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A Water Crisis Wakeup Call

Updated: Jun 26

I wrote this OpEd for the Calgary Herald about the spiritual lessons of our city water crisis:

I’ve always had unlimited access to fresh water. Because I was born in a country of great lakes and flowing rivers, I’ve never faced a water shortage—until now.

While Calgary’s short-term crisis doesn’t compare to the chronic struggles of some Canadian towns and villages, or to the 2 billion people who globally struggle with access to fresh water, this water restriction moment has been a bit of a wakeup call for me.

The other day, I decided to recycle the water from my granddaughter’s bath and use it in our front garden. After three runs up and down our stairs with a bucket, the novelty began to wear off and I realized how addicted I was to the convenience of a self-timed irrigation system. I turn it on in the spring and forget about it. But now I see that this comes with a cost. Instead of daily attending to my plants, and actively participating in their growth, I was ignoring them. I didn’t even notice when my perennials broke ground this year.  

In another small conservation effort, I’ve been changing how I make espresso. Instead of pouring the water I use to heat my cup down the drain, I now pour it back into the unit. I’ve started to save the grounds-soaked water that gathers in my machine’s catch-basin, and the water I use for cleaning my frothing cup, for the garden as well. As I’ve begun to re-use water in these tiny ways, it’s struck me that I’ve created a tiny counter-top hydrological cycle—a daily reminder of the larger hydrological cycle that faithfully sustains our world. Right now, water naturally moves from the ground to the atmosphere and back again in a way that sustains all of life—and the pipes never break.

I wish I started emulating nature earlier.

For three weeks now I’ve been chiding myself for not having a rain barrel. I just never got around to it. Which makes me wonder is this current crisis is, perhaps, a bit of a gift. Given the long-term drought forecast for Southern Alberta, is this our collective opportunity to think ahead? There’s so much more that we can do to steward water: plant clover lawns, take shorter showers, use eco-friendly appliances, go low flow, etc.

Given our renewed appreciation for water, perhaps this moment can nudge us toward increased gratitude for all the precious resources in our lives. Right now, I’m feeling quite thankful for city leaders and engineers, excavators and welders, and the incredibly complex maze of subterranean services that sustain our city.

We take so much for granted in—time, people, housing, and a healthy economy. What if we paid as much attention to these gifts as we’re now paying to water? What would it look like to more mindfully ‘consume’ our hours, relationships, homes, and pay cheques?

And perhaps this is a good time to also be reminded that all of life’s resources are limited.

Too often I fail to consider the broader impacts of my mindless consumption. It’s easy to do when you live in an over-consuming society. But I find this water-crisis moment has made the connection more clear—either we all cut back, or we’ll all be in trouble. Everyone is being asked to shower, wash clothes, and flush less. To me, this moment is a great equalizer. We are all being forced to examine what’s really needed and get back to basics.

Scarcity wakes up a wisdom that recognizes what really matters.

It exposes the life-threatening effects of mindless consumption. 

Everything that sustains us is a precious resource meant for everyone to enjoy.

If we can find a way to consume in a more attentive and other-aware way, my sense is that there will be more than enough to go around.


BIO: John Van Sloten is a community theologian working to engage God everywhere—through science, art, work, sport, education, politics, and the occasional water crisis.

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