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Water is one of our most precious resources. If we’re going to make sure there is enough water for future generations to live, we need a revolution in the way we think about and use water. We’ll hear from Todd Reeve, CEO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, on the work he’s doing to restore and protect local watersheds, as well as the steps he takes in his own life to be a water steward. Plus, Sophia’s friend Jess comes on the show to talk about what it’s like living under drought conditions in Los Angeles.
SOPHIA LI: You’re listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Facebook.
The climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing every one and every industry. And on this show, we make talking about the climate a conversation that everyone is invited to. Together, we can create a healthier relationship with nature, which, you know, includes us.
I’m Sophia Li. I’m a journalist, a film director, and a climate optimist. My life’s work is to make talking about the climate more accessible, more digestible, and more human. I’ll be your guide as we reframe the way we talk about the climate, and understand the best courses of action to take together. Let’s do this.
SOPHIA LI: Water is one of the earth’s most precious resources. For some of us who are lucky, water is so accessible in our lives that we don’t even think about it; we take it for granted. But because of the effects of the climate crisis, some of us have to think about every drop.
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— Like my friend Jess, who is currently living under drought conditions in Los Angeles.
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SOPHIA LI: Hi Jess!
JESS: Hey Soph.
SOPHIA LI: How’s it going in L.A.?
JESS: It’s good, sunny and beautiful.
SOPHIA LI: Sunny and beautiful. But any rain yet?
JESS: Actually, we had rain two nights ago.
SOPHIA LI: Oh my gosh. It actually finally rained. Wait, so before that, how long was it since it hadn’t rained?
JESS: Honestly, I don’t remember the last time it rained. 2021 has been a really dry year, like notably dry. I moved to L.A. in 2017 and there was a lot of talk about like what you could and couldn’t do because of the drought.
You could only water your your lawn for a certain amount of time. People who had private pools couldn’t really fill it up that summer.
SOPHIA LI: Cuz you used to live in New York and now when you live in L.A., is it part of your mindset now to be conscious of water in a way that you didn’t when you were on the East Coast?
JESS: Definitely. Yeah. In L.A., it’s a big topic of conversation here. I take pretty quick showers. You know, I try to keep it within five minutes. My former roommate, she took 30 minute showers and I don’t know if I was judging her because I wanted to get into the bathroom or because I knew that like, well, what are you doing in there? How much water are you wasting, you know? That was kind of something that I definitely would think about.
SOPHIA LI: That’s so interesting. Well, thanks so much for chatting, and I’m so glad it rained a few nights ago.
JESS: Thank you.
SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Jess for calling in from LA.
But Jess isn’t the only person we spoke to. We also reached out to you, to hear about your relationship with water.
NATALIE: One way that I preserve water every day is I play music when I’m in the shower. So I don’t accidentally take too long of a shower because I know from the lengths of the song how long I’ve been in there.
BARBARA: OK, so my spaghetti water, right, at the end of the night, I let it cool, in the morning, I put it on my plants. My houseplants.
VIHANU: Recognize the fact that running dishes through the dishwasher is like more efficient than than doing dishes by hand in the sink.
NATALIE: There is an online community called Hydro Homies, that is for people who love to drink water. And I think there’s nothing more refreshing than a glass of ice water. And I love to look at the memes made by people of the Hydro Homes Subreddit about that topic.
VIHANU: I grew up in India and access to clean water wasn’t always possible when you’re traveling. So a lot of it involved planning around like knowing how much water you needed to bring with you if you’re going on trips and sort of being wary of water that you can get at restaurants or things like that.
SOPHIA LI: Water isn’t just a resource, it’s foundational to us — we ourselves are made of over 70% water.
Every week on Climate Talks, we’re taking on sustainability from a different angle. And in this episode, we’re talking about water. How can we conserve it? What can we do to support, and if necessary, restore, our local watersheds?
We’ll talk to Todd Reeve, CEO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, whose work focuses on protecting ecosystems to preserve access to fresh water. We’ll unpack the meaning of the phrase ‘water stewardship,’ and how each of us can put that practice into action.
But first, we’ll hear from Facebook’s Water Program Manager, Stefanie Woodward, to see how Facebook is prioritizing water stewardship as it works towards its commitment to becoming Water Positive by the year 2030.
— Wait, hold up, what’s water positive? This means restoring more water than is consumed. Okay, let’s hear from Stefanie.
STEPHANIE WOODWARD: Hi, my name is Stephanie Woodward and I’m the water program manager at Facebook. I first became interested in water growing up in the desert in Phoenix, Arizona.
Someone I know put this really well. He once said that if climate change is a shark, water is the teeth. If you think about it, a lot of the impacts of climate change are related to water, whether it’s drought or flooding or intense weather or agriculture. So many of the impacts come back to water.
Something I often think about is how essential water is to the food we eat, the clothes we wear. Even, you know, energy. There’s really water embedded in all these different aspects of modern life.
SOPHIA LI: As part of her role as the Water Program Manager, Stephanie is helping to lead the efforts on Facebook’s newest water goal, which focuses not only on reducing their operational water use, but also on restoring local environments.
STEPHANIE WOODWARD: Right now at Facebook we’re focused on becoming water positive by 2030. This means that we’ll restore more water than we consume globally. We’re starting our work towards this goal with watersheds that are high water stress, where we have operations.
There’s one called the Mason Lane Irrigation Efficiency Project, where through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, we’ve partnered with the Nature Conservancy to help modernize a very leaky section of agricultural irrigation infrastructure to help keep water in Oak Creek instead of it being wasted. And that is a place that I often go with my family in Arizona and grew up going to. So being able to have an impact in a place that I know and love is really meaningful.
My hope for the future of water stewardship is for it to be more a part of the conversation around climate change and for more companies, more institutions to be able to engage on water stewardship. Because I know that it can be kind of a high barrier to entry, but I think there’s room for everyone.
SOPHIA LI: Thank you to Stefanie Woodward.
In 2020, projects supported by Facebook restored about 595 million gallons of water to regions experiencing high levels of water stress.
Joining me this week is Todd Reeve, CEO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
Stephanie mentioned Bonneville earlier—they’re one of Facebook’s partners, working to restore local watersheds.
Todd and I will talk about what it means to practice water stewardship, as well as the importance of prioritizing access to clean water as a human right.
SOPHIA LI: Hello, Todd.
TODD REEVE: Greetings, Sophia. How are you today?
SOPHIA LI: I’m doing well. Greetings. Todd, first off, what is your own climate story, where did you grow up, how did you become involved with this great love affair with water?
TODD REEVE: I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, and spent my time in and around creeks and rivers and lakes across the state and across the region. So from my childhood through adulthood, I have been working in the field of rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and in particular in this region, salmon and steelhead fisheries drive a lot of the work.
And so a lot of my work early on was around wading through rivers and streams, tracking salmon and steelhead in airplanes and on foot, snorkeling in rivers and streams, et cetera. And so I became intimately familiar with these water bodies in the Pacific Northwest and across the West.
SOPHIA LI: And do you remember your very first, most vivid moment with water as a child that made you fall in love with this passion.
TODD REEVE: I do. Camping with my family as a very young child, I would create little dams across the streams and I found a rock that I called the scooda minor for some reason. And I recall thinking that this rock out of the river was incredibly special because it held water and it dispersed water. And we kept that scooda minor rock for a long time. So that’s my first memory, maybe as a two or three year old of sitting in the river and playing with the rocks and moving the water around.
SOPHIA LI: I love that I still do that I still get so infatuated with rocks in oceans and riverbeds. They are incredible. So what does water stewardship mean to you?
TODD REEVE: Water stewardship is a term that is likely very poorly defined and used in a lot of different ways. But it’s about building awareness of the challenges in the water space and being proactive and trying to take care of these watersheds, these places that capture and store and filter and deliver the water. Might be up in the forests, in the headwaters, might be in the cities where there’s stormwater runoff, might be on farms where there might be nutrients or other issues associated with water quality.
SOPHIA LI: And do you consider yourself a water steward?
TODD REEVE: That’s a great question and no one’s ever asked me, but the answer is yes. And from my home and having a rain barrel to working with partners and trying to help on a large scale. Absolutely.
SOPHIA LI: And should we all be water stewards?
TODD REEVE: Yeah, that’s an incredible question, and I think it’s very much the crux of the matter. And the answer is yes in a very, very big way, that each year, each day we’re learning more about the challenges that our water systems face and the impacts. And we’re realizing that we’ve taken water for granted.
And what we’re seeing as we look at, let’s say, the news stories across the country, it used to be thought, oh, sure, there are some water issues, let’s say in the desert southwest, it’s arid. And and maybe those people need to worry about water. But what we’re finding is across the country with toxic algal blooms in the southeast, with lead in the pipes in many communities, with large scale catastrophic forest fires, with depletion of groundwater, with low reservoir levels, drought. Everywhere, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the water issues and to take steps.
SOPHIA LI: Hmm. So you’re saying if we all took a minimal responsibility in being water stewards, perhaps we would have more access to water on a collective level?
TODD REEVE: I think that’s absolutely right. And what I think is incredibly inspiring about this water work is in some cases, it really isn’t that complicated. Right? Using water more efficiently, more effectively, capturing rainwater, buying products that are grown with less water or more responsibly with water, being aware of how your consumption habits relate to a water footprint. All of those things are relatively easy. But we’ve had the luxury, I think, in this country of not having to worry about that very much. And I think what we’re seeing now is increasing stress on these water systems. And so the importance of acting collectively and taking small, medium and large actions where we can to be a water steward and contribute to solutions.
SOPHIA LI: What is not being reported on in the media that we need to be talking about.
TODD REEVE: In large part, managers of water, water utilities, large scale, you know, development interests have wanted to believe that there’s enough water for everyone forever. That’s been a mantra right through development, irrigated agriculture, development of urban areas. And I think what we’re finding is that the cracks in that story are emerging.
There just isn’t enough water to go around for every use as it currently stands. Drought, fire, those are affecting these water supplies. Those are changing how much water is available for humans.
The previous hundred years, the amount of snowfall and rainfall that fell and the amount of runoff and water that we could rely on has fundamentally changed. It’s hotter. It’s drier, the soils are more arid. And so as a society, I don’t think we are acknowledging that there’s a paradigm shift. And with a paradigm shift, we need action, we need urgent action and we need collective action.
SOPHIA LI: And when you’re talking about this new paradigm, how do individuals adapt to this new paradigm? How can we better support this paradigm?
TODD REEVE: I think the first step is acknowledgment of the change and that we’ve had the luxury of using water relatively inefficiently in a lot of ways. Right. You know, green lawns in very arid summer climates, a lot of urban areas that are water stressed. I think 50 percent of the water use in the summer is for outdoor landscaping. So just a super simple example of where perception of water availability versus the reality of water availability. If we think about where the majority of water is used, in most cases, people will say roughly 70 percent of our water use is for irrigated agriculture. That’s critical, right that grows food, that grows fiber, creates our products, our diets, those support rural communities. Critical that we provide that water and we sustain those irrigated agricultural communities, but at the same time there’s a lot of work that can be done to invest in infrastructure, to deliver water more reliably.
SOPHIA LI: I think this like on demand culture and society, we’ve gotten used to, we’re going to have to reverse it and put our ecosystems first before our personal preferences for aesthetics over outdoor landscaping, et cetera. I want to dive into some terminology. Can you describe what a water footprint is?
TODD REEVE: Talking about our water footprint is analyzing how much water a person, a company, a business utilizes in their operations or in their life. And when you think about a human water footprint, you could consider how much water goes into the cotton shirt that I bought yesterday, how much water goes into the hamburger that I ate yesterday, how much water did I use showering, et cetera. And so all of those numbers add up to a water footprint, which is the amount of water that’s utilized associated with my lifestyle, my habits.
A company also has a water footprint, right. When they think about their supply chain, how much water is used to grow the food that they then process and turn into a product, how much water is used directly in their operations? And you start to realize sometimes your water footprint comes from places that you didn’t previously expect. And in a human lifestyle, for example, it might be in – mostly in the products that you buy as opposed to how long your showers are, just as one example.
SOPHIA LI: What do you do personally, I’m curious, to reduce your water footprint or to be aware of it?
TODD REEVE: I took out all of the irrigated lawns on our property. I put in a rainwater barrel and I use that to water our plants. I take very, very short showers and put in low flow showerheads and fixtures on our bathrooms and faucets.
But another one that people don’t think about is energy. Water used for thermal cooling plants, water used treating water, both wastewater and to purify water. And so there’s a lot of ways that one can reduce a water footprint by reducing energy. And so in our own home, using compact fluorescents, trying to be energy efficient, also is reducing our water footprint where I live.
SOPHIA LI: And Todd, why is it always the case that underserved communities have the least access to clean water?
TODD REEVE: Well, I hope it’s not always the case, as you say.
SOPHIA LI: Or usually the case.
TODD REEVE: But it is often the case.
SOPHIA LI: Often the case.
TODD REEVE: Yeah. It’s a really discouraging trend. I’ll use an analogy that you hear sometimes in the water space is: water flows toward money.
Affluent communities, affluent cities, large companies, typically those are prioritized for investment in infrastructure and clean water and underserved communities are increasingly being left behind.
SOPHIA LI: It’s just one example of environmental racism that we see in our systems and structures. So what is the first step we can start taking in not taking water for granted?
TODD REEVE: A step that’s really important to me is spending a minute to go online and see where your water comes from.
Everyone has, or many people have a water utility, right. And so if you if you type in your water utility and say, you know, where does the water come from for San Francisco or where does the water come from for Memphis, Tennessee or whatever it might be, in 60 seconds, you can learn a lot about how complex and intricate our water supply systems are. Does all your water come from the forested watersheds, you know, 100 miles away? Is your water pumped over the mountains from an entirely different region? And so very quickly, you’ll start to realize and understand how those water supplies may be at risk and where there are important policies or actions that you might take to be a part of the solution, you know, rather than sort of an uninformed water user on the downstream end.
SOPHIA LI: Right, and then once we have that awareness, every time you’re in the shower, brushing your teeth, you have this fascination and gratitude for, wow, this water traveled hundreds of miles or came from xyz source. That’s beautiful. Last question. What’s what’s giving you active hope today?
TODD REEVE: Well, one thing is crisis is opportunity. Right. And so the last decade has shown us so much more information about where we are realizing water stress, where there are challenges. Water’s so fundamentally important to who we are and everything that we do that it polls as one of the very most important elements for our entire society. And so this is often seen as a nonpartisan issue. It’s about water for people. And so I think that’s why I actually have a tremendous amount of confidence that we’re on track to solve this.
SOPHIA LI: Yeah, it’s a water revolution. And I love that you said crisis is an opportunity because in Chinese, the Chinese character “crisis” has the word opportunity in the character. So, Todd, thank you so much.
TODD REEVE: Oh, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate the chance to discuss wonderful questions.
SOPHIA LI: That was Todd Reeve, CEO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. You can learn more about their work at b e f dot org.
SOPHIA LI: So every week, I like to close the show with a prompt, a kind of call to action, inviting you, our listeners, into the conversation.
This week, after my talks with Todd and even Jess, it got me thinking about…
Where does our water even come from? As Todd says, when we know how far our water travels to reach our sink, our shower heads, our tap water we drink– we can have a deeper appreciation that water isn’t always a given.
The simplest way to understand this is… to Google it.
I, of course, had to look up where my water in Brooklyn comes from and I discovered that it comes from 19 different reservoirs upstate in the Catskill Delaware watershed. So, where does your water come from? Did the answer surprise you? Let us know with the hashtag #fbclimatetalks and next time you take a sip of water, share some gratitude for where it came from.
SOPHIA LI: Next week on the show, we’re getting circular—talking all about the circular economy.
KORINA EMMERICH: When we’re young, we’re taught that there’s no disconnection between where our bodies end and the natural world begins. So it’s really something that’s a part of me, that the health of the planet is my own health, that what happens to the Earth is what happens to me.
SOPHIA LI: Circularity is the essence of nature. Think about how when a tree dies, it goes back into the earth and comes back as new life, in a new form – as a mushroom or a moss. So when it comes to products, the circular economy is when our current systems mimic nature’s systems.
We’ll hear from people who are working to transform the way we shop and consume, moving from a linear path that ends in waste, to a circular path that gives new life and purpose to each product that is made.
SOPHIA LI: You’ve been listening to Climate Talks, a podcast in collaboration with Facebook. Many thanks to our guests this week, Todd Reeve and shout out to my friend Jessica Shoer for calling in. You can find our podcast on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or whenever you listen. If you like what you hear, please rate the show and share it with family and friends. We want everyone to get in on the conversation, and we hope that each episode inspires you to continue that conversation IRL with the people in your life.
This show is produced by work by work: Scott Newman, Jemma Brown, Emily Shaw, Kathleen Ottinger and by me, Sophia Li. The show is mixed by Sam Bair.
Extra gratitude to Marlo Tablante and Amanda Gardiner at Facebook. To find out more about Facebook’s Sustainability initiatives, visit sustainability (dot) f-b (dot) com.
I’m always talking about the climate on Instagram and Twitter. You can find me at s-o-p-h-f-e-i, that’s my handle. Thank you so much for listening, and thank you for being a part of the conversation.
For more information on the Bonneville Environment Foundation, visit their website. You can learn more about the Mason Lane Piping Irrigation Efficiency project through Business for Water, a Bonneville Environmental Foundation program.
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