Respect of Water as a Living Entity

Guanajuato: Most rooftops have small water holding tanks, or tinacos.

Visiting friends in Guanajuato, I experience what a different relationship these people have with water, at least from us in California— and United States, for that matter. Respecting water is so much more immediate and personal. If water is short, it is turned off by the city. You are left with what is in your tinaco, or roof holding tank, if you have one, or what you have stored in bottles and buckets. You do not let water run down the drain until it gets hot: you gather it in buckets and use it to flush the toilet. Because city water is contaminated,  you use only purified, filtered, or bottled water for drinking or brushing your teeth. And you use bottled water prudently as well, as in Guanajuato it has been hand carried up or down stone steps to your door from distant places, as water has been carried for ages.

This part of Mexico has had more rain these last four years than the West of United States, but residents are still careful about how they manage water. With this kind of care, water becomes a living entity, and the care of water, an act of respect. It is a respect that we must acquire in California, a respect that must extend to all things of the earth. We have used water as if it is limitless, and the dark lesson of the drought is this: it is not limitless, and it has requirements for its health.

In several places I have written about the November 2014 Future First! Second Women’s Congress in Minneapolis in which over 450 of us drew up a Bill of Rights for Water. We divided in groups to list the rights of streams, aquifers, lakes and oceans, as well as our responsibility to these various gatherings of water. (See blogs: Joanna Macy and Sustaining the Gaze; Mary Pipher’s Answer to Willful Ignorance; A Bill of Rights for Water; Supporting Pollinators and Future First! ) Attorneys, psychologists, biologists, and laypeople worked to form a document that is both authoritative and poetic. And because in some indigenous cultures the law is sung, and several indigenous cultures were represented, the last day the final result was sung as the attorneys presented the document to the Congress. It begins:

We, the women and men of the second Women’s Congress, have gathered on behalf of the waters of the world. Water speaks as one voice. She weaves together and through the lands of the world, has deep seas above and below the surface, flows from the mountaintops and in the veins of every living being. She has spoken and we are opening our ears to listen. The song she sings is one of deep anguish. She is calling upon us to be her guardian.

We have much to learn about being guardians of the waters of the world from cultures who have made do with much less. Implicit in many of these cultures are methods that afford an intimacy and a resulting respect for water. And for many of us it may involve things as simple as a bucket and a prayer offering our gratitude to Living Water.