelectric to many dams, the most famous being Hoover Dam. He continues stating that, “The legal right to use every gallon is owned or claimed by someone—in fact, more than every gallon, since theoretical rights to the Colorado’s flow (known as ‘paper water’) vastly exceed its actual flow (known as ‘wet water’).” Owen writes that the status quo is based on a “prior appropriation doctrine,” and that, “the first person to make ‘beneficial use’ of water gains the right to use that quantity for that purpose forever, and that the claim takes precedence over every claim made later.” In other words, first come first serve.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board is pushing new legislation. Bruce Finely reported that the first draft of Colorado’s Water Plan is due by Dec. 10th, and will hopefully address Colorado’s water shortage. Corrections are being made, as there were many objections to the draft to begin with, mainly concerning water storage and agricultural regulations. While new policies are undoubtedly important, urban water conservation and awareness can make a major impact; as was seen in California.

Water conservation should become part of discourse in the United States. Not only is water important for our survival, but its capacity to sustain all life should also be cherished. There were numerous ancient societies who worshiped water, and for our society to disregard its importance is abhorrent. Colorado should follow California’s lead, and start by funding public awareness programs across the state. We need to create a “Water Ethic,” as our current water usage is unsustainable for the future.  

Kristen Kennedy is a Sociology major at the University of Denver currently studying abroad in Amman, Jordan. She is passionate about foreign policy and gender equality.