On 22 March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the United States released an assessment on Global Water Security; the findings are short of immediate "mushroom cloud"-style emergency, but far from pleasant, and demonstrate an immediate need for global action in order to curb the effects of water shortages, conflicts, and disasters. The study was requested by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to "assess the impact of global water issues on U.S. national security interests over the next 30 years," and it claims the following as its bottom line:
"During the next 10 years, many regions will experience water challenges — shortages, poor water quality, or floods — that will increase the risk of instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives. Between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. As a result of demographic and economic development pressures, North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems."
Incidentally, the very evening that the assessment went public, the exhibition Drylands Design opened at the A + D [Architecture + Design] Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition is a collection of works by architects, landscape architects, engineers, and urban designers, which responds to the inevitability of water scarcity in the face of climate change. The show's focus is on arid lands in the U.S. West, but its implications resonate far beyond a coast, continent, or climate.
Like the ODNI study, Drylands demonstrates that, despite political attempts, water scarcity cannot be regarded as an issue for some and not others — what happens in, say, Arizona, will have a ripple effect across the globe. The tone of the exhibition is by no means pessimistic, but the point is nevertheless a grave one: no one solution exists, and no one initiative can be of universal substance. Just as existing and anticipated problems are many and varied, so too the solutions must be comprehensive and initiated on an international scale.
Coupled with a series of events around Los Angeles, including a conference and a family-friendly water conservation workshop, the Drylands exhibition is a dense but engaging collection of drawings, graphics, models, film clips, and a "kids room." On display are 64 projects, which won the William Turnbull Competition for "exploring ideas about how to sustain and improve the California landscape," including particularly engaging works like: Off The Reservation: A Seed for Change, by Meghan Storm, which looks at indigenous Indian cultural practices of "food, water, and mobility" and applies findings to wider issues of "infrastructural and cultural stability"; Local Urban Farming: Fresno Reimagined by Chau Nguyen, which transforms the consumer into a consumer/producer and proposes "strengthening farming in Fresno desert areas, with a high concentration on agriculture"; and LA20: Large Scale Desalination With Repurposed Civic Infrastructure by Thomas Kosbau, which outlines how vernal pools along the LA River corridor could spring to life during LA's infamous rainfalls and "create an infrastructure to contain storm water, and provide relief for many native species."
Water scarcity, its detrimental effects, and what to do about them: that's not an easy topic. Drylands makes that clear, with an exhibition that also refuses to be easy. One must take time to read, moreover to understand, the proposals on display at A+D. As a cohesive unit, though, the exhibition quite plainly demonstrates the need for a multi-faceted approach, which includes a reconsideration of the way issues related to water are managed, the push for more research and initiatives, and, above all, the widespread understanding that this is a critical and immediate issue that cannot be given a "rain-check" for our attention.
Unlike the ODNI report, the Drylands Design exhibition focuses more on what can be done, rather than what might (or, some might argue, will) happen in the coming years. In that sense, the exhibition does not highlight in great detail the consequences of ignoring water "insecurity" — among them, political struggles and full-on wars. Water has the potential and demonstrated ability to be used as a weapon, a political tool for both negotiation and leverage; it can be the source of conflict. But, in most un-ironic terms, that stems from the fact that water is, first and foremost, a source of life. The source of life. In the way that a tributary flows into a main stem, and eventually a sea or ocean, each small local initiative or reevaluation flows into a greater and more globally recognized change. Inevitably, the proposals displayed by Drylands Design speak to each other — yes, they attempt to solve a common problem, but their suggested answers to the problem further demonstrate an interconnectedness or — to use the semantics of water — a confluence. Katya Tylevich
A+ D Museum
6032 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Through 26 April 2012