September 19, 2022

Slow Water movement, from “Water Always Wins”

Posted by Laura Guertin

“What does water want? If we all tried to understand water’s behavior and sought to change our relationship with it? What could be if we took a page from cultures that consider water to be a relative, a friend, a collaborator, rather than an enemy or a commodity?” — (Gies, 2022, p. 291)

In Summer 2022, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, held its second Academy Book Circle. Following on from the success of our virtual sessions last year on All We Can Save (see blog post), this year’s selection tied in to the water theme of the Academy’s programming. Our group came together three times to discuss Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge, by Erica Gies (University of Chicago Press). Instead of summarizing the book’s content and our conversations (although, I have to say that the chapter on Beavers as “fuzzy water engineers” was absolutely fascinating!), there was one theme introduced at the beginning that stayed with me throughout my reading – the idea of “slow water.”

Erica describes Slow Water approaches as working with local landscapes, climates, and cultures, instead of working against. It is having a “fundamental shift in how we think about ourselves, our systems, and our world… to understand water and accept it for what it is instead of trying to shape it into what we might wish it to be” (Gies, p. 290).

Slow Water solutions are place-specific and community oriented. They center on water’s relationships with rocks, microbes, plants, and animals, including humans. Practitioners aim to collaborate with water rather than try to control it. — Erica Gies website

In this short YouTube video, Erica shares her book and the Slow Water movement:

The Summer 2022 Academy Book Circle selection (along with my many Post-It note flags!)

The author also has several links to additional articles and interviews on her “Slow Water” website that would be great to share with students. Erica begins in the first chapter with a comparison to the Slow Food movement, which may be a great starting point for students, so they can then think about the broader idea of working with local people and the environment instead of trying to change and control.

While reading the chapter “Water in Geologic Time: How Ancient Rivers Can Help Erase Droughts”, Erica discusses how creating conservation areas along once-active river floodplains is “classic Slow Water” resulting in multiple benefits for various forms of life. She emphasizes in the text in italics, that floodplains exist to absorb floods. This brought such a smile to my face, as I recall the very first day in my first geology class, Dr. Allen at Bucknell University told all of the physical geology students that “the river owns the floodplain.” He said this every year, to every class, and asked us to never forget this. I think Erica’s book and the Slow Water movement takes Dr. Allen’s statement to the next level – not just recognizing and honoring the role of a floodplain, but how best to work with it.

Be sure to check out Water Always Wins (consider purchasing from your local bookseller!).